Federal Court overturns Adani’s Carmichael mine

Adani's activity in the Carmichael mine. (Photo:Supplied)

Adani’s activity in the Carmichael mine. (Photo:Supplied)

Here’s another victory for environmental defenders!

Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, which could have been one of the largest coal mines in the world and responsible for substantial greenhouse gas emissions, is now without legal authority to commence construction or operate. The Federal Court of Australia overturned approval of the project. Read the court order HERE.

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) NSW, representing the Mackay Conservation Group (MCG), challenged the $16.5 billion project which the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved last year .The approval stirred unrests among local communities, indigenous people, tourism businesses, and various green and civic groups. 

Sue Higginson, principal solicitor of EDO NSW said the the decision of the court to overturn the Carmichael mine’s federal approval was based on a failure by the Minister to regard conservation advices for two Federally-listed vulnerable species, the Yakka Skink and Ornamental Snake. This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the Minister’s decision, the solicitor said.

The Minister approved the project without regard to the threats of endangered species which are found only in Queensland, the solicitor continued adding the law requires that the Minister should have considered conservation advices on the impacts of national environmental significance, such as the case of threatened species.

The  Minister also failed to consider global greenhouse emissions from the burning of the coal and Adani’s environmental history although these matters are left unresolved before the Court. Australia’s largest coal mine could be exporting up to 60 million tonnes of coal from across the Great Barrier Reef Coast every year.

Facility built at the Abbot Point Point to provide access to coal exports. (Photo:Supplied)

Facility built at the Abbot Point Point to provide access to coal exports. (Photo:Supplied)

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) estimates the mine will take 297 billion litres from underground aquifers, causing a drop in water table levels on which local farmers rely. When burnt, coal from the Carmichael mine will produce 128.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year, at peak production, or four times New Zealand’s annual climate pollution.

“It will be up to the Minister now to decide whether or not to approve the mine again, taking into account the conservation advices and any other information on the impacts of the project,” Higginson said. MCG is running a campaign calling the Minister to reject the project once and for all.

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‘Big 4′ banks under pressure to rule out funding of coal projects

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has released a report calling on Australia’s “big four” banks to rule out involvement in financing controversial coal projects proposed for Queensland’s Galilee Basin near the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

The report called ‘The Equator Principles and financing of coal projects in the Galilee Basin‘ names Australia’s “big four” banks   – Australia-New Zealand Banking Corp (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB), and Westpac Banking Corp – as signatories to the Equator Principles (EPs) and calls on all four to rule out any involvement in the Galilee Basin projects.

The report is a result of research undertaken by ACF energy analyst Tristan Knowles which investigates how Australian banks should deal with financing coal projects in the area. The EPs are a voluntary framework the banks have signed up to guide them in the assessment and management of environmental and social risk in the projects they consider financing.

Anti-coal activists hang a huge banner in front of Commonwealth Bank's headquarters, calling on to follow international banks: rule out finance for new coal export terminals at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.  (Photo: Market Forces)

Anti-coal activists hang a banner in front of Commonwealth Bank’s headquarters, calling on to follow international banks: rule out finance for new coal export terminals at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. (Photo: Market Forces)

The EPs serve as a guide to the best practices and a “gold standard” in environmental and social risk management. ACF said the EPs are relevant to proposed coal projects in the Galilee Basin because mines and infrastructure require project finance and advisory services to proceed. More notably, the project value is well over US$10 million – the current threshold for coverage by the EPs.

ACF insists that coal projects in the Galilee Basin are a litmus test for the EPs stating, “If they’re truly a gold standard for environmental and social risk management, Australian banks should rule out further financing of these projects because they will result in serious damage to the environment… We hope this report focuses the debate about Galilee Basin Coal projects back on the banks’ commitments to be environmental leaders.”

Anti-fossil fuel protesters call on Australian four major banks to divest from financing coal projects during the Divestment Day rally. (Photo: Market Forces)

Anti-fossil fuel protesters call on Australian four major banks to divest from financing coal projects during the Divestment Day rally. (Photo: Market Forces)

Several foreign banks have already backed out from financing Adani Group’s coal port expansion, including US banking giants Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase.

Prior to those banks’ rejection, the Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays all ruled out funding the development of the Adani’s $16.5bn project

The report said the massive projects will destroy tens of thousands of hectares of land, consume huge amounts of water and potentially impact on the Great Artesian Basin, and result in significant greenhouse gas pollution.

The UN World Heritage Committee, which visited the site in 2013, also said coal projects will cause irreparable damage to the World Heritage Area and warned the Australian government to delist the site.

News blog link: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent

Deutsche bank rebuffs Adani’s funding request

The Deutsche Bank of Germany announced it will not lend money to the Indian mining firm Adani Group to finance the development of Abbot Point Terminal I. The decision came after an AGM held on Thrusday.

We stress that we take the future of the Great Barrier Reef very seriously. We observe that there is no consensus between UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of Abbot Point. Since our guidance requires such a consensus as a minimum, we would not consider a financing request. – Deutsche Bank Group

Deutsche Bank Group convenes AGM 2014 (Photo: Deutsche Bank Group FB)

Adani is one of the last remaining investors standing for the port terminal, along with another Indian firm, GVK Group.

Other investors have long abandoned their stakes, including mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Lend Lease and Anglo American. Market and financial analysts said the multi-billion dollar investment is unfeasible due to the end of the mining boom, with the downward spiraling of coal market prices worldwide. Galilee Basin in northern Queensland, where coal will be extracted,is also extremely remote and without basic infrastructure.

Tony Brown, tour operator for the Whitsundays, speaks at the bank’s AGM 2014 (Photo: Market Forces)

Australian mining goddess Gina Rinehart, herself, sold most of her coal assets in 2011. GVK bought them.

But despite Indian interests, the project has been stalled for two years. Adani is required to complete all environmental approvals and then raise AU $8 billion of additional debt and equity financing, and hence allow construction to commence on the Carmichael coal, rail and port proposal. Read the scale and magnitude of funding HERE.

There are speculations that the two companies tried to sell their equity holdings. GVK allegedly offered Coal India Ltd, but was rebuffed due to its uncommercial value. Adani is also rumoured to have approached several Chinese firms, including China Railway Corp.

Early this month, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) warned investors it is too risky to invest in the project. Local banks which were appointed to finance the project include National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, and Westpac Banking Corp- on top of a few other international banks.

Tim Buckley , director of Energy Finance Studies, Australasia for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said that India cannot afford the price of imported coal:

India’s perilous economic and financial situation creates further uncertainty for companies relying on its ability and willingness to import coal, with its associated implications for inflation, current account deficits, economic instability and energy security’.

He also said that “imported coal would require double the current price of India’s wholesale electricity, which categorically discredits the nonsense argument that it might alleviate India’s energy poverty.” Buckley has produced detailed reports on Adani and GVK.

Whitsundays tour operator Tony Brown joins the rally in Germany (Photo: Market Forces)

Various environmental and civic groups have written the Deutsche Bank not to lend Adani.  Australian-base civic groups also linked with their European counterparts to “pressure” the bank. Some travel operators in Queensland further travelled to Germany to join the rally.

At the end of the AGM on Thrusday, the bank released the Deutsche Bank’s Environmental and Social Reputational Risk Framework (ES Framework), which stipulates the bank’s  environmental and social due diligence as an integral part of the approval process for doing business.

One of the specific guidelines recently adopted addresses activities in the close proximity to World Heritage Sites. It precludes transactions within or in close proximity to World Heritage Site unless there is a prior consensus between the relevant Government and UNESCO that such operations will not adversely affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the Site. This implies that we would not consider a request to finance an expansion unless we had the assurance of both the government and UNESCO that it would not adversely affect the Value of the Site.

Read: Deutsch Bank official stand and UNESCO’s State of Conservation

Blog Link: The Green Journal/ Asian Correspondent

Indian groups keep stake in Abbot Point, reef dumping

Indian mining groups –  Adani and GVK-Hancock –  have not waivered to drop their stakes in the controversial Abbot Point Port terminals in Northern Queensland.

The rest had already dropped the deal, including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Anglo American is the latest to announce it is walking away.

Abbot Point in Northern Queensland (Photo: NQBPC)

BHP Billiton has formally withdrawn from the $5 billion worth of project as the preferred developer of Terminal 2  in 2012. It also pulled out of building a rail line linking the port with Bowen Basin mines.

Early on, doubt has been cast over the feasibility of the project.

The recent decision by Anglo American re-affirms the unfeasibility of the project. The firm announced that oversupply of coal in the world market has dampen prices.

As of its December 2013 financial records, “metallurgical coal saw underlying operating profit fall 89% to $46m, while thermal coal profits fell 32% to $541m as a result of lower realised prices.”

Bloomberg’s writer, Elisabeth Berhmann, quoted a Sydney-based commodity analyst from Goldman Sachs Groups Inc as saying, “For these projects to be attractive investments, you need to be quite bullish about thermal coal prices….If you’re a power company, and you’re wanting to secure sources of coal, there’s plenty of coal in the market.”

Mining Australia notes the expansion would see four terminals costing $6.2 billion which would provide an extra annual capacity of 120 million tonnes. this would also support the development of mines in the Bowen, Surat, and Galilee Basins.

Adani and GVK Hancock, however, are all out to develop Terminal 0 and Terminal 3, respectively.

Josh Euler, manager for corporate affairs at GVK Hancock, welcomes the decision to go ahead with the expansion. He said in a  press statement , “This is a significant milestone in developing our Galilee Basin coal projects, which represent the creation of over 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and over $40 billion in taxes and royalties.” .

Double disadvantage

Amid bearish coal market prices, environmental groups have denounced the Government’s decision due to its high risk posing an irreversible damage to the world heritage site. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the reef marine park

The Australian public has been outraged with the approval. Last year, the United Nations downgraded the world heritage site into the endangered list.

Protesters in mascots against dumping on the reef. (Photo: AAP)

GBRMPA expedited a crisis communication in an attempt to ‘enlighten’ and ‘pacify’ the public.. Its chairman, Russell Reichelt,  has written an article at the academic online paper –The Conversation –  to justify the approval. He said the decision is based on comprehensive study and sound judgment that will not do any lasting harm to the heritage site. Discussion has been open to the public since March 3. Reichelt answers the queries himself although readers– composed of engineers, scientists, researchers, and ordinary citizens — are neither convinced nor impressed with the attempt to “gloss over” the real issue.

Observers said, there is something fishy at the sudden turn around of decision considering the warnings over sediments dumping.

Greenpeace  also found a document that questions the integrity of the decision. It shows that GBRMPA feared the dumping would annihilate the barrier reef. However, the Environment Department ignored the warnings and pressured the marine park authority.

Greenpeace campaign poster against Adani group

Indian firms- the culprit

Furious tour operators and Greenpeace are pointing fingers at the Indian mining tycoons as the culprit of an impending catastrophic disaster awaiting the vast expanse of corals.

Association of Marine Park Tour Operators President Colin McKenzie, the peak industry lobby group covering tourism in the World Heritage-listed reef region, accused the marine park authority of pandering to politicians and for allowing Adani group to undertake a risky business.

“The biggest culprit is Adani, an Indian corporation that wants to build Australia’s biggest coal mine in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland, and needs the dredging to allow huge coal ships to access their proposed new coal terminal at Abbot Point to send their coal overseas,” Greenpeace said.

Related story HERE

Largest port to kill the Barrier Reef

The “Asian Century” has arrived in Queensland. The world’s largest port will rise soon that will pave the link between the Australian state and Asian market– India in particular.

Aerial view Abbot Point T2 and T3

Aerial view Abbot Point T2 and T3

The Federal government gave the green light to the massive expansion of three major port terminals at Abbot Point, 26 km north of Bowen in Central Queensland– positioned to become one of the world’s largest industrial sea ports.

The approval gives Adani Enterprises Pty. Ltd. and GVK, among other mining companies, a breakthrough in the multi-billion coal industry which will exploit the potential of the coal-rich Galilee Basin.

Adani’s most recent performance at T0

Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced the decision on Tuesday after a ”rigid assessment” and the project’s environmental impacts. After a long delay, the minister approved four Queensland projects under the National Environmental Law, including the capital dredging program for the proposed Terminals 0, 2 and 3 at the Port of Abbot Point, the Adani T0 project, the Arrow Liquefied Natural Gas Facility on Curtis Island, and the Arrow Gas Transmission Pipeline to Curtis Island. The terminals will provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the ”bullish” coal industry within the Galilee Basin.

The approval of Terminal 0 (T0) is sure to boost Adani’s ambitious prospect to ship the coal to India. “Coal from this project will predominantly service the Indian market,”  Adani admitted. The group acquired the terminal for about two billion Australian dollars under a 99-year lease in 2011. T0 is estimated to have a 70 metric tonnes per annum mtpa (35 mtpa x two stages) handling capacity. T2 will be built by an Australian-own company, while T3 will be undertaken by GVK.

But the New York Times reported Adani bought the port in 2011 for 1.8 billion Australian dollars taking advantage of the area still recovering from a series of floods.

 “Abbott Point is our contribution to India’s global ambitions,” said Gautam Adani, chair of Adani. Adani. “An Indian billionaire and real estate magnate, runs the largest private sector coal importer in India, a country hungry for energy resources. He already has other investments in Queensland….”

The T0 alone is projected to generate  a financial value of A$ 1.4 – 2.8 billion annually in gross revenue which will contribute significantly to the Queensland and Australian economy. It will directly benefit Bowen locality and the wider Whitsunday region, Adani said in its presentation paper earlier this year.

Estimated employment stands at 500 jobs in construction and 200-250 jobs in operation, while it provides opportunity for expansion of permanent working population at the Port of Abbot Point. This projection, however, is based on the estimated export of thermal coal from Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine and Abbot Point Coal Terminal 0 projects.

GVK, on the other hand, will undertake the expansion of  T3  port facilities and Galilee Basin coal assets including the Alpha, Alpha West and Kevin’s Corner coal projects. It will also construct a rail connection to the Abbot Point Port. “Together with the previously received clearances for the Alpha mine, the rail to Abbot Point ,GVK Hancock has solidified its leading position in the Galilee Basin of Queensland, Australia, ” the company said in a press release.

GV Sanjay Reddy, Vice Chairman  of the GVK Power & Infrastructure Limited, said the approval will enable the “provision of billions of tonnes of high quality, low sulphur, low ash, and cleaner burning coal for consumption in the Indian and Asian market.” He added, “this approval takes our projects in to the final stageof project development and we look forward to successfully developing and consolidating our position as the leading Indian infrastructure development company.”

The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation  (NQBC) has been commissioned as the port authority responsible for managing the project.

The extensive industrial projects along the eastern coast of Queensland. The darker blue line sketches the boundary of the world heritage area (Image: Fight for the Reef)

State Premier strengthens economic ties with India

The Galilee Basin is strengthening the economic ties between Queensland and India. Premier Campbell Newman admitted the potential of the region which could be a bigger contributor to Queensland’s economy than the coal seam gas industry.

Newman had visited Adani’s operation in India and believes in the export potential of the region. Further, he considers a long-term strategic business partnership with Indian companies. Mining Australia quoted him as saying, “They want coal to come for their thermal power stations day in, day out, week in, week out, month after month, for not 10 years or 20 years or 50 years; they want it to come for 70 to 100 years” .

On Gautam Adani, Newman is mesmerized with his business empire-building enthusiasm: “He owns the power lines, he owns the retail, he wants that coal. Now, the current coal price is not really a big thing in his calculations,” Newman said. “What he wants is supply security, and he wants to get that supply chain cost down as low as possible.”

Environmental concerns

Greenpeace lambasts the dredging and dumping of industrial waste into the vicinity of the reef.

Environmental groups, however, are enraged with the developments.

The terminals will require dredging of about three million cubic meters of sediments from the bottom of the sea. Local communities and environmental groups are outraged on how and where would the dredging spoils be dumped. The long-term effect after the area after the mining projects is also a matter of concern.

Hunt said he made an agreement with the Gladstone Ports Authority that they will not dispose of up to 12 million cubic metres of spoil within the Marine Park, but will instead use the material for land infill.

Hunt and Newman are already under fire from Green groups. The WWF, for one, is now pressing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park not to issue a permit to the NQBPC to dump the dredge spoil into the reef waters.

The WWF-Australia, in partnership with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, has also launched a nationwide and international campaign, Fight for the Reef, that educates people about the implication of the large-scale industrialization of Australia’s east coast- more significantly its impact on the world-listed heritage site – the Great Barrier Reef.

Traditional owners reject river protection law in Cape York

Time has changed in Cape York, Queensland. Traditional land owners have taken a step to support industrialisation over conservation of river systems.

This week, the Federal Court announced it will rule some of the Wild Rivers laws invalid.

Wenlock River in Cape York is one of the river systems protected under Wild Rivers laws.

Cape York traditional owners have pursued their case against Wild Rivers environmental laws to the Federal Court. The laws to protect river systems were enforced during the Labor government in 2009. There were oppositions in the past, but with the new Liberal government, they are more resolved than ever before.

Martha Koowarta, the widow of land rights campaigner John Koowarta, is leading the case to overturn the declaration of three rivers: the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart Rivers – which traditional owners argue were improperly made.

Repealing the Wild Rivers declarations was one of the promises made by the National Liberal Party (LNP) which intended to replace the conservation laws with Cape York Regional Plan (CYRP).

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC), a member of the CYRP Committee met in Cairns on September 18 after Prime Minister Tony Abbott was sworn into office to discuss the draft of the CYRP.

AMEC Regional Manager, Bernie Hogan announced in a statement, “This is another step towards achieving coexistence for industry, local communities and Government.”

He said the decision of the Campbell Newman Government to scrap the four Wild Rivers declarations as part of the CYRP recognises the opportunities of the area for appropriate mining and mineral exploration activities, as well as agriculture and tourism.

He added the revocation gives investors confidence in the region to do business and up for economic development that will secure the future of all Queenslanders.

“We look forward to seeing this sensible approach to development rolled out in other parts of the state as well, particularly where Wild Rivers declarations have stifled exploration in the Northwest of the state” Hogan conluded.

A propaganda against conservation in Queenland. (Photo: Supplied)

Deputy Premier and the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney also met the CYDP Committee which brought together the Cape York Mayors, key industry and community stakeholders and other State Ministers the day after Abbott was sworn.

Seeney said the Newman Government is “setting a course to open the region to economic diversity and opportunities, while balancing the protection of the Cape’s unique environment.”

However, he made it a point that Newman wants to identify infrastructure opportunities that will support economic growth in the region and not introduce additional unnecessary regulation.

The Wilderness Society, meanwhile, is re-affirming its support for the conservation of Wild Rivers systems in Cape York.

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders said the Wild Rivers laws protect the rivers from large-scale development threats, such as in-stream mining, damming, and intensive irrigation It also guarantees indigenous people traditional hunting, fishing, land management and conservation, through protection of native title rights and support for rangers.

While the Society acknowledged and expressed its enormous respect for Koowarta and her family and respect their long struggle for sovereignty over many years, the Society also strongly supports the protection of Cape York’s wild rivers and call for the maintenance of Wild Rivers protection.

Schneiders said the matters being considered by the Federal Court include the consultation process that preceded the making of three Wild River declarations by the Queensland Government in 2009.

“In respect to the consultation process, we note that the Cape York Balkanu Development Corporation was contracted by the Queensland Government….We have always urged compliance with the Native Title Act and supported effective engagement and negotiation processes between government and Traditional Owners, ” he said.

Map of the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart in Cape York. (Image:National Water Commission)

Schneiders reiterates that Wild Rivers declarations represent an effective and flexible approach to conservation which protects the health of the rivers for future generations and allow sustainable development, as well as cultural and recreational use.

The Wild Rivers laws keep mining and other destructive activities away from the most important parts of river catchments – precisely the kind of destructive developments that are now proposed, Schneiders said.

Schneiders  concludes that Wild Rivers declarations represent an effective and flexible approach to conservation which protects the health of the rivers for future generations and allow sustainable development, as well as cultural and recreational use.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

Queensland granny walks 1200 km to Save the Reef

A 72 year-old grandmother ended her 1,200 km-walk from Cairns to Gladstone in Queensland on Thursday last week to remind Australian voters to think about the Great Barrier Reef.

June Norman completes her 1,200 km walk to Save the Reef.

June Norman is the hero of the day for having just completed her 80-day journey. She took the Reef Walk 2013 from her hometown Cairns to raise awareness of the impacts of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration projects and the LNG export industries to the Great Barrier Reef.

She arrived in Gladstone with a parade of colourful banners. She hopes that people will think about the election and choose candidates who care about the reef. She said voters should not pick the same old political party, but find out if their policies include the reef. The federal election has been set on Sept. 7.

This is what she has to say about her 80-day journey:

“I started this journey more than a year ago, with planning and contacting other concerned people, tourist operators and fishermen all along the coast. The last few months have been some of the best days of my life. Every day I met wonderful people with passion to protect the Reef.”

“One thing life has taught me is there is nothing more important than family, and this journey has been one small thing I can do for my grandchildren. It’s what every mother wants, a good future for their children, and I want my grand kids to enjoy the world and the Great Barrier Reef like I have.”

“I just don’t understand, why are we allowing international companies to come here and destroy this beautiful world heritage reef. The dredging in Gladstone should be a warning to us all, we will see dead dugong and turtles all along the Queensland coast if we don’t stop the new coal and gas ports.”

“All I ask is that Mr Campbell Newman and Mr Kevin Rudd stop for just one day and take a trip to the reef. Stop and feel its beauty. Perhaps then they might consider stopping this madness”

Climate change and rapid industrialisation are putting the Great Barrier Reef under enormous pressure. With the growing commitment to coal export markets and CSG industry, new major coal ports are underway. From Gladstone and the Fitzroy Delta to Abbot Point near Mackay require millions of tonnes of sea bed dredging that is impacting turtles, dugong, and dolphins.

The Friends of the Earth, in a joint statement with Norman said the cumulative impacts of LNG and coal projects to the reef have not been considered or quantified. The pace of industrialisation is so rapid that marine turtles could disappear before their life cycle is understood. Investigations are rapidly under way to protect Gladstone’s Fitzroy Delta Subfin Dolphin before port development begins.

Reef Walk is a message that conveys the hopes of many Australians wanting big steps to be taken to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is home to countless marine species and the work place of thousands of Queenslanders supporting the tourism sector.

Meanwhile, Greens leader Christine Milne will be announcing the party’s plan to save the Great Barrier Reef in Airlie Beach on Friday. She will be flying over Abbot Point to see the area to be impacted by the big mining companies if the Queensland Government continues to allow them to operate. (On Friday, the Greens announced it has launched a $176 million rescue package to protect the Great Barrier Reef from mining.)

The Greens said neither of the old parties have ever refused a coal or gas mining proposal yet but the Greens will continue to do everything in its power to stop the approval of the Abbot Point coal port expansion and save the Great Barrier Reef from becoming a dredging dump ground and shipping super highway for the big mining companies.

June Norman with her Reef Walk 2013 crew.

“Only the Greens can be trusted to stand up to the big mining companies to protect the Great Barrier Reef, with our  policy of no new Reef dredging or dumping,” Senator Larissa Waters said in a party statement.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Northern Australia poised to meet the Asian era?

Re-blogging:

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott indicated yesterday he is ready for the Asian Century.

If he wins in the federal poll this coming September, his coalition government will map out plans to fast-track the development of Australia’s northern regions- from Cairns in Queensland to Broome in Western Australia. This will lay the groundwork for linking Australia’s tropics to Asia. It will be Abbott’s priority within the first 12 months in office.

Northern Australia’s farmland which could be transformed into a food bowl of Australia and Asia. (Photo: Supplied)

The Coalition’s 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia, which was released Friday, highlights his plans. Topping the list is to develop the long-standing dream of many free-market economists and politicians to transform Northern Australia into a food bowl which will feed not only Australians, but also neighbouring Asians.

Abbott said the coalition wants to “capitalise on Northern Australia’s existing strengths and natural advantages in agriculture”—along with energy development, tourism opportunities, education and health services. Noting the economic forecast in the region, he said,

With Asia’s real GDP expected to grow from US$27 trillion to US$67 trillion by 2030 and Northern Australia’s proximity to the tropical region, Northern Australia is well placed to capitalise on the significant economic, strategic and environmental macro-trends that will shape both the Asian and tropical regions.

The food bowl mega-dream will include premium produce which could help to double Australia’s agricultural output.

A tractor ploughs through the vast land of Western Australia. (Photo: Supplied)

The resurrected food bowl plan, however, backfired from environmental groups.

The Wilderness Society (WS), for one, repulses the plan saying that past projects have failed. It said that while billion of dollars have been ploughed through large-scale irrigation projects, they were all doomed. Examples are the Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory and the Ord and Camballin in Western Australia, respectively.

The Society notes the Ord, the poster child of the northern food bowl,  has “been a monumental flop.” The government invested more than $1.3 but large-scale cropping for rice, sugar, cotton, and other crops have failed.

It also said that in 2010, rice failed in 12 months after being reintroduced in the Ord while the cotton industry collapsed after 12 years.

In 2007, former Samsung subsidiary Cheil Jedang shut down its unprofitable sugar mill. The Ord has now been given to a Chinese hotel developer for a “pittance in the vain hope he can succeed in the sugar business where the Korean food giant failed.”

Almost half the Ord is now planted with sandalwood for incense and perfume ‑ hardly useful for feeding Asia.

Crops in this northwestern region. (Photo: Supplied)

The Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce (NALWT) earlier released a sustainability report that finds no scientific evidence to support a food bowl vision for the north. The landscape is limited by poor soils, water availability and harsh climatic conditions.

The WS said recent research by the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge group (TRaCK) at Charles Darwin University has backed up previous substantial analysis showing the case for a sustainable northern food bowl does not exist.

Northern Australia is a graveyard for failed agricultural projects. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the northern Australia food bowl fantasy.

Rob Law from Melbourne University earlier wrote in The Conversation that the nation’s psyche has been obsessed with the vision for Northern Australia’s food bowl.  He notes it never left the minds of southern developers and politicians as well as other “visionaries.” The vast scope of northern land covers the vast and intact  savanna ecosystems across northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

The Institute of Public Affairs, a free-market economy think-tank, highlights “the north remains underdeveloped and it is fantastic that the Coalition is looking to unleash its potential.”

By contrast, the NT Environment Centre  pointed out that “the north is a graveyard for failed agricultural projects inspired by ‘visionary’ southern politicians”.

Law predicted that if a coalition government wins in the 2013 election, “it is likely a new battle will be played out on familiar ground.”

The WS’s response: Abbott’s northern food bowl idea is doomed to be an expensive failure and repeat mistakes of past.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announces his coalition’s 2030 vision. (Photo: Alex Ellinghausen/Canberra Times)

National Director Lyndon Schneiders said Northern Australia needs new infrastructure and sustainable development opportunities but the north will never be the food bowl of the world, Asia or even Australia. He adds,

“This is bad policy, written with purely political objectives and dressed up as vision, with no costings and no hard commitments. The main point of this policy announcement seems to be currying favour with Australia’s richest person, Gina Reinhart, and to stem vote leak in northern Australia to the Katter Party and Clive Palmer’s United Party.”

Schneiders  suggests that rather than pursuing the “northern myth,” the coalition should be looking at ways to increase support and productivity for sustainable agriculture in southern Australia.

The Society welcomes proposals to increase investment in tourism but questions how destroying the north’s greatest asset, its extraordinary wilderness environments, to make farmland, is compatible with realising its tourism potential, including recreational tourism such as fishing.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland’s Newman declares “war” on native forests

What’s hot this week? Here’s to re-post Queensland’s new forest controversy:

The South East region of Queensland is home to a vast reserve of native forest providing a sanctuary for various kinds of flora and fauna. It is a bioregion known for its significant number of rare, threatened, and endemic species– the highest numbers of all regions assessed around Australia under the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process.

QLD Premiere Campbell Newman (Photo: SBS)

The Queensland State Government has been highly commended for its conservation efforts marked by the historic South East Queensland (SEQ) Forestry Agreement signed  in 1999 to stop logging in protected areas. The pact protects an additional 425,000 hectares in the conservation reserve system. It also envisions that all logging activities on native forest on public land will cease by 2024. Within 25 years, the area of forest reserved in SEQ is expected to be more than one million hectares.

There has been a ceasefire from forest wars over the past 14 years. The forest remains undisturbed by commercial activities– until recently the Campbell Newman government stirred the hornet’s nest.
This week, conservationists uncovered a clandestine document (credits to Indymedia.org.au) signed by Agriculture Minister John Mc Veigh to re-open the protected areas for logging.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters warns logging will destroy koala habitat. (Photo: SMH)

Greens Senator Larissa Waters lambasted a leaked letter from Agriculture Department Director-General Jack Noye to National Parks Department Director-General John Glaister that says Agriculture Minister John McVeigh has approved the logging. The letter also notes that the proposed logging would be conducted without Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service approval for codes or harvest plans.

Green peace is under threat and if logging resumes, it will affect southeast Queensland, the western hardwoods area, cypress regions in the west, central Queensland and north Queensland—all habitats of threatened species.

The Glossy Black Cockatoo is now listed as “vulnerable” in SEQ. (Photo: Supplied)

A report from Daniel Burdon both published in the Sunshine Coast Daily and Gympie Times said McVeigh had offered new 25-year contracts to 14 licensed timber companies to log cypress forests across state forests in southern and central Queensland.

Rod McInnes, Timber Queensland CEO (sic), said the renewal of the sales permits was essentially guaranteeing a longer contract for companies which already have an allocated licence to log such areas.

“Anyone who’s already got a Crown Wood Allocation now simply has a 25-year sale guarantee for their allocation,” he said.

“That doesn’t actually change how much timber is logged in the cypress forests each year, just how long the contracts are.

“What I’d be expecting in the next few years, are that rather than each of the 14 companies keeping their contracts, they might sell them now they are long-term, and four or five bigger commercial operators will take those allocations on, through amalgamations.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters blasted Queensland Premier Campbell Newman for orchestrating the move which she said was tantamount to initiating forest destruction. She noted the forests as an important habitat for vanishing species.

A survey of endangered species in the SEQ bioregion

Wilderness Society denounces the move

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders denounced the move saying, “This is a short-sighted and counterproductive decision by the Queensland Government that undermines past agreements between conservation groups and the timber industry.”

He called on the Newman Government to stop sending chainsaws into up to two million hectares of high conservation value forests throughout Queensland.

A timber industry spokesperson said the forest was used to be harvested for sustainable logging and shutting it down all these years had hurt badly the timber industry. The spokesperson added that the state needs to create more jobs.

The Wilderness Society said, “Timber imports and the high dollar are challenging enough for the industry without stoking a conflict that was resolved a decade ago.

“If logging occurs in these areas, Queensland timber will become synonymous with forest destruction. The market has little taste for wood sourced from native forest destruction, and the Queensland timber industry will lose markets.

“We understand access to existing hardwood plantations is a key issue. The Wilderness Society will work with key stakeholders, including SEQFA signatory Timber Queensland, to convince the Queensland Government to abandon this foolhardy path.”

Houn Valley Environment Centre decries forest destruction

Green activists denounces Ta Ann’s involvement in “forest destruction. (Photo: The Observer Tree)

Meanwhile, the Houn Valley Environment Centre continues to decry Tasmania’s “forest destruction.” The Centre expressed fears over the State Government’s permission to allow logging operations in a World Heritage nominated site to supply wood exports. The Centre has been contentious about the logging operation of Forestry Tasmania who supplies wood to Malaysian-based Ta Ann Group.

Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber said, “Ta Ann asserting that they won’t receive timber from the World Heritage nominated forests is one thing, but a commitment by Forestry Tasmania that they will not deliver wood from these coupes has not been officially announced. Until the guarantee that the timber from the proposed logging areas in the Huon district is given by Forestry Tasmania, the assertion by Ta Ann cannot be verified.”

Weber claimed Ta Ann had previously admitted that they have to take what Forestry Tasmania supplies them regardless where the wood products were sourced out.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland slams UNESCO, defends gas on the barrier reef

UNESCO has released its damning environmental report on the Great Barrier Reef, but the Queensland State Government hits back saying the report poses an obstacle to the multi-billion dollar seam gas business.

The report came in time when the mineral boom is underway and the Queensland Government is excited about financial gains. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his Government understands the issues raised in the report but could not accommodate some of its chief recommendations, News Corp. reports.

Newman said his government is in coal business and he is not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down.

UNESCO sent a team of experts in March to assess the status of the reef confronted by both natural and man-made threats. While natural threats could be beyond control, the impact of the latter can be minimised if the Queensland Government can review and adopt strategic solutions.

The international body said the World Heritage listed site is under enormous pressure amid increased developmental activities, including additional port infrastructures in and around the Great Barrier Reef and ongoing management of major liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants at Curtis Island and Gladstone Harbour.

The dredging in Gladstone Harbour for the seam gas has been blamed by local environmentalists for the area’s poor water quality and a skin disease affecting marine life. Green activists say dredging has adversely affected whales and dugongs in the area.

UNESCO recommended to the State Government to stop port facilities expansions and to undertake a comprehensive review and strategic solutions to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the reef.

It warned the reef could officially be listed “in danger” if the federal Government fails to convince the international body it has improved its performance before February next year.

Whether Queensland would be able to help improve environmental conditions of the reef or not, both state and federal governments have already given mineral explorations a go. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke supports the developmental projects saying the approval of applications has been in full swing. He said there was not much he could do to prevent development applications already in progress.

Mining magnates Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart have likewise secured government’s approval of their mining ventures in Queensland. Further, the two mining lords have  been pressuring the Government to allow them to build the world’s largest coal export facility right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The facility is envisioned  to double Australia’s coal exports. The mining moguls expect to hear of Government’s decision in 36 weeks time, GetUp noted.

GetUp, an activist group, said mining billionaires are used to getting their way,” but they’re not the only ones who know how to fight.”  The group has forged a tie up with Greenpeace and BankTrack to undertake an advertising campaign in key financial market in Asia and India to warn potential investors not to invest in these projects.

It’s not just UNESCO who are against the massive expansion of coal and coal seam gas facilities. We’ve just released an opinion poll that found 79 per cent of  Australians are already concerned about the expansion of mining along the Reef’s recognised heritage area — and that was before UNESCO’s  scathing criticisms started to make headlines nationwide.

GetUp is optimistic the ad campaign will work.  It claims that  in 2009, it funded ads in the European Financial Times to discourage potential investors who were previously considering to fund Gunns’ pulp mill in Tasmania.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent