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Apr 18, 2017

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If you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one. And if that fails, like it has for the Adani coal mine, tell an even bigger one.

The fanciful “10,000 jobs!” claim, which has been under sustained attack but is still being repeatedly made by the Adani spruikers, has collapsed. As Crikey has previously reported, the figure from Adani’s own economist — who swore an oath to it in court — is only 1464 direct and indirect jobs, on average, over the life of the mine. The jobs claim is symptomatic of the broader unravelling of the economic arguments for the giant coal mine.

But like a bad Demtel TV ad from the ’70s: Wait there’s more! It seems “10,000” was not a big enough lie to be believed, so Resources Minister Matt Canavan did some new calculations which ran on the front page of The Australian yesterday declaring “Adani rail ‘to deliver 15,000 jobs’”.  Sensibly the paper had the claim in quotes and more sensibly still, their online story headline read “… ‘could deliver 15000 jobs…’”.  Canavan then awkwardly told Patricia Karvelas on RN yesterday evening that he was as confident of the jobs figures as he was of his marriage.

No Australian mine employs 10,000 people, directly or indirectly, and nor could the Carmichael project. Anyway, Adani has said it wants to automate its operations from “mine to port”. However, it’s not just the jobs lies that are leading the economics of this project to collapse. Corporate structures involving the Cayman Islands  suggest company tax will not be pouring through Australia’s Treasury doors. 

And then there is the issue of how much Adani will pay in royalties for the Queensland coal it seeks to sell. For years now, there has been a mysterious silence about how much per tonne the mine owners will actually pay for the coal, when they will start paying it, and even whether any payment to the state government will be made at all. Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman had offered Adani a so called “royalty holiday” (free coal) and the current Queensland government has consistently refused to reveal what price Queenslanders will get for shipping 60 million tons of low-quality coal through the barrier reef every year. 

But nature abhors a vacuum. Political commenter Ross Cameron has filled the breach, claiming that in five years of operation the mine will bring in a staggering $20 billion in total royalties and taxes. Others have declared the entire Queensland economy would be saved. As the economics of the project get weaker, and the appeals for a government loan get more bellicose, the economic lies just get bigger.

Once upon a time, the right took economics seriously. They argued their position firmly — even if, for example, it meant some in the community would get left behind. Now they just barrack for their mates, no matter the lack of evidence. It’s unedifying, really. 

It is left to the odd newspaper editorial to bell the cat:

The Australian Financial Review agrees with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, as selectively opportunistic as he is, that ‘the deal should stand up under its own merit’. We expect most Liberal MPs would agree. If the financials stack up, the project should proceed. If they don’t, then Australian taxpayers should not subsidise a project run by a company that is 75 per cent owned by an ultra-wealthy Indian family.”

In the short term, with the budget just weeks away, the Coalition frontbench is wasting huge amounts of scarce political capital explaining why subsidising a new coal mine via a loan from the scandal ridden Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) is a high priority for a government that claims to be short on funds.

And now some Liberals are breaking ranks. First Queensland federal MP Bert Van Manen came out to say he was against the billion-dollar NAIF loan going to Adani and then just before the Easter weekend Victorian Liberal MP Sarah Henderson also publicly questioned the project. Now, former Liberal leader, John Hewson, has weighed in.

As the economics of Adani begin to crumble, more Liberals will be under pressure from constituents missing out from the budget who will ask “why do I lose out while an Indian miner gets $1 billion?”. No guarantee of how much company tax paid will be paid, no guarantee of royalties, and jobs claims crumbling risk the whole economic mirage being spotted by an electorate increasingly sceptical of multi-national tax avoidance.

And then there is Alan Jones. Sydney’s radio host is back on air both for the true believers on Sky in the evening and the mums and dads of the western Sydney marginals each morning on 2GB. And he is letting fly to both audiences, assaulting the economic claims of the mine as well letting listeners know what he thinks of the unlimited free water the Adani mine will churn through.

While Alan Jones, government backbenchers, the Financial Review, a former liberal leader all add to the case against a $1 billion tax payer hand-out for a giant coal mine, the right and economic rationalists have gone missing.

For the government, there is the potential humiliation that will arrive if and when the independent board of the NAIF confronts the public, and the Turnbull government, with the conclusion that the numbers for the Adani mine simply do not stack up. Of course, any attempt by the government to suggest that such an outcome is impossible is an admission that the government does not think the NAIF is an independent body.

And, in the long term, after Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan are gone, the Coalition’s determination to subsidise the Adani coal mine at a time when global coal demand was already declining will cruel any hopes that the Coalition will be able to claw back notions that they are “good economic managers” or “fiscally conservative”.

The Prime Minister’s trip to India should have been a chance to look statesmen-like and above politics. But the trip was wrecked when it was overshadowed by the controversy of an increasingly dubious-looking NAIF board apparently on the verge of lending a fifth of its equity to a rich Indian coal baron pursuing a marginal project. From the foreign policy front through to environmental and economic concerns, Malcolm Turnbull is letting a National Party boondoggle churn through a lot of prime ministerial credibility.

Environment

Dec 1, 2016

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When One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts delivered his maiden speech to the Senate on September 13 of this year, he used the occasion to attack the science of climate change. In his speech, Roberts labelled climate change a “scam”, said it was prone to “hyperbolic predictions” and accused no less auspicious an organisation than the Bureau of Meteorology of manipulating climate data.

If Pauline Hanson is her party’s multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity expert, Malcolm Roberts entered Parliament as the self-proclaimed One Nation party climate change expert (with a background in coal mining).

The following exchanges unravel the ideological war between One Nation and its fiercest opponent: science.

One Nation says: On One Nation’s website the party alleges that climate change scientists, the United Nations and global governments including Australia are part of a mass environmental deception. Keep in mind, neither Hanson nor any other senator in One Nation is a qualified scientist.

“Climate change should not be about making money for a lot of people and giving scientists money. Lets [sic] know the facts and scientific evidence to make a well informed decision as to how best to look after our environment.”

“Paris’ main role was to endorse the climate sham. It gives Hunt and Turnbull a way to keep moving Australia under tighter UN control. This is despite there being no empirical evidence that carbon dioxide from humans affects climate.”

Science responds: According to NASA’s website, there is a global scientific consensus that humans have contributed to climate change phenomena like global warming. NASA’s scientists include Dr Carmen Boening, who has a PhD in physical oceanography and is a part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, and Dr Michael Gunson, an atmospheric scientist with a PhD in chemistry.

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

The CSIRO, Australia’s leading scientific research organisation, is responsible for inventing wi-fi and Aeroguard insect repellent. The CSIRO has been monitoring climate data and producing biennial reports since 2012. CSIRO research indicates last century global sea levels rose by 20cm. Global temperatures in this century have increased year upon year, with 2015 ranking the warmest year on record. The CSIRO says it’s getting hot in here:

“The Bureau of Meteorology’s Manager of Climate Monitoring, Dr Karl Braganza said Australia was already experiencing the effects of climate change with record-breaking heat now becoming commonplace across the country.”

And why?

“CSIRO Senior Scientist and leader of the NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub, Dr Helen Cleugh said the [climate] changes were due to an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which act like a blanket by keeping heat in the Earth’s lower atmosphere.”

Science finds: A report released on Monday by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University titled “Life and Death after Great Barrier Reef bleaching” found the highest recorded bleaching levels at the Great Barrier Reef:

“Scientists have confirmed the largest die-off of corals ever recorded on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.”

“The worst affected area, a 700 km swath of reefs in the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef has lost an average of 67% of its shallow-water corals in the past 8-9 months. Further south, over the vast central and southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef, the scientists were relieved to find a much lower death toll.”

As the figure above indicates, coral bleaching is most acute in the northern section of the reef. Scientists from the ARC forecast that it will take 10 to 15 years for coral in the northern region of the reef to regenerate.

The central and southern portions of the reef remain in relatively healthy condition.

In an attempt to create a political splash last week, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party held a party meeting at Great Keppel Island, in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef.

One Nation reacts: Hanson, having never attended university, put forth her opinion that the reef was in “pristine condition”, going so far as to deny global warming had a significant impact on coral bleaching.

As the ARC figure shows, the southern part of the reef has been largely unaffected by bleaching events, precisely the location Hanson and Roberts chose to visit.

Science weighs in: An investigation by The Guardian earlier this year cited that warmer water temperatures due to global warming was responsible for coral bleaching. Scientists assert the levels of coral bleaching were made 175 times more likely by human carbon emissions.

One Nation deflects: One Nation seems to have found an ally in Alan Jones, who last month revealed he was the public face behind the government’s Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef Initiative. The initiative states that its aim is to promote more positive coverage of the reef in line with preservation efforts. However Jones characterised the organisation as challenging climate “Armaggedonists” and responding to those painting the Australian government as “environmental vandals”.

Pauline Hanson and her party, like Jones, prefer discussions of tourism and industry to scientific debates. While on Great Keppel Island, more than 1000 kilometres away from the site of the highest levels of coral bleaching ever recorded, Hanson reiterated her party’s position on climate:

“When we have these agendas that are actually destroying our tourism industry and businesses … we need to ask the questions, and we want answers.”

One Nation says: On November 7, Malcolm Roberts, a former coal mine manager who has worked in the coal industry since 1977, released his report titled “On Climate, CSIRO Lacks Empirical Proof. Roberts repeated Hanson’s position that the Great Barrier Reef has not been adversely affected by global warming or extreme weather events:

“Green politicians, activists and nongovernment organisations tell us our Great Barrier Reef is dying yet scientific researchers and tour boat operators who live on the reef confirm that it’s thriving. What is threatened is the reef’s tourist industry as international tourists are scared away from visiting an imagined dead reef fabricated by emotional campaigns. Why?”

“Formerly as federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt reported to the UN on the state of our Great Barrier Reef. That undermined Australian sovereignty and governance. We have no responsibility to report to the UN. Australia’s governing document is our constitution.”

Roberts’ report levels wider criticism at the CSIRO, which, he says, “contradict science and history”. Roberts disputes the CSIRO’s assertion that humans have contributed to an increase in CO2 emissions and calls for an independent inquiry into CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have a longstanding call for a royal commission into the “corruption of climate science”.

Science responds: Two weeks ago, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt, an Oxford graduate in mathematics who was recognised as an author of a climate change report that won the joint award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote a letter to Malcolm Roberts. In the letter, Schmidt brings attention to a number of Roberts’ “misconceptions”.

“You appear to hold a number of misconceptions which I am happy to clarify at this time. Firstly, in the graphs you show the data is quite clearly (and correctly) labelled as originating from GHCN. For your information, GHCN stands for the Global Historical Climatology Network and is a project of the NOAA National Centre for Environmental Information.”

“You appear to be mistaken as the effect of homogeneity adjustments (from whatever source) on Arctic temperatures.”

Schmidt refers Roberts to graphs pertaining to global surface temperature history and homogenised temperature calculations in the Arctic, which Roberts had previously rejected.

Business

Oct 26, 2016

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Noted climate sceptic and 2GB radio host Alan Jones is the unlikely public face behind a government-funded “global social purpose movement”, launched to allow citizens to “vote where real funds will go to best rejuvenate and protect” the Great Barrier Reef.

The Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef Initiative’s members include many of the region’s tourism bodies, including Tourism Tropical North Queensland, the Quicksilver Group (which operates cruises on the reef) and the Queensland Music Festival, as well as bodies like James Cook University, the Queensland state government and the federal government. Some of these bodies have made a point of discussing the impact of climate change on the reef — claims Alan Jones spent much of the past two days vehemently opposing on his radio show as he launched the initiative.

He described it on air yesterday as “a positive initiative to deny the Armageddonists” — Jones’ term for those who claim the reef is being irrevocably damaged by climate change and mining –“the opportunity to bad-mouth Australia to the world, and to paint Australia and Australian governments as environmental vandals”. On Monday and Tuesday, Jones broadcast his show from Cairns, reaching, according to the press release, half a million listeners in Sydney and Brisbane. On air, Jones encouraged listeners to give their input into “polishing this jewel”.

Can, and should, discussion of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef take place without mention of climate change? The organisation’s chairman, Alex de Wall, who also heads up Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ), told Crikey debating climate change wasn’t the point: “Our plans are to engage with Citizens from all persuasions and points of view and to not participate in the debate, but to leverage the passion and focus on the GBR to activate initiatives that positively contribute to its preservation.

“No one, regardless of their point of view, can argue against taking positive action to improve the way we look after our natural environment and the world’s most significant barometer thereof, the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

During the federal election campaign, the then-nascent Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef initiative was awarded $1.3 million from the federal government to develop what local MP Warren Entsch described as a “one-stop shop where people can learn about the reef and the activities that are underway to make it stronger and more resilient”.

The initiative is putting $1 million of this into its website, which will feature streaming HD video of the reef, a “browser-controlled … submergible drone experience”, a curriculum developed at James Cook University for use in classrooms, as well as a social media campaign to accompany the launch. The other $300,000 is going towards the construction of public artwork, which is also being funded by a further $300,000 from the Cairns Regional Council. Of arguably more promotional value to the campaign than the digital investment has been Jones’ support.

The website aims to reach 100 million people, and to recruit 5 million as “citizens” in the initiative. It hopes to raise $5 million in donations from corporate sponsorship, which “citizens” will then be able to direct towards scientific and conservation projects they support.

timeline

In announcing the funding in June, Entsch said the initiative would allow people to express their support for the reef in a meaningful way:

“TTNQ — as the proponent of this concept in conjunction with partners JCU, GBRMPA, RRRC and Reef HQ Aquarium — have really thought outside the box, and have engaged some very innovative marketing avenues. By doing so, COGBR will enable Australia to showcase the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s best-managed Reef, as well as providing an extraordinary global profile and platform to showcase what is actually being done.”

Talk of coral bleaching has yet to have an impact on visitor numbers to the Great Barrier Reef, though it’s unlikely to count as a positive for marketing purposes. TTNQ says visitor numbers to FNQ are up 13% in the past 12 months.

Tips and rumours

Jul 29, 2016

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New Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Greg Hunt seems to be taking to his new portfolio like a duck to water, if his speech at Wednesday night’s Australian Public Service Innovation Awards is anything to go by. Hunt presented awards to different departments and commented at length about the importance of innovation in both the private and public sectors. Our tipster tells us that for the most part, the speech was top notch, until Hunt showed that he really was in the start-up vibe by saying a lot of things that made very little sense at all:

“So in the private sector the national innovation and science agenda is about attracting people to Australia and driving them through the system. It’s about attracting capital to Australia and within Australia for investment in new jobs and growing firms and creating those opportunities.

“And it’s about making sure that we have the science that is in place — the super science — whether it’s the synchrotron, whether it’s the square kilometre array, whether it’s the work through Questacon — the extraordinary Questacon — to give us the capacity to have the tools that are the roads of the future.

“They are, it’s the understanding of the way electrons and neutrons move, the impact that has in terms of creating new products for people. And so that’s what were seeking to do through the private side.”

Electrons and neutrons, yes. For background, only electrons really move freely around anywhere, unless you count the vibration and tiny “movement” inside the atomic nucleus, where neutrons are stuck with protons. Hunt also talked up innovation in his previous portfolio of environment, but we’re not sure it left attendees feeling that he really did have the credentials for innovatey-newness:

“The examples that I know of from my work with Gordon [de Brouwer] in the Environment Department: the work around reverse auctions and the emissions reduction fund was pioneering and is now world-leading.

The work of the threatened species commissioner is another example of doing things in a completely different way and it defied expectations and it has been brilliant success of engaging the public where you have the public sector as champion, and the public engaged and inspired by, you know, a brilliant young indigenous leader talking who is talking on behalf of all Australians.

“And then of course the work on the reef — which has been hailed around the world — through the reef trust and the reef fund. All new ways of doing things.”

That would be the Great Barrier Reef that may soon be on the UN World Heritage Committee’s “in danger” list, a label that Hunt campaigned against, and also had removed from UNESCO’s report on climate change. Innovative.

Tips and rumours

May 31, 2016

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Environment Minister Greg Hunt doesn’t usually come across as having a great sense of humour, but we thought he had to be pulling our leg with this tweet yesterday, that proclaimed “Under Labor, the Great Barrier Reef was on-track to be listed as ‘in danger’. It came off the ‘watch list’ under us.”


Just days after The Guardian revealed that the Australian government had intervened in a UN Report on “World Heritage Tourism in a Changing Climate” to remove a whole chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as any other mentions of Australia. Maybe not quite the right time to be be bragging, Minister.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

News

May 31, 2016

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Dispatch from Maribynong. Ms Tips often feels a bit of sympathy for the candidates who do their party duty and run in unwinnable seats, but according to this tipster the Liberal candidate in Bill Shorten’s seat of Maribyrnong, Ted Hatzakortzian, has just enough chutzpah for the job:

“I live across the road from Bill Shorten’s electoral office in the seat of Maribyrnong and three times in two weeks, the Liberal candidate has placed himself & his volunteers essentially right out the front, which is next to a busy crossing at a Moonee Ponds shopping centre. Very optimistic of him given the safety of the seat.”

Do-nothing Joe. While Scott Morrison is spending his days talking about budget black holes within black holes, the man he replaced seems to be having a swell time in the USA. Former treasurer and now ambassador to the US Joe Hockey has been meeting with US politicians and Australian sports people, but according to this tweet by Sandi Logan, he’s been doing too much of the latter and not enough of the former:

sandi logan tweet

Rice to fight firing. The fallout from Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes scandal continues, with sacked producer Stephen Rice lawyering up to fight his sacking. Rice’s lawyer John Laxon has called Rice a “scapegoat” for Nine in the bungled kidnapping in Lebanon and has accused Nine of failing in its duty of care to the producer.

Ms Tips hears he isn’t the only one unhappy with which staff have been punished while others survive to work another day. A tipster tells us that sound recordist David Ballment did raise queries about the safety of the shoot, but he was overridden before it went ahead. Ballment, along with cameraman Ben Williamson and reporter Tara Brown, were censured by the network but didn’t lose their jobs.

Spend-o-meter. After Sunday night’s debate involved an hour of duelling press conferences, it’s nice to see a moment of lightness, a gimmick to break up the monotony. The Liberal Democrats have put together their own kind of spend-o-meter — give it a spin and it will spit out a random spending promise. Our favourite is “The Greens are proud to pledge $300 billion for agile and innovative duck crossing for Aussie families” followed by “The Coalition are proud to pledge $400 bajillion for multi-national community swimming pools to fight the War on Drugs”. You can generate your own spending announcement here, but be careful, it could take your whole afternoon.

World’s Best Minister saves Great Barrier Reef. Environment Minister Greg Hunt doesn’t usually come across as having a great sense of humour, but we thought he had to be pulling our leg with this tweet yesterday, that proclaimed “Under Labor, the Great Barrier Reef was on-track to be listed as ‘in danger’. It came off the ‘watch list’ under us.”

Greg Hunt GBR tweet

Just days after The Guardian revealed that the Australian government had intervened in a UN Report on “World Heritage Tourism in a Changing Climate” to remove a whole chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as any other mentions of Australia. Maybe not quite the right time to be be bragging, Minister.

New gig for Triggs. President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs has another title to add to her name — she’s just been appointed as the chair of RMIT University’s Juris Doctor Advisory Board. She was previously Dean of the Law School at the University of Sydney. Maybe she will advise RMIT that Australia already has a glut of law graduates.

David Feeney’s latest. Labor frontbencher David Feeney is trying his best to recover from a series of gaffes in which it was revealed that he hadn’t declared one of his houses on his interest register, failed to articulate Labor policies, and then left his talking points in the waiting room at Sky. Yesterday he tweeted that a school in his electorate had secured $500,000 for new facilities, but that hasn’t got a great reaction from locals — the Maharishi private school is under investigation by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority after half the students left last year, leaving it with fewer than 50 students.

David Feeney Facebook

According to The Age:

“Some concerned parents claimed the school repressed physical activity such as soccer, basketball and ‘tiggy’ because it was not peaceful enough, according to a confidential report.

“The report, which was commissioned by the school and written by Lyngcoln Consultants, found high levels of stress among staff, “with the ‘stress-free’ environment which had attracted them as a teacher, now not being a reality”.

“In the view of the consultants the school currently is not living up to its values or expectations of providing a stress free environment for staff, parents/carers or students,” it said.”

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Federal

Apr 4, 2016

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Although the Queensland government has granted Adani three coal licences to mine an estimated 11 billion tonnes of thermal coal in the Carmichael area, the company still faces several hurdles before it will be able to commence mining in the region.

Queensland’s Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Dr Anthony Lynham, on Sunday approved the licences for Adani for the $16 billion Carmichael coal mine and rail project, claiming the government had put in place stringent conditions on environmental protection and landholders’ rights. Lynham said in a statement:

“The mine’s environmental authority had about 140 conditions to protect local flora and fauna, groundwater and surface water resources, as well as controls on dust and noise. A further 99 stringent and wide-ranging conditions apply to the rail and port elements of the project.”

The project will still need more approvals before it can get the go-ahead, including secondary approvals for rail, port facilities, power, water, roadworks and an airport. Adani still faces two legal challenges to the project.

The first is a native title case being brought against Adani by the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people. The National Native Title Tribunal in April 2015 determined that the mine could go ahead, but this is now the subject of an appeal in the Federal Court. A traditional owner and spokesperson for the people, Adrian Burragubba, said in a statement yesterday that the Queensland government’s decision to proceed despite the case being unresolved was “a disgraceful new low in the exercise of government power at the expense of traditional owners’ rights”. He said Lynham in October had sent a letter to W&J’s legal counsel stating he would wait for the matter to be resolved before making a decision on whether to grant the licences. Burragubba said the case could go all the way to the High Court:

“The minister may think this is the end of the matter, but for us it is just another chapter in the long struggle we have to get proper respect and protection for our rights under law, and ensure our sacred homelands are preserved for time immemorial. We have said no to the Adani Carmichael mine. And when we say no, we mean no.”

The second case, launched by the Australian Conservation Foundation in November last year after the federal government approved the project, challenges the mine on the grounds that the estimated 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted by the mine during its lifetime would have a huge impact on the Great Barrier Reef. ACF boss Kelly O’Shanassy told Crikey in November: It will produce an enormous amount of pollution, and that pollution will make climate change worse, and climate change will affect the reef. We feel [Hunt] has not adequately looked at his World Heritage obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and he has those obligations under environmental law. That’s what we’re testing.”

ACF spokesperson Josh Meadows told Crikey that like W&J, the ACF was surprised the Queensland government had approved the mine while litigation was ongoing: “We were surprised because Minister Lynham said in February that he was reluctant to go ahead with the mining lease while there was still judicial reviews outstanding.”

The Coordinator-General’s report into the environmental impact of the mine in 2014 argued that because the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is 320 km upstream from the project, it was unlikely to have “any direct impacts” on the reef, but the report admitted polluted water from the mine could end up in the reef. But Meadows says the ACF’s case is arguing that the impact the project will have on climate change will damage the Great Barrier Reef further.

“We’re seeing at the moment with the coral bleaching that is occurring on the reef, just how even small increases in temperature can have a devastating impact on coral,” Meadows said.

The ACF’s case is due to be heard in the Federal Court on May 3 and 4. The native title case was heard in February, but a judgment has not yet been released.

The ACF believes that if Parliament passes changes to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the ACF would still have standing as an environmental group under common law, but challenges to ministerial approval of projects would be tougher. The legislation to stop so-called “green lawfare” was introduced during the Abbott era, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is still planning on forging ahead with the legislation. It is still before the Senate, however, and there has been no indication from the government on when it plans to bring on the bill for a vote.

The other major hurdle facing Adani in getting the Carmichael mine project up and running is securing funding for the project. The Commonwealth Bank, NAB and ANZ have reportedly refused to fund it, while Westpac is also said to be hesitant to back the project.

Tips and rumours

Dec 22, 2015

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Signatures that actually change things. As we come to the end of the year, we can only hope that the Twitter outrage machine also takes a break, at least for a couple of weeks. Interestingly the issues that made the biggest impact on petition website Change.org were actually very different than the daily anger churn. Change has released a list of its most successful petitions of the year, covering state and federal politics, getting drugs on the PBS and credit card surcharges. Interestingly, Change.org believes that while the majority of petitions started on the site relate to local government issues, the most successful ones relate to state and federal issues. The most successful petition for the year, with 172,000 signatures, resulted in a drug that treats melanoma being added to the PBS. But the biggest petition of the year is yet to be called a victory. A petition calling for medical cannabis to be decriminalised has more than 250,000 supporters, and although the federal government has announced it will move toward legalising medicinal cannabis, the campaigners won’t call it a victory until legislation is passed.

What do we pay you for? Most of think we pay our politicians to make decisions for the country, but over in the UK the Scottish National Party has decided, after doing its own research, that MPs have “wasted” six working days by voting since the general election in May. The SNP is using the stat to lobby for electronic voting, which is already in place in the Scottish Parliament. While the UK also has the Westminster system of government, UK MPs don’t just vote by crossing the chamber like here in Australia — they walk down “aye” or “no” corridors, which are known as lobbies. The SNP says this takes on average 15 minutes every time there is a vote. We think keeping the current system is also good for the pollies’ health — at least this way they get to get up for a walk every now and then.

Taking out the trash. Environment Minister Greg Hunt has approved the expansion of the Abbot Point terminal, with the condition that 1.1 million cubic metres of sand will be dumped in industrial land, not in the Great Barrier Reef marine park. The expansion means that coal from projects like the Adani Carmichael Mine could be shipped from the terminal. The expansion will increase the port’s capacity from 50 to 120 million tonnes a year and Hunt says the reef will not be affected. “The port area is at least 20 kilometres from any coral reef and no coral reef will be impacted,” he said. Did he think we wouldn’t notice?

Meryy Christmas, Mark Scott. ABC boss Mark Scott must be relieved at the announcement that Michelle Guthrie is taking over his role in May 2016 — after a long lead-up, the end is in sight. He posted this photo on Instagram yesterday, saying that he was pleased to receive the book of the scripts of ABC comedy Utopia. He said “they know I have been living it”.

mark scott book

Trains canter and gallop along. Operator of Victoria’s regional train network, V/Line, has announced that it will name one of its trains after Melbourne Cup winning jockey Michelle Payne. We like the idea of a Payne Train, especially as Payne and her family are true blue country Victorians — hailing from the Ballarat area. Although one tipster did point out to Ms Tips that it could equate to false advertising — the Payne Train would need to run on time and not break down, and we’re not sure any public transport in Victoria can completely live up to that promise. We’ve already had the Hayne Plane this year — although Aussie Jarryd Hayne is still struggling to make a mark on the NFL in the US, hopefully the Payne Train fares better.

Is that all zinc? The IPA’s Chris Berg writes today that to attack cultural appropriation is to attack culture itself, saying that the food we eat and the symbols we use are all part of cultural appropriation. Ms Tips enjoys both yoga and wearing a sombrero for sun protection, so we’re mostly on board with Berg, but we’re not sure we can stomach this man dressed as a “red-skin” at the Big Bash yesterday:

indian head dress

In defence of Christmas. Speaking of the IPA, it wouldn’t be Christmas without someone telling us Christmas was under attack. This year, “Victoria’s public schools are the frontline in the war on Christmas”. Or, so says an IPA director (and, while this isn’t declared in the column, national Young Liberal president) Simon Breheny.

For those outside Victoria, the Labor government there scrapped the controversial chaplaincy program in its schools in August. To replace it, the government has released new guidelines for special religious instruction, which require it be delivered during lunchtime or before or after school. The guidelines characterise “praise music” as religious material suitable only for outside school hours, but “carols” as fine. State education minister James Merlino slammed comments from the Liberal opposition that the government was trying to ban Christmas carols as “misinformation”. “Traditional Christmas ­carols have been and will continue to be sung at Victorian government schools, along with other activities, such as colourful celebrations during Diwali and candle lighting during Hanukkah,” he said. Back to Breheny:

“This is a cultural turning point. The Victorian government isn’t just banning Christmas carols; this is an attempt to strip away the meaning of Christmas. It’s an overt attack on one of the most significant events in the Christian calendar.”

So because it banned religious instruction delivered by taxpayer funding through outside contractors during school hours, something you’d imagine the libertarians at the IPA would fully support, the Andrews government is now engaged in a plan to “strip away the meaning of Christmas”. Yep, that makes sense. Merry Christmas everyone!

Royal baby photoshop. The internet conspiracy mill is questioining whether all is well with Princess Charlotte. The royal family released its Christmas portrait this week and there are whispers that Princess Charlotte doesn’t look quite right. No one is accusing the bub of not being cute enough, or her cheeks not pinchable enough, but it has been pointed out that her smiling face is focused differently to the rest of her family. Was a crying Charlotte swapped for a more happy princess?

princess charlotte face

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

crikey15

Nov 9, 2015

5 comments

The Australian government is facing yet another legal challenge to the Carmichael mine project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, with the Australian Conservation Foundation launching a case in the Federal Court this morning.

In October, the Australian government again gave mining giant Adani approval to build the $16 billion Carmichael mine and rail project in central Queensland, two months after approval was set aside by the Federal Court because Environment Minister Greg Hunt had failed to comply with the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to consider the impact on threatened species, in particular the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.

A new challenge to the minister’s approval, brought about by the Australian Conservation Foundation, will argue that Hunt failed to consider the impact on the coal burned from the mine on the Great Barrier Reef. The coal from the mine would result in emissions of 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the life of the mine, and the ACF argues that Hunt failed to consider the effect on the World Heritage Values of the Great Barrier Reef from emissions from the mine’s coal.

ACF boss Kelly O’Shanassy told Crikey the case would be historic because no one had challenged the mine on the grounds of Australia’s international obligations for the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s unlike the other cases that have been brought up against the Carmichael Coal Mine, and we think it is a really important thing to test because we have international obligations for the reef, and climate change, which is the major element of our case in that this mine will be one of the biggest in the world, and the biggest in Australia,” she said.

“It will produce an enormous amount of pollution, and that pollution will make climate change worse, and climate change will affect the reef. We feel [Hunt] has not adequately looked at his World Heritage obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and he has those obligations under environmental law. That’s what we’re testing.”

According to the application to the Federal Court, seen by Crikey, there are four grounds for the case, including the Great Barrier Reef claim. Two others relate to the characterisation of emissions from the coal mine, and the final ground is whether Hunt failed to adequately consider the impact of the project on the black-throated finch.

Under former prime minister Tony Abbott the government had passed legislation through the House of Representatives that would gut section 487 of the EPBC Act by removing the ability for public interest litigants such as conservation groups to challenge approvals in court, despite the fact that there had only ever been two successful challenges for applicants with standing under the EPBC Act. The legislation now sits in the Senate but is not listed for debate this week.

O’Shanassy said that if the legislation passed it would make it harder for an organisation like the Australian Conservation Foundation to get standing in cases such as the one it has filed today.

“The environment can’t stand for itself, and can’t speak for itself, so the act essentially says that environment groups working on these issues are able to speak up for the environment … we should be able to prove standing [under the current act], but [the amendment] would certainly make it harder. It certainly makes proving standing the first hurdle we need to get over.”

O’Shanassy says taking on legal action is a big step for environment groups given the cost involved.

“Even ACF, one of the largest environment groups in the country, had to think about this carefully, and we had to, of course, have very sound legal advice and look at all of the risks. These changes are all put in place to try to make it harder and harder for environment groups to make these difficult decisions,” she said.

“It’s about the fair implementation of the law, and we don’t think the minister has done that in this case, so we feel it is our responsibility to challenge that because this mine will have such devastating impact on the reef and on Australia’s environment.”

The case could last between three and six months.

It’s unclear now whether the Turnbull government will still proceed with the legislation limiting the ability for environmental groups to challenge projects such as the Carmichael mine in court. A spokesperson for the Environment Minister did not respond by deadline.

Federal

Nov 24, 2014

5 comments

Yesterday morning, at 7.30, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a “message from the Prime Minister — Future growth and prosperity”, accompanied by a YouTube video filmed in the Prime Minister’s courtyard. In the video, Abbott explained how great for Australia his free trade agreement with China would be — along with those with South Korea and Japan. As of 24 hours later, it had around 250 views. In time, most of Abbott’s videos eventually reach two or three thousand views. This one has some way to go yet.

The emphasis on the free trade agreement marks something of a shift in language. Since the middle of the year, Abbott has liked to talked about security and prosperity, using the clunky phrase “a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia”, a line that ministers and backbenchers were compelled by the PMO to shoehorn into their speeches, media releases and statements, no matter how inapt. “Cutting red tape is at the heart of this Government’s mission to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia,” Small Business Minister Bruce Billson declared without irony a month ago, perhaps thinking the government is merely deregulating the Federal Police and ASIO from burdensome requirements to observe the basic rights of citizens, although it’s a little hard to see how expanded control orders and mass police raids fit anyone’s idea of cutting red tape.

But the FTAs now look to be a key government theme, although Trade Minister Andrew Robb set the rhetorical bar a little high by calling them “the biggest transformational initiatives in public policy since the floating of the dollar over 30 years ago”, a piece of hyperbole that even Robb, an experienced and intelligent economist, presumably doesn’t believe.

Voters may not understand free trade agreements, but generally think they’re a good idea — free trade! Yay! — but even if the government somehow successfully connects them to Australia’s future economic growth, it’s not the sort of thing that drives votes, except if it produces more xenophobic headlines about Chinese property investment in Sydney, and then of course it drives them the wrong way. Whether the government can communicate anything effectively, though, is the more important question. Two examples over the last week demonstrate how straight-out dumb the government’s approach to communicating with voters is.

“The other question in all this is whether this is just the result of poor judgement in the PMO … or whether it’s innate in Abbott and his core team.”

First, the reaction to the Obama speech. The President didn’t even directly criticise Australia. But such is the power of the office and Obama’s charisma that even a glancing blow about climate change floored the government. Eventually the government hit back via Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, contradicting Obama on the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, saying it was in no danger from climate change. The problem was, that only prompted an array of scientists to emerge to say it was very much in danger. Worse, the government’s own Reef Authority agreed. Why on earth was Bishop feuding with the President of the United States over a matter of detail, and why was that detail something on which your average voter could see Bishop was wrong?

The other example was the government’s insistence that it wasn’t cutting the ABC and SBS, as it went about cutting $300 million from the national broadcasters. Even the usually eloquent Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced into tongue-twisting contortions to explain that. Not merely was the government setting itself in opposition to an institution far more trusted by voters than any government ever will be, it was insisting that black was white, or if black wasn’t necessarily white, that the original statement relating to black had to be understood in the context that in fact it was really relating to white. With respect, your honour.

Both examples reflect a persistent theme in the government’s communications: a defensive insistence that something that is demonstrably true in fact isn’t, that voters are wrong, or confused, if they believe something that differs from the government’s narrative. The ABC isn’t being cut, the Great Barrier Reef is in no danger, the Budget was fair, tax increases are not tax increases, deregulating will just lead to more competition not higher university fees, Direct Action will reduce carbon emissions. The government’s communication strategy is always “no, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong” — an approach that as any PR specialist will explain, doesn’t normally work too well.

The other question in all this is whether this is just the result of poor judgement in the PMO — the same poor judgment that saw Abbott deliver a parochial stump speech to the G20 leaders’ retreat — or whether it’s innate in Abbott and his core team. Abbott, the post-modern Prime Minister who reached the highest office in the land by persistently rejecting the need for consistency, evidence or logic in relentless attacks on the government, who crowned one argument about how education bonuses were different to Baby Bonuses with “they just are”, seems to find it difficult to argue any other way. The consequences of such a denialist approach to communication appear to be on vivid display in the current polls.