Why is the Australian Government Playing Russian Roulette with The Great Barrier Reef?
A decision taken by Australia’s new Federal Government on Dec 11th 2013 will see one of the World’s largest Coal ports, built some 50 kilometres north of the Great Barrier Reef’s Whitsunday Islands.
The scale of this project is hard to imagine, but it is estimated that 3 million cubic meters of material will be dragged from the sea floor.
If the impact of that alone on the environment is not a concern, the fact that all of it will be dumped inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Zone has to alarm any clear minded person.
The Guardian estimates that “ if all of that material was loaded into dump trucks, there would be 150,000 of them lined up bumper to bumper from Brisbane to Melbourne”, for those who do not know the region, that is a distance of 1,684 kilometres or 1,046 miles.
The Australian Government’s own report has explained that sediment of this type travels a lot further than previously thought, and with Queensland’s erratic summer tropical weather patterns, the risk of wide spread destruction on the reef seems very real indeed.
Critics are already suggesting that the Current Australian government has zero interest in the environment.
This decision would suggest that it is determined to develop Australia’s coal reserves, and combined with its clearly stated intention to repeal Australia’s Carbon Tax, you would have to wonder where the Abbott government sees its responsibility in relation to Global Green House Emissions.
Australia has already embarked upon an underwhelming effort to reduce its green house gases by only 5% between the years 2000 and 2020. despite having some of the easiest access to alternative fuels, and one of the mildest climates on earth. By comparison, China (Australia’s largest raw materials trading partner) has committed to reductions of 40-45% between 2005 and 2020.
The expanded Abbotts Point coal facility described above is expected to start moving Coal in 2016, but if China is reducing green house by 45%, where is the coal going? To less “environmentally friendly” Asian countries than China presumably?
Much of the debate around this Port expansion seems to be centered on possible impact to the immediate environment, (the Great Barrier Reef) and discussions about the economic impact on Australian Tourism, but the questions to be asked must be much broader than that.
Obviously Tourism is a major economic base in the area, and a projected 20 fold increase in the number of ships transiting the Great Barrier Reef to move coal, is another massive risk to this Industry on top of the potential impact of dredging.
But this is not a question about Australian issues; it is much larger than that.
The first (and most significant ) question is, how can Australia set a tiny 5% greenhouse reduction target, then develop a port which will export enough coal annually to produce more green house gas than two or three European countries combined, and still pretend to be concerned about the Global Environment?
To arrive at an answer to this question we have to look well beyond the Great Barrier Reef.
Let’s consider another calamity currently eating its way into Australia’s environment, and already killing all life in the Port of Gladstone. Coal Seam Gas.
Coal Seam gas companies are seeking to influence the Australian population via ongoing media campaigns.
The promise of jobs, economic development and good times for all, is far from the reality of this industry. The truth is nothing like the Australian people are being told it is.
You have only to speak to the residents of the Queensland town of Tara, to learn of the permanent damage being forced upon land owners.
The problems of gas impregnated water, burning wells near homes, permanent disruption to lifestyles, destruction of properties and property values.
As for the promised jobs, once these insipid little wells are imposed on someones property there is not so much as a maintenance or safety arm of the Company left within the impacted regions….
I have personally listened to Bob Irwin, father of the late Steve Irwin, and one of Australia’s earliest animal and environmental advocates describe the Coal Seam gas industry as the single biggest challenge Australia has ever faced.
Like the Coal to be shipped from this massive new Coal terminal, none of the Coal Seam Gas extracted in Australia at such enormous risk to its land and underground water basins, is for use in Australia.
Like the expanding coal trade, profits from Coal Seam Gas go to international mining giants, which in the case of Coal Seam gas are upward of 85% foreign owned.
So the motive is not profits for Australian Companies. Any claim to benefits through increased employment are a complete fabrication in the case of Coal Seam gas. Any job growth in the Coal sector seems likely to be offset by job losses in Tourism, so it’s not jobs.
Where is the common denominator here?
I would suggest to you that to get at the heart of the issue, we must first debunk the widely pedaled hype of Australia being an Economic miracle, before, during and after the Global Financial Crisis.
Australia’s recently removed Labor Government would have you believe that it navigated the GFC with great skill, and minimal impact on the Country.
If that was the case, how has Australia’s national budget position gone from a 20 Billion dollar surplus (which took 10 years of booming economic growth to create) to a deficit disclosed this week of 47 Billion dollars, and growing?
Without question, Australia’s outgoing government headed by Rudd/Gillard/Rudd, and guided by the “World’s Greatest Treasurer”, Swann, will be seen as the country’s worst ever fiscal managers.
None before has managed to incur such debt, in such a short period of time, and to produce so little with the borrowings.
Viewed in isolation, the antics of this Federal Government would be laughable, but inspection of the finances of many of the Australian State governments are little better.
This too is surprising in a Country that has supposedly 5% unemployment (regarded by Economists as almost Full employment).
A country which has supposedly enjoyed 27 years successive economic growth whilst the rest of the world has been in recession.
A country which still has the same broad based GST taxation system that lead to the previous Surplus, (and which funds the states), not to mention one of the highest percentage taxation bases in the World.
So where is all of that Revenue?
Put simply, it does not exist, and it has been in constant decline over most of the past Decade because the Economic miracle the past Government pedaled also did not exist.
Let’s look at those employment numbers.
Australia has one of the most integrated national financial systems in the world.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Treasury can give you just about any number you might need except for the accurate employment numbers.
Whilst those numbers almost certainly exist, they are not politically expedient, so the numbers announced are somewhat more adjustable than the real ones.
The Australian unemployment Percentage comes from an interview process with a small population sample, carried out just before the number is set to be released.
In essence, if a participant worked as little as one hour of paid work in the week before the survey they were not unemployed, even if that is all they worked and even if they were seeking full time employment. Imagine the impact that has on the numbers.
A more reliable source of numbers, Morgan Research, runs its own survey, with questions that have not altered in 40 years (because they serve no political agenda) and which produce reliable answers…
Reported on government controlled ABC national radio, Morgan’s’ unemployment numbers indicate a rate around double the Government ones with under employment almost double that again.
So the public is being lied to about Employment, but the Economy is strong, so Government revenues are still strong, right……wrong.
Talk to almost any business owner in Australia (except those related to the internationally dominated Mining sector) and they will tell you that revenue is down, profitability has evaporated, and the levels of GST and Business taxes they are paying to Government have plummeted, hence the Federal Government budget blowout!
The cost of doing business in Australia is now so high, and the returns so low that Australia’s last major, long running manufacturing business, General Motors Holden has announced that it will cease to operate in the Country by 2017.
Similarly, Australia’s International airline Qantas, is suffering massive losses and has been downgraded by the finance world to junk status, with its long term staff facing forced redundancies.
So manufacturing and Airlines are in trouble too, but Australia can always fall back on its Agricultural Industry to underpin its Economy, right….Wrong again.
Like manufacturing, Australian farmers have struggled for decades, through non supportive governments, droughts, fires and more recently floods.
Small land holders have long since given up and sold out for whatever they could get to larger Agribusinesses, in some cases Foreign Owned.
By 2012, an estimated 11% of Australia’s prime agricultural land was in foreign hands, and Foreign Governments were starting to take direct interests in Agricultural production inside Australia.
How much pressure this situation brings to bear on the Australian Government to continue its horrendous live export trade in Beef, sheep etc is hard to determine, but that trade does underpin one of the last viable international markets for Australian agriculture.
It has been widely reported that international land sales from Australian owners to foreign owners are only subject to Governmental review at values well above $300 million per transaction. If the transaction is bigger than that just split the land parcels, do two transactions, and its sale time for Australia’s Agricultural land as well, no questions asked!
And which land is selling, well the areas around potential mining regions of course.
So what does all this mean for the Great Barrier Reef and International Global warming?
Put simply, Australia is rapidly reaching the point where it’s only genuine revenue generation comes from selling off its land and natural resources ,either as is, or in little pieces such as via Coal Seam gas and Coal exports.
Unfortunately this does not produce jobs or profits for Australian companies, nor sustainable industries and definitely not environment friendly projects.
However Australia is sitting on one of the world’s largest fossil fuel reserves with much of that under foreign “commercial “control.
The Common Denominator!
What all this does produce is massive mining Royalties for cash strapped State and Federal Governments.
Governments which find it more expedient to sell off what little economic future the Country has, rather than face up to their unsustainable spending practices.
Australia’s short electoral cycles might be blamed for parliaments that focus on short term management, both economic and environmental; after all they must remain popular enough to get elected again in a few short years.
In the past, the likes of Menzies, Fraser, Bjelke Peterson, Bolte and others lead their governments, made unpopular decisions in the state or country’s best long term interests, and somehow built what is widely regarded as one of the World’s best places to live.
I am concerned that recent Premiers and Prime Ministers have rapidly undone much of that.
The Great Barrier Reef, Gladstone Harbour, Australian Tourism, Australia’s underground water tables, its livestock, the very ownership of its sovereign lands, and now the International Environment is all falling victim to a chronic shortage of genuine vision and an almost complete absence of true leadership within the halls of Australian Government over the past decade.