December 24, 2013

Bimblebox: not-so-happy Christmas

For almost two years I have been following the fate of Bimblebox Nature Refuge as mining companies propose the destruction of the Galilee Basin's landscape and the export of its mineral riches. Environmentalists and conservationists and nature lovers and farmers and graziers and concerned communities have lobbied and marched and emailed and telephoned and tweeted and blogged and made submissions and even supported objectors in court.

Despite everyone's best efforts, late last Friday came the decision we've all been awaiting, and dreading, and become resigned to while hoping against hope that common sense and enlightenment would prevail. Minister 'for the Environment' Greg Hunt in the Federal LNP government approved Waratah Coal's plans for a mega mine where Bimblebox currently flourishes.

It's a bit like when someone who's been battling serious illness finally passes away. You know it's coming but when the news hits you are still overwhelmed with desperate sadness. I suppose the worst despair won't hit in the case of Bimblebox unless the dozers arrive to crush mulga and brigalow and grevillea and wattle and gum and ironbark and poplar box, and displace koalas and wallabies and kites and squatter pigeons and finches and tree frogs and skinks and lizards and bats. That moment will be truly heartbreaking.

Hunt's crass decision is by no means the end of the fight, however. Waratah still don't have approval for transporting their black gold to an export point, although Queensland's LNP government is likely to cave in over its initial objection to more than one 480-km rail link across vulnerable floodplains from the Galilee to the coast. Potential customers for coal may convert to renewable sources of energy before Queensland's resources become available; or simply decide that Australian exports are too pricey. Or the world economy may render what is already an unsustainable and unjustifiable development totally unviable.

The Federal government may be wooing Clive Palmer (Waratah's chairman) so that his fledgling eponymous party will help them kill off carbon pricing in the Senate where he could hold the balance of power come the middle of next year. It may be all about sheer greed. What is certain is that it is a bad decision for Australia and the planet and millions of people who appreciate this continent's landscape and value its biodiversity, whether they be inhabitants or visitors. What is certain is that it is a shortsighted decision; an ill-conceived idea; a selfish stance globally. Ultimately nothing good will come of it. The promise of jobs, especially in the construction phase, must be counterbalanced by the loss of employment opportunities in agriculture, tourism and local manufacturing.

And so, this festive holiday season my thoughts are with all the folks whose lives would be blighted by this monstrous project; livelihoods wrecked, pasture spoiled, natural world plundered, beloved bush silenced of birdsong and invaded by the thumping and screeching of machinery 24/7. May you recharge your batteries ready for the next stage of the battle in 2014. Increasing numbers will stand with you and raise their voices in your clamour for a fundamental rethink of Australia's resource development from its precious land. Otherwise, history's judgement will be harsh indeed.

December 16, 2013

'13 images (random)

Jan Tug battling swollen Brisbane River
Feb Collaged flag at GOMA, Brisbane
Mar Crossing a creek in the wilderness
Apr Binna Burra Mountain Lodge
May Paniyiri Greek Festival in Brisbane
Jun Roo prints at Kilcowera Station, Outback QLD
Jul The House pops up unexpectedly, Sydney
Aug Container world, Port of Brisbane
Sep Brisbane CBD
Oct Girl and gull, Main Beach, Byron Bay
Nov Riverbend Books awning, Bulimba, QLD
Dec Working river near Gateway Bridge, Brisbane
Best in show Media chopper (from Story Bridge)

December 15, 2013

'13 images (wildlife)

Jan Soggy roo on North Coast, NSW
Feb Sulphur-crested room mate, Hamilton Is
Mar Monitor Lizard playing hard to get
Apr Bit o' stick in Binna Burra
May Turtle channelling ET (Botanic Gardens)
Jun Echidna in the Outback
Jul Sydney Seagull
Aug Pellie posse in the Port
Sep Blue-face-off with Kookaburras
Oct Now you see me, soon you won't
Nov Yoga at Swan Lake
Dec Balancing act in Byron (Little Black Cormorants)
Best in show Lorikeets in a bit of a hole

'13 images (landscape)

Jan Australia Day weekend, Angourie, NSW
Feb Whitsunday Islands, Coral Sea
Mar In search of Brisbane River source, Jimna, QLD
Apr Binna Burra, Lamington NP, QLD
May Rainbow Beach, QLD
Jun Silver City Hwy from Tibooburra to QLD border
Jul Sydney from Milsons Point, North Shore
Aug Port of Brisbane
Sep Glass House Mountains, QLD
Oct Wynnum Pier, Moreton Bayside, QLD
Nov Torquay Main Beach, VIC
Dec Byron Bay from The Pass
Best in show Mt Warning from Belongil, NSW

December 14, 2013

Secrets, lies and back-flips

Never in his wildest imaginings could Tony Abbott have thought his first hundred days in government would be so difficult; so unsuccessful. Having lead so comfortably in the polls for a long while prior to the Federal election last September – apart from a slight blip when Kevin removed Julia – how could the honeymoon have been so short-lived? In fact, pollsters claim there has been no honeymoon at all, which is highly unusual. The latest poll shows the biggest slump for a new government – a four to five per cent swing against – in 40 years.

In a matter of a few weeks, Australia has become an embarrassment globally and the worst fears of truly liberal thinkers have been realised far sooner than expected.

One of Abbott's key sound bites... sorry policies... soon descended into farce. Stopping the boats was made a military matter, an issue of national security shrouded in secrecy. Weekly press conferences were pointless, and public and media alike became dependent on Indonesian sources of information for boat statistics. It was interesting to observe the media cooling on the Coalition. Then, already tricky negotiations with Indonesia were stalled by spying allegations. So much for a 'Jakarta not Geneva' foreign policy focus. Timor-Leste weren't impressed by spying either.

The Government's pronouncements about China's control of certain bits of air space during its ongoing dispute with Japan over a group of islands lead to a frosty reception for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Great outfit though: loved the swirly skirt with the boots. A fine example of power dressing if ever I saw one.

Not sending the Minister for the Environment to climate talks in Warsaw was not a good move, Abbott. If Australia really wants to be a global player, opting out of the most serious issue facing all nations currently and into the future was short-sighted and completely misguided. The Minister was too busy back home getting rid of climate-science-based influencers and renewable energy initiatives. Dear oh dear.

Abbott's fixation with repealing carbon pricing was high on his agenda. He still maintains the election was a mandate to take Australia backwards on emissions targets, but voters voted not so much on that as booting out Labor. They wanted change. They weren't endorsing LNP policies: we didn't know what most of those were prior to polling day. The election was a rerun of the Queensland state election 18 months previously. Change for change's sake, with little heed for the consequences. It took Queenslanders only slightly longer to discover their mistake and for a different reason – when thousands of public sector jobs were axed. That hasn't begun yet for the Commonwealth as a whole.

One thing the then Opposition had promised to do was honour Labor's education funding plans. But lo, a sudden U-turn. The fiasco really wasn't helped by the Education Minister's poor intellect and buffoonery. (Did you notice one day when Abbott was speaking in Parliament with his grave face on, Pyne let out an inappropriate giggle involuntarily?) Abbott had to step up to the mic with his Education Minister to soothe angry parents and 'clarify' that the LNP wasn't breaking its promise. Figures here and figures there. Surely you don't mess with education? How to alienate millions of voters at a stroke.

I actually thought Abbott's more-or-less silence and ever-so-low profile between election day and the opening of Parliament was a master stroke. The Australian people had had enough of daily pollie squabbles within and under Labor. Were the grown-ups knuckling down to the job? The first day of Parliament did not bode well, however. A blatantly biased new Speaker – another Bishop – did not deal well with renewed bickering. Term ended in a similar fashion. Recriminations and blame gaming abounded in a week in which the future of Holden car manufacturing and same-sex marriage in the ACT came to untimely ends.

Tony Abbott looks tired and older already. He seems to have less hair, but perhaps it's an optical illusion because the ears have got bigger. He needs a Christmas break: he almost endorsed smacking children the other day, and the flag on Parliament House did not come down early enough after Nelson Mandela's passing.

I must say I'm enjoying the Coalition's performance enormously so far. Happy holidays everyone.

December 11, 2013

Dredging and dumping

Not a single person in this land can be surprised that Federal Minister 'for the Environment' Greg Hunt has approved expansion plans for three new coal exporting terminals and a gas liquefaction plant on the Queensland coast within cooee of the Great Barrier Reef. Outraged perhaps, but not surprised. Hunt is, after all, a member of a right-wing LNP government committed to streamlining the approval process for resource development projects so that they can proceed as quickly as possible to revenue generation. Environmental safeguarding was never rigorous enough even before this rookie government got to work promoting the best interests of big business.

It doesn't matter however much environmentalists hope against hope – from the Tarkine in Tassie to glorious Gloucester in the Avon Valley of New South Wales to the wild rivers of Queensland's Far Far North – nothing is safe from mining (and related industries). The 'strictest conditions in Australia's history' have allegedly been attached to Mr Hunt's latest approvals, but that wouldn't be difficult, would it? I have black dust in my house (and probably my lungs) that I suspect comes from uncovered coal trains trundling into the Port of Brisbane. Not long ago there was coal-seam-gas-induced spa-bath bubbling in the Condamine River. Do the fishermen of Gladstone Harbour have their livelihoods back yet? And what of last week's spill in Kakadu after a tank of radioactive slurry burst? Must do better.

There are 95 conditions attached to the coal terminals and 53 to the gas plant on Curtis Island. I am sure they are considered and well-intentioned. But millions of tonnes of sediment will be dredged and then dumped, well, not sure exactly where yet but it will be within the GBR Marine Park. What about the monitoring of these conditions, I would like to know. Who will make sure the conditions are adhered to; how often will spot-checks be made or surveys conducted; and what will be the penalties for non-compliance? Big rich companies are adept at dodging their responsibilities – just ask communities in the Hunter Valley or on the Darling Downs – and those who will be most affected by these projects are probably the least able to make their voices of concern heard above the noise of machinery and the bluster of LNP politicians braying for more jobs for Queenslanders and dollars in the coffers. Will the Federal Government take responsibility for potential disaster many years down the track, for example?

This week the Abbott government amended the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act so that it cannot be challenged in the courts by community groups for failing to consider expert advice. This outrageous restriction was modified by a Labor amendment so it only applies to approvals made until 31 December this year. Suddenly the timing of Hunt's decision about Waratah's Galilee Coal Project (China First) becomes critical.

Despite plans for nine huge coal mines in the Galilee Basin, the Environmental Impact Statement for each proposal deals only with the impact of that one mine. There has long been a call for modelling of the cumulative impacts of several mines on life-giving groundwater in the region. Graziers and settlements are almost wholly dependent on bores: the mining companies will drain aquifers to reach the coal deposits and use vast quantities of water during extraction and processing. Neither is there a study of the potential impact on the Great Artesian Basin, which isn't far away. In the Land Court in September* groundwater experts confirmed the need for much more research on cumulative impacts.

A couple of hours ago I called Greg Hunt's office to ask when the Minister was planning to announce his decision about China First. The person who answered the phone had never heard of it. But a very helpful lady just called me back, and confirmed that the Minister is intending to announce his decision before Christmas.

That's almost certainly one unwanted Christmas present, then...
* landowners vs Hancock Coal (Alpha Mine)