Skip to content

It's not how much you know but how you share and network your knowledge that counts.

When Mining Loses its Social LIcence

My article in New Matilda on 2nd April 2014

A long-running dispute over coal seam gas near Lismore has again led to large protests. It’s clear Metgasco does not have a social licence to explore the area, writes activist Isabel McIntosh

Yesterday morning, as daylight broke near Lismore, an estimated 2000 people had already gathered at the Bentley Blockade camp. Men, women, mothers and nannas had juggled jobs and commitments to join the protest to stop mining company Metgasco start work on its new, commercially high-risk mining project, Rosella E01, 16 kilometres west of Lismore.

In the first phase of its project Metgasco wants to install double security fences around its site on the Bungabee Road between Lismore and Kyogle. It must also carry out preparatory road earthworks and create well-pad infrastructure before bringing in the drill rig.

 

Protesters at Bentley. Photo: Lock the Gate

Protesters at Bentley. Photo: Lock the Gate

 

On Friday the alert went out to protesters that a 100-police riot squad had been booked into motels in Lismore. Protesters were told to arrive early at the blockade camp and that roads were likely to be blocked off by police.

Last year the farmer adjacent to Metgasco’s mine site gave permission for a camp to be set up on his land, 400 metres from the proposed mine site.

But even if the blockade camp is ignored, Metgasco does not have a social licence to explore the area.

The company has already left the area once after sustained blockades by the local community in 2012 and 2013 at Doubtful Creek and Glenugie, after earlier receiving government approval to explore for coal seam gas. When Metgasco concreted up its wells, the community thought they were now gasfield free. However, at the Metagaso Annual General Meeting, held in Sydney last October, CEO Peter Henderson announced new plans for the company to return to the Northern Rivers for this new exploration project.

It is not just blockades challenging Metgasco’s social licence. At one of the earliest coal seam gas rallies in NSW, 7000 people, including Lismore’s mayor, marched against coal seam gas. At a referendum held during the 2012 council election, 88 per cent of voters said they did not want coal seam gas mining in their area. In 2013 an independent exit poll conducted by the Southern Cross University on federal election day showed that 65 per cent of Richmond Valley voters were also against mining operations in their area.

After Metgasco’s 2013, AGM Northern Rivers anti-gas campaigner Ian Gaillard questioned Metgasco’s return without a social licence. “The gas industry has no social licence in NSW, yet despite community opposition the state government is pushing ahead with plans to impose this industry on unwilling communities from the Pilliga in the North West to Gloucester and the Northern Rivers by force. This issue has now become a real test for local democracy to have this gasfield invasion stopped once and for all,” he said.

 

The blockade, yesterday morning. Photo: Lock the Gate

The blockade, yesterday morning. Photo: Lock the Gate

 

Recently the Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney has said that no mining project will be developed without a social licence but has since refused to define what that is. The term has also never been clearly defined in NSW. However, Dr Leeora Black, founder and managing director of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR), says that even without a clear definition of “social licence” it is clear when there’s not one.

“It’s easy to see when the social licence is lost — there are blockades, demonstrations and strikes, but it is much harder to distinguish the middle ground and it is easy for companies to confuse acceptance and approval,” she says.

In 2012 the CSIRO initiated a national survey of Australian citizens to understand their attitudes towards mining and develop a methodology to define the concept of a social licence. The research proposal acknowledged that meeting legal requirements was no longer enough to operate and that “trust between stakeholders and local communities” was also needed. The idea that consultation could be ticked off simply as a notification process for the community would also no longer hold.

Earlier this month secret letters from Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson to multiple ministers in the NSW government reveal his request during the 2012-2103 blockades for a “permanent 24-hour police presence” and his concern that the “police’s efforts to uphold the law are in effect let down by an excessively lenient legal system.” Henderson also wrote that “the judiciary show a marked reluctance to do more than release people with good behaviour bonds and without convictions against their records.”

Last year in Sydney Liberal MPs Jai Rowell and Bryan Doyle lobbied NSW premier Barry O’Farrell to put a stop to the possibility of coal seam gas mining under their constituents’ houses. O’Farrell obliged and introduced a no-go zone for all coal seam gas activity within two kilometres of residential areas.

In the Northern Rivers there has been no political intervention with NSW Nationals MP Thomas George ignoring community engagement and his son, then on Council, taking a job with Metgasco in November 2011.

Last year Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson admitted to the East Coast Gas Outlook Conference that “improving community support” was one of the greatest challenges facing the company.

“This region has shown that it does not want this unsafe and unnecessary industry and we have shown that people of all political persuasions are prepared to act to keep it out,” said Ian Gaillard. “We would be more than happy to work together to find an exit strategy by which Metgasco can minimise its losses.”

Korean Trade Agreement Jeopardises NSW Environmental Wins

My article that appeared in New Matilda on 13 March 2014

New South Korea Trade Agreement Puts NSW Environmental Wins In Jeopardy

Around the world corporations are using international courts to sue governments who halt environmentally damaging projects by overseas mining companies. A new trade agreement with South Korea could now see that happen here, writes Isabel McIntosh

Australia’s new Free Trade Agreement with South Korea (KAFTA) has been promoted as a win for Australian exports. However its ISDS clause could spell big trouble for Australia’s sovereignty and environmental outcomes.

The FTA, agreed upon by both nations but yet to be ratified by parliament, includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow overseas investors to challenge threats to their business interests in international courts. For the environment movement fighting to protect land and water in New South Wales, this has enormous implications.

There are currently three South Korean mining companies in NSW with significant interests in huge and environmentally controversial coal projects. In the Bylong Valley the South Korean government-owned KEPCO has 100 per cent ownership of the Bylong Coal mine and plans to extract 420 million tonnes of thermal coal from the area.

Another South Korean government-owned enterprise KORES has recently received NSW government support to develop the $800 million Wallarah-2 coal project in the Central Coast water catchment area, a project previously turned down by the former NSW Labor government.  And then there is POSCO, the 100 per cent owner of what used to be Hume Coal in the Southern Highlands, who is facing signficant local community action against its social licence including a seven-month blockade. At stake for POSCO is 446 million tonnes of coking coal.

What is particularly concerning about the new free trade deal with South Korea is the inclusion of the ISDS provisions and the international precedents of their use.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb was quick to assure Australians that sufficient safeguards were in place. But such “safeguards” didn’t stop the Canadian-based Pacific Rim Mining Corporation suing the El Salvador government when it refused a mining license for environmental reasons. The same safeguards didn’t stop Renco, a US company, suing Peru’s government  after it was told to clean up its lead pollution.

Similar ISDS provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement were also used by US energy company Lone Pine to [sue the Quebec provincial government for $250 million after it suspended shale gas mining pending a study into its environmental impact.

The Australia Fairtrade and Investment Network (AFTINET) says Australia should be very concerned about ISDS provisions in the South Korea agreement and also the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which Prime Minister Tony Abbott is currently negotiating. Last year more than 70 groups signed Lock the Gate’s open letter to Minister Andrew Robb stating that “the inclusion of ISDS in more trade agreements … could cost taxpayers many millions of dollars, and would discourage governments from regulating in the public interest”.

Over the past three years environmental campaigners in NSW have achieved some significant wins against coal seam gas mining companies including in the Northern Rivers, at Fullerton Cove and in the Illawarra and Sydney. In response to the strong campaign the O’Farrell government introduced some legislation, such as the No Go Zones for Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining in Sydney, and a moratorium on CSG in Sydney Drinking Water Catchments. The EPA has also fined, albeit extremely modestly, a number of mining companies for pollution breaches.

These hard fought wins are all in jeopardy if the foreign-owned company of the mining project has the right to sue for loss of financial return.

It is not surprising that the environment movement has started to embrace the rhetoric of war, with references to “defending land and water from the invasion of mining”, “fighting to protect land and water” and “attacks on human rights”. Trade agreements like the South Korea FTA and the proposed TPP may be signed in peace time, but they sign away what wars are fought over: rights to land and water, business interests and culture.

Appeals in letters such as this one to the South Korean ambassador from the Southern Highlands Action Group against Coal are effectively rendered worthless, and it is the same for appeals to local MPs and other legitimate channels for community support within our democracy.

Adding to the controversy surrounding South Korean mining companies in NSW is the fact that former Resources Minster Chris Hartcher is currently under ICAC investigation for (among other things) his relationship with Nick Di Girolamo, a former lobbyist for the South Korean conglomerate Kores.

It has recently been revealed that Hartcher dined with representatives of Kores at Di Girolamo’s house while Kores was trying to get the Wallarah-2 coal mine approved. At the end of 2012 when he was still Resources Minister, Hartcher also made an 8-day visit to  South Korea and China to “assist in meeting the key results of the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan for NSW Trade & Investment.” He met with KEPCO, KORES and POSCO, including a site visit to KEPCO, his only scheduled event for that particular day.

In the war over environmental protection and the right to protect Australia’s land and water, the Abbott government handed a powerful piece of ammunition to South Korea when he signed the FTA. It will be full surrender if Abbott signs the TPP in May which includes five more of Australia’s largest trading partners including the United States and Japan.

Isabel McIntosh has talked at three forums and rallies about the TPP and how it could affect environmental outcomes

Scott Ludlam’s Appeal to Progressive Politics

“Your blank cheque for Colin Barnett’s bloody and unnecessary shark cull has been noted. Your attacks on Medicare, on schools funding, on tertiary education – noted. Your advocacy on behalf of foreign biotechnology corporations and Hollywood’s copyright-industrial complex… noted.”

A speech by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam to an empty Canberra Senate one week ago has now had nearly 700,000 clicks on youtube. It took five days before any mainstream media acknowledged the phemonenon and then it was a Guardian article rather than the ABC, Sydney Morning Herald or other daily print newspapers.

The popularity of Ludlam’s scathing attack on Abbott’s administration proves there is a mass of people ready to engage with or without mainstream media facilitating the message. In the federal election last year voters also endorsed real-deal progressive candidates Adam Bandt, a Green, Cathy McGowan, an Independent and Tanya Plibersek from Labor’s left, all who significantly bucked the trend that left few outside the Abbott camp unscathed.

Adam Bandt was one of few winners for the Greens across Australia where in NSW alone all but six of the 48 lower house candidates ended up in negative territory. The notable exceptions here were again a couple of real deal candidates including stalwart of the mid-north coast, Carol Vernon, who increased the Greens vote in Cowper by 3.3% against an overall slide in vote for the NSW Greens of negative 2.3%. The other significant outlier for the Greens NSW was Dawn Walker who achieved a +1.5% swing in the Northern NSW seat of Richmond.

Real deal progressive politicians share a number of common attributes irregardless of their political party. Most importantly they represent both constituents and community, and their authority to win comes from a place of civility. The success of Bandt, McGowan, Plibersek and previously Tony Windsor reminds us that it’s people who are the basic building blocks of politics, not ideas. These MPs listen, they consider, and they strive to represent a cross-section of community not a fixed personal agenda.

If progressive politics is to start winning again its MPs must be able to represent citizen’s concerns, challenge the status quo and empower the self-organising networks of community resilience.

Scott Ludlam is the opposite of a pundit politician, that ideological tyrant and dinosaur of twenty-first century progressive politics. Whereas Ludlam spoke with humility, the pundit starts with the premise that his knowledge is superior and insists on presenting as the expert rather than talking to one. . He may speak authoritatively but it is only his own dedicated faction that listens. Everyone else heads to the hills.

The pundit MP uses the media at every turn to take the contrarian’s view on hot issues, spinning agreed terms of reference into another sphere. No matter how good the democratic process a pundit politician quickly erodes a general willingness for participants to engage in meaningful political dialogue. For a minor party without institutional power or connections it’s a death-knell, for to be oppositional progressive politics must be able to directly challenge the reality of the political and economic elite. Just like Christopher Pyne has shut down all discussion and collaboration around ideas in his Education portfolio, the pundit from the progressive end of politics works in the same way to shut down activist engagement.

In Canada a few years ago three MPS with PhDs entered parliament. Progressives held their breath in the hope that having some genuinely smart men in charge would drag the national debate from the schoolyard into the classroom. Many hoped this would be the opportunity to have a sophisticated conversation on issues of great national significance. It didn’t happen. These MPs with PhDs failed to bridge the divide between their knowledge and the collaborative consultation that creates the real shared goals and solutions. They failed to understand that politics and governing is about choosing between competing interests.

Senator Ludlam didn’t shout on Monday night. He articulated a vision, an alternative reality and one that represented his audience who shared it far and wide, the benchmark for measuring success of online content. Real deal MPS know speaking loudly and personal attacks never wins an argument. Instead their connection comes through the means of engagement and this process of reflecting the community concern. It’s the opposite to the blustering punditocracy that diminishes democratic participation and not only hollows out public discourse on progressive issues but also reduces political participation within active political membership.

The state-based parties of the Greens whose power comes from local community activism is the party that most critically needs to avoid pundit MPs. As a third party, The Greens only win in state and federal politics when they are supported by the noisy and empowered voice of communities contesting prevailing structures and their definition of reality. (for example the “We need Mining for Jobs” myth).

This is how the social movement against coal and coal seam gas has achieved such powerful momentum in NSW. It was the Greens who initiated NSW’s Upper House Enquiry into Coal Seam Gas in 2012 which brought together expert scientific stakeholders and community knowledge and put an alternative case to directly challenge the government’s mining narrative. This is how the broadbase NSW statewide campaign to prevent hunting in National Parks was facilitated and how Denticare and the Disability Insurance Scheme gained resonance across communities. At the beginning of 2013 when the Liberal-voting areas around Campbelltown got antsy about coal seam gas under their houses and libraries and shopping centres, O”Farrell brought in 2km No Go Zones for Coal Seam Gas in Sydney. The local action scared the pants of the local Liberal MP and broader Liberal party who were terrified their voters might become activists. It was a win for the Greens, the only party arguing for CSG protection but it could never have been achieved if a pundit politician had led the charge.

Pundit MPs may get a personal thrill from sharing selfies and holding up banners but community campaigners get no thrill from any policy or big political wins. Instead progressive politics achieves results when real deal MPs share alternative information deep into the grassroots of communities and empower and inpsire communities to challenge the status quo. A progressive MP is not being oppositional unless they actually challenge the main structure and ideas of the existing order. Real-deal MPs like Ludlam, Bandt and Nick McKim are achieving this by avoiding the pundit’s tone of moral correctness and instead articulating an alternative vision that appeals to a broad spectrum of progressive supporters. This is the future if progressive politics is to start winning again.

Uniting Church Leads on Divestment from Fossil Fuels

My published article on the commitment to divest from fossil fuels by the NSW Synod of the Uniting Church.

The NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church will withdraw all its investment in fossil fuel stocks over the next three years.

In April, 400 people at the Synod meeting unanimously agreed to a resolution to “divest from stocks and shares in corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, and to redirect investments into renewable energy”. At the October meeting of the Synod’s Standing Committee, the implementation strategy and timing was presented by church investment managers and approved.

“We’re the first church in Australia to do this and the reaction in the community is exciting,” says Mission Development Manager at the Uniting Church Paddington and a proponent of the original divestment proposal Justin Whelan. “This is leadership from the church and there’s a lot of respect for it.”

“The General Secretary will now write to other Synods to ask them to do the same,” says Whelan.

Across Australia there is also mounting pressure on universities and other public institutions to divest from fossil fuels as part of the Go Fossil Free global campaign that aims to move public institutions’ and individuals’ investments out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. In New Zealand, five dioceses of the Anglican Church have now committed to divest. There is growing pressure around the world for colleges and universities to sell off their fossil fuel stock and for superannuation funds to offer fossil free investment options.

The Go Fossil Free campaign started in the United States and is led by 350.org leader Bill McKibben, who modelled it on the influential global campaign against South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s that eventually ended apartheid. “It’s wrong to profit from wrecking the climate,” he says. “If the fossil fuel industry carries out its business plans, the planet will tank. Exxon alone, one company, has 7 per cent of the carbon in its reserves necessary to take us past that red line. What these numbers show is that the fossil fuel industry is now a rogue industry, determined to do things that everybody who studies this knows are unwise, unsafe, crazy.”

McKibben recently toured Australia as part of a “Do the Maths” tour to demonstrate how close the planet is to reaching two degrees warming. The numbers at the heart of McKibben’s argument show that if Exxon and other companies simply sell what is in their reserves, they will drive up the planet’s temperature more than two degrees. The global coal, oil and gas industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as the planet can afford to burn to prevent two degrees warming. A recent report from the Climate Institute shows that Australia’s current coal export plan would produce 30 per cent of the carbon needed to push global warming beyond that two degrees.

Exxon doesn’t dispute McKibben’s numbers and an industry-funded expert from MIT University confirmed them, as well as saying that at the current rate of emissions, the planet’s temperature will probably have risen five degrees by the end of the century. “We’re already deep in a hole, and the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, you stop digging,” says McKibben. “To change path demands structural shifts on a massive scale.”

More Information – The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change is a interdemoninational network of church leaders acting on the threat of climate change. Image

New Alliance to Stop Mining in Sydney Drinking Water Catchments

My published article on the new Sydney alliance I have founded to Stop Mining in Sydney Drinking Water Catchments

Undermining Sydney’s Water

Stop CSG Sydney, fresh from its success to protect St Peters from coal seam gas (CSG) mining, is one of more than fifty groups that has signed up to the new Protect Sydney’s Water alliance to stop mining in Sydney Drinking Water Catchments.

Sydney’s drinking water catchment areas provide water to more than 4.5 million people with 90 per cent of these areas covered by coal and coal seam gas exploration licences. In recent planning changes the NSW government restricted coal seam gas mining within two kilometres of urban residential areas and near horse studs and vineyards. However, water catchments were not included and are still not recognised as strategic land under NSW planning legislation.

“An individual can be fined up to $44,000 for walking in the catchments,” says Protect Sydney’s Water alliance member Isabel McIntosh. “Yet eight underground longwall coal mines are already operational in the water catchments and APEX Energy wants to commence coal seam gas mining there. It’s an upside down world when mining companies get an open door to go into pristine wilderness areas to crack creek beds, damage underground aquifers and destroy swamps and everyone else is banned.”

“Sydney Catchment Authority figures show that the four coal mines undermining Metropolitan Special Areas drain about three billion litres a year from the water supply. That’s enough to fill 1,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools or for 43 million people to take a ten-minute shower,” says Isabel McIntosh.

“This new alliance will amplify our community voice to demand accountability from Premier O’Farrell and his government to put water before coal, water before coal seam gas, and act on the community’s very real, proven concerns,” she says.

Coal mining in Sydney drinking water catchments releases many tonnes of iron, manganese and other contaminants into the streams that flow into drinking-water dams. During CSG extraction, millions of litres of water would be pumped from deep beneath the earth, threatening ancient aquifers and producing vast quantities of polluted water.

NSW Health has already called for a “comprehensive assessment of potential risks to human health” in relation to CSG drilling because of the risks associated with fracking.

“A clean, reliable and sufficient source of water is absolutely essential for human health and that will become increasingly difficult to guarantee with Sydney’s population growth and climate change,” says Public Health Association of Australia spokesperson Melissa Haswell.

“The important nature conservation values of the catchments are also being trashed, including the delicate upland swamps that help to provide clean, fresh water during dry periods,” says Isabel McIntosh. “These swamps are listed as endangered ecological communities, but unfortunately this listing has not been enough to save them from the impacts of mining.”

A recent poll conducted by Essential Research found that 87 per cent of people support banning coal mining and CSG activities in water catchment areas and within two kilometres of rivers and wetlands. On Thursday October 17 a petition signed by more than 13,000 people wanting to protect Sydney drinking water catchments from CSG mining was debated in NSW parliament. Yet, in February this year Premier O’Farrell approved the expansion of BHP Billiton’s Dendrobium longwall coal mine inside Sydney water catchments.

A TPPA will lock the door on our electoral democracy

On 22nd October I spoke about the federal government’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) at a forum organised by AFTINET (Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network).  I represented Lock the Gate Alliance and talked about what this agreement would mean for our movement and the campaign to protect land and water, the drive to improve government regulation and insert the community’s right to be heard into the tight relationship between government and mining. Here’s the gist of what I said.

In April 2010 a couple of mums living in the Keerrong Valley discovered an Arrow Energy drill rig in a field near where they lived. After doing some research and being disturbed by  “unheard of noise” the mums mums founded the Keerrong Gas Squad and talking to as many people about coal seam gas. By the end of the year it was discovered that Labor had approved more than 1/3 of NSW for coal seam gas exploration. Stories of the social, health and environmental impacts of CSG in Queensland spread. Thousands of people saw the movie Gaslands. Local communities got organised and then started talking together across New South Wales and Queensland.

The Lock the Gate Alliance was formed at the end of 2010 and now includes more than 160 community groups and thousands of people working together to keep coal seam gas mining out of Australia. A Trade Agreement with investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS) provisions that are being discussed for the TPPA will lock the door on our electoral democracy. The restrictions imposed could tie the hands of government to regulate in areas like foreign investment in farmland and the expansion of coal and CSG.  It is this regulation on CSG and Coal that is critical, we campaign, the government then plays catch up as the power shifts into the community’s hands and the voices of independent experts lead the conversation. But if a trade agreement is signed that puts the power in the hands of overseas companies then it’s over.

The TPPA will protect the rights of corporate investors at the expense of democratic governance. These are the people that want to jeopardise land and water security for the short term – and diminishing – profits of fossil fuels. If the mining industry is allowed to carry out its business plan, the planet tanks. Whether thru invasive mining or the impact of catastrophic climate change Australia’s agricultural land will diminish to a fraction of what they are now.

The Lock the Gate movement formed to counter the tsunami of mining never before seen in Australia.  More than fifty percent OR 437 million hectares of our land is covered by coal and gas licences or applications.  There are 11 of our 16 National Landscapes under threat from mining projects. Coal Seam Gas threatens groundwater. It produces contaminated waste water that there’s no effective way of disposing of. It destroys regional jobs and futures.  And now a TPPA is being planned with provisions that would block our right to stop or even reduce its havoc.

Lock the Gate movement works in two ways: Firstly to delay projects through blockades and court cases.  Secondly to improve government regulation of the mining industry.  At the core of this is a grassroots organiser model which is continually increasing community awareness and building a broadbase social movement.  

When we delay projects it costs the companies money, adding costs to the projects, reducing the profitability. It also adds risk in the investor’s eyes. Delay also gives us time to raise court cases, get heard in the environmental court which again can add delay.  It creates media coverage which in turn also raises more and new broadbase awareness, locally and nationally and puts pressure on government to improve regulations, protect water, protect health and the agriculture and tourism industries.  The Kerry Blockade in January 2012 against Arrow Energy drilling in SE Queensland lasted twelve days and delayed the project and achieved significant media coverage. That image of the riot squad holding back farmers and then Arrow’s trucks driving over the farmers’ hats is not easily forgotten.  Arrow drilled its well, supported by dozens of police, but it’s never been back, a win for the community and a win for social licence. And there are many other examples.

Delay cost the companies money as they can’t progress with their projects and if this is foreign investor money that’s where the TPPA kicks in. In Canada the US-based Lone Star energy company is currently using the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS) provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, to sue the Quebec provincial government for $250 million, because it suspended shale gas mining pending a study of its environmental impact. The Quebec government was acting in response to concerns from the community.   The NSW Government has already enacted new regulation in response to community concerns– think of the 2km no go zones, the protection of vintners and equestrian lands (Yes it is strange this take priority over water catchments and farming lands which are still not protected) and policy to improve the storage methods of coal seam gas waste water.

If Abbott signs the TPPA and we continue to delay destructive mining projects in Australia or force the suspension of projects with a majority foreign investment the ISDS provision will mean our governments could be sued for millions of dollars. The TPPA will be an even greater reason for the government t to ignore the voice of the community and our demand for reviews and regulation. The TPPA will put the power firmly in the hand of the mining giants and give them even greater control over our governments.

We are in the last days of the fossil fuel industry and they will throw everything at us as we push for the change that has to happen.

At the heart of democracy are our legal rights as citizens to protest, our right as citizens to raise questions and concerns. We’re not china where congregating or networking alternative political views will get you thrown in prison. We have the right to challenge the status quo and bring about change – think about the people power and grassroots engagement that was behind the suffragette movement, the end of apartheid, gay rights, rights for women and earlier environmental protection. Today even if you don’t agree with marriage equality and its legal recognition, no-one in Australia would say the campaign didn’t have the right to exist.

More than 70 groups have signed Lock the Gate’s open letter to Minister Andrew Robb saying that “the inclusion of ISDS in more trade agreements … could cost taxpayers many millions of dollars, and would discourage governments from regulating in the public interest”. 

If the TPPA and ISDS go ahead it will firmly undermine the environmental and justice systems at the core of our communities and fundamentally shift the balance of power to mining investors. It will create a cascade of power where federal government can discipline state governments for representing citizens with progressive environmental and social policy. It will mean more corporate government decision making that represents foreign corporate interests ahead of its own citizens.  Do we want Australia to be a place of innovation, inspiration with thriving tourism, education and manufacturing sector, strong regional communities and empowered citizens? Or do we want Australia to be a foreign-owned quarry?

 END

What next – The TPPA  will also significantly impact workers rights and pharmaceutical access. 

Demand a Federal Parliamentary Debate:  In Malaysia the TPPA and will not be signed this year as the parliament must debate it first. In Australia, Prime Minister Abbott currently has no plans for a parliamentary debate with all the details of the draft TPPA agreement still secret.

Ask for a Senate Enquiry: What is in the TPPA for Australia? Trade deals are always touted as increasing competition and reducing costs. They usually do the opposite, creating monopolies and shifting the power firmly into the hands of political and corporate interests.

Ask questions of your local Federal MP: What are the benefits of the TPPA for Australia? When will the draft agreement be made public? If it’s a good agreement why can’t we see it, debate it? 

More information

http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/abbott-open-for-business-and-multinational-lawsuits/700/

http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3866749.htm

www.aftinet.org.au

www.itsourfuture.org.nz/what-is-the-tppa

 

 

 

Aside

On 22nd October 2013 I spoke about the federal government’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) at a forum organised by AFTINET (Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network).  I was the Lock the Gate Alliance speaker at this forum and invited to talk about what this agreement would mean for our movement and the campaign to protect land and water, to improve government regulation of the coal seam gas industry and insert community representation into the tight relationship of government and mining. Here’s the gist of what I said.

In April 2010 a couple of mums living in the Keerrong Valley discovered an Arrow Energy drill rig in a field near where they lived. After doing some research and being disturbed by the “unheard of noise” they founded the Keerrong Gas Squad. It took a few months for their concerns to gain traction in the community. But as the extent of Labor’s approvals for mining to explore across more than one third of New South Wales was revealed, and more and more people saw the movie Gaslands and communities got organised, the foundation for a social movement was established. The Lock the Gate Alliance was formed at the end of 2010 and now includes more than 160 community groups and thousands of people working together to keep coal seam gas mining out of Australia.

A Trade Agreement with investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS) provisions that are being discussed for the TPPA will lock the door on our electoral democracy. The restrictions imposed could tie the hands of government to regulate in areas like foreign investment in farmland and the expansion of coal and CSG.  It is this regulation on CSG and Coal that is critical, we campaign, the government then plays catch up as the power shifts into the community’s hands and the voices of independent experts lead the conversation. But if a trade agreement is signed that puts the power in the hands of overseas companies then it’s over.

The TPPA will protect the rights of corporate investors at the expense of democratic governance. These are the people that want to jeopardise land and water security for the short term – and diminishing – profits of fossil fuels. If the mining industry is allowed to carry out its business plan, the planet tanks. Whether thru invasive mining or the impact of catastrophic climate change Australia’s agricultural land will diminish to a fraction of what they are now.

 

The Lock the Gate movement formed to counter the tsunami of mining never before seen in Australia.  More than fifty percent OR 437 million hectares of our land is covered by coal and gas licences or applications.  There are 11 of our 16 National Landscapes under threat from mining projects. Coal Seam Gas threatens groundwater. It produces contaminated waste water that there’s no effective way of disposing of. It destroys regional jobs and futures.  And now a TPPA is being planned with provisions that would block our right to stop or even reduce its havoc.

Lock the Gate movement works in two ways: Firstly to delay projects through blockades and court cases.  Secondly to improve government regulation of the mining industry.  At the core of this is a grassroots organiser model which is continually increasing community awareness and building a broadbase social movement.

When we delay projects it costs the companies money, adding costs to the projects, reducing the profitability. It also adds risk in the investor’s eyes. Delay also gives us time to raise court cases, get heard in the environmental court which again can add delay.  It creates media coverage which in turn also raises more and new broadbase awareness, locally and nationally and puts pressure on government to improve regulations, protect water, protect health and the agriculture and tourism industries.  The Kerry Blockade in January 2012 against Arrow Energy drilling in SE Queensland lasted twelve days and delayed the project and achieved significant media coverage. That image of the riot squad holding back farmers and then Arrow’s trucks driving over the farmers’ hats is not easily forgotten.  Arrow drilled its well, supported by dozens of police, but it’s never been back, a win for the community and a win for social licence. And there are many other examples.

Delay cost the companies money as they can’t progress with their projects and if this is foreign investor money that’s where the TPPA kicks in. In Canada the US-based Lone Star energy company is currently using the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS) provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, to sue the Quebec provincial government for $250 million, because it suspended shale gas mining pending a study of its environmental impact. The Quebec government was acting in response to concerns from the community.   The NSW Government has already enacted new regulation in response to community concerns– think of the 2km no go zones, the protection of vintners and equestrian lands (Yes it is strange this take priority over water catchments and farming lands which are still not protected) and policy to improve the storage methods of coal seam gas waste water.

If Abbott signs the TPPA and we continue to delay destructive mining projects in Australia or force the suspension of projects with a majority foreign investment the ISDS provision will mean our governments could be sued for millions of dollars. The TPPA will be an even greater reason for the government t to ignore the voice of the community and our demand for reviews and regulation. The TPPA will put the power firmly in the hand of the mining giants and give them even greater control over our governments.

We are in the last days of the fossil fuel industry and they will throw everything at us as we push for the change that has to happen.

At the heart of democracy are our legal rights as citizens to protest, our right as citizens to raise questions and concerns. We’re not china where congregating or networking alternative political views will get you thrown in prison. We have the right to challenge the status quo and bring about change – think about the people power and grassroots engagement that was behind the suffragette movement, the end of apartheid, gay rights, rights for women and earlier environmental protection. Today even if you don’t agree with marriage equality and its legal recognition, no-one in Australia would say the campaign didn’t have the right to exist.

More than 70 groups have signed Lock the Gate’s open letter to Minister Andrew Robb saying that “the inclusion of ISDS in more trade agreements … could cost taxpayers many millions of dollars, and would discourage governments from regulating in the public interest”.

If the TPPA and ISDS go ahead it will firmly undermine the environmental and justice systems at the core of our communities and fundamentally shift the balance of power to mining investors. It will create a cascade of power where federal government can discipline state governments for representing citizens with progressive environmental and social policy. It will mean more corporate government decision making that represents foreign corporate interests ahead of its own citizens.  Do we want Australia to be a place of innovation, inspiration with thriving tourism, education and manufacturing sector, strong regional communities and empowered citizens? Or do we want Australia to be a foreign-owned quarry?

END

What next

 

Demand a Federal Parliamentary Debate:  In Malaysia the TPPA and will not be signed this year as the parliament must debate it first. In Australia, Prime Minister Abbott currently has no plans for a parliamentary debate with all the details of the draft TPPA agreement still secret.

Ask for a Senate Enquiry: What is in the TPPA for Australia? Trade deals are always touted as increasing competition and reducing costs. They usually do the opposite, creating monopolies and shifting the power firmly into the hands of political and corporate interests.

 Ask questions of your local Federal MP – What are the benefits of the TPPA for Australia? When will the draft agreement be made public? If it’s a good agreement why can’t we see it, debate it?

TPPA  will also significantly impact workers rights and pharmaceutical access. 

Where’s the equity in Selective Schools?

Reading parent blogs and talking to kids after the NSW selective test results were announced last term was dispiriting. There’s the smug relief of parents whose kids did get in. There’s the sense of failure from kids who didn’t and the profound disappointment of their parents who wanted excellent academic education from the state.

NSW is the only state to persist with the archaic system of selective schools that segregates kids into a two-tier public education system from year 7.  There are seventeen fully selective schools in NSW and 25 more with ‘selective streams’ and 90% of the kids come from socially advantaged backgrounds. If the test really was on merit there should be an even representation from all backgrounds. (Melbourne University a few years ago allowed lower entrance scores from students from less advantaged schools. The ‘lower grade’ kids then performed as well as other students from more advantaged backgrounds.)

It’s a highly flawed system that values children with pro-active parents and entrenches disadvantage for the others.  Social mobility is the foundation promise of meritocracy and achieving success based on talent yet this is lower now in the US and Australia than for past 50 years. The rich are getting richer and the gap between rich and poor is growing. An excellent education is a right, not a privilege yet by supporting a selective school system we are saying some deserve a better education than others and this is  to the detriment of the entire public high school system.  We must fight so that kid from the disadvantaged background has a chance to grow up less poor and local high schools with a mix of kids of all academic abilities and socio-economic backgrounds would help.

In NSW the schools test industry that didn’t exist 20 years ago has had exponential growth. It’s a no brainer, as a small investment in test preparation can net a secondary education worth $120k ($20k per year at a private school).  Selective school segregation is also flawed in its assumption that kids who are good at English are also good at Maths. In comprehensive schools streaming allows kids to be in different ability classes by subject and share sporting teams with rocket scientists and rappers.  At my kids’ public primary school  everyone’s streamed for Maths and English from year 1:  it works for the teachers who can teach a narrow band of ability, it works for the kids who get taught at the level they’re at and not feel like dummies or underperform. Hang on a moment – aren’t these the arguments people give for the selective system? So why do we need them?

 Kids in selective schools also benefit from all-powerful teacher expectation to a much greater degree than those in the under-resourced, less disciplined, less socially supported comprehensive high school system. A recent study in UK reveals how kids who had been scoring highly at public primaries were performing at a vastly lower grade five years later at the local comprehensive school – unlike their equivalent peers at selective schools.

 Studies also show that the brightest students would do equally well in the local public high school and academic results are hugely skewed to family socio-economics. But it’s that old adage of advantage for some means disadvantage for others and kids left in a comprehensive system with all the good students with pro-active parents ripped out, do worse. Kids know when they’re being undervalued and it’s self-fulfilling.

Of course parents whose kids go to selective schools are happy with their kid’s education in these privileged environments of aspirational learning free of ‘dummies’ and disruptive kids. But this doesn’t make the selective school system equitable or fair, nor do studies show these kids do better than they would at a local public high school.

NSW Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli is under huge pressure and his education policy seems to be purely budgetary focussed (TAFE cuts, special teacher cuts…) The principal of Sydney Boys High School is also still waiting for an answer from the minister to take a local intake of students but this is only a short term solution for the increasing pressure on the three public school options for half a million population who live  East of Hyde Park in Sydney.

If Piccoli and this government cared about education they’d be seeking to address all inequity in our public education sector, education is the key to addressing disadvantage and increasing productivity. (Imagine if we were investing as much in IT training as in mining subsidies – we’d be a knowledge super power rather than a quarry)

If we want our society to be doing well, we have to ask how we can help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds have a stake in the education opportunities other kids do. We have to help them grow up less poor and advocate a system that values all kids, not creates a parallel universe of education that entrenches disadvantage.

Academic Research and Discussion Papers

The Great Equity Debate – Dr David Zyngnier (Monash University)
https://theconversation.com/the-great-equity-debate-a-fair-go-for-australian-schools-5609

Selective Schools and Academic Achievement -Dr Damon Clark (2011)

Click to access dp3182.pdf

School Dropout and Completion – Edited by Stephen Lamb (Melbourne University)

‘My School’ and others: Segregation and white flight – Christina Ho (2011, UTS)
http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2011/05/ho.html

Video
Non selective state schools failing students thru culture of low expectations (2013)

Dual with the Constitution

ImageFour years ago my three daughters and I flew into Sydney on an evening arrival from London. We’d been living in England for two years and  were now returning. As the plane soared over the city’s night brightness, the emotion of being back overwhelmed me and I shook the children urgently awake telling them, Look kids, look outside. We’re home.

I’m one of the more than 600,000 New Zealanders who call Australia home. My children’s father is Australian, two of them are born here and carry Australian passports. I too am an Australian citizen, taking the test and accepting this privilege in front of hundreds of people at the Sydney Town Hall. For twenty years I’ve paid taxes, participated in this country’s society, cared about its place in the world. In the past four years I’ve become progressively more and more active in community organising, including the political and environmental campaign against coal and CSG and Greens progressive politics.

The last census showed that 26% of Australia’s population was born overseas. Incredibly another 20% of Australian have at least one overseas-born parent confirming our cities as a melting pot of diversity and cultural representation.  Many Australian-born kids also carry dual citizenship, one or both of their overseas-born parents wanting to give them a symbolic connection to familial ancestory and memories, the land where their forebears are buried or simply just easy entry to the country on holiday visits.

A few weeks ago I found out that section 44 (iv) in the Australian constitution bans all Australians with dual citizenship from running for federal politics unless they renounce their ‘other’ citizenship before they sign their Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) nomination form.

Australia’s constitution was enacted in 1900 and came into law on 1 January, 1901, a time when the population was 97% all white. Unforgivably the constitution didn’t recognise Australian’s first people or women. It also excluded anyone with dual citizenship sitting in the new federal parliament and this has not been changed in 113 years.  In New Zealand, anyone who is a citizen and resident can stand for election. In the UK, any resident  who is a citizen of a Commonwealth country can stand. This means I could be an MP in the United Kingdom where I don’t have citizenship, yet in my home country where I do have citizenship I am excluded.

I wrote my honours dissertation on land and belonging, exploring connection to land for indigenous people and its importance to identity. For my first twenty-five years I lived in Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s the place of wonderful, happy, belonging memories and intrinsically linked to my identity and activism. After all, it was NZ who took the bold step to become nuclear free in 1984 with legislation that is still standing. We were the first country to give women the vote, seven years before Australia’s constitution that excluded women. The kiwi history of female representation led in 1998 to all seven of  NZ’s top roles being held by women including Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, Governor General, CEO of Telecom, Chief Justice. It was New Zealand who reinvigorated the music world with Split Enz and the Dunedin Sound. There are sporting and cultural achievements galore that make be proud to be a Kiwi.

My memories like everyone’s are linked to place and people and I’ve written about the difference for indigenous connection to land compared with that of settler cultures who had to leave their land, the place where their ancestors are buried, behind. I argued this is why non-indigenous cultures love artefacts so much, it’s the collective insurance that their identity can go with them if they ever migrate en masse again. Unlike land and place.

I was recently preselected as the Greens candidate for a NSW federal seat, chosen by a local Greens group to be their representative in this election and campaign on their community’s concerns of food sovereignty and companies like Monsanto controlling food production, sustainability, Australia’s coal obsession and its contribution to climate change, oceans and the natural environment. We wanted the electorate to vote for the Greens on land, water, oceans, trees, koalas, renewable clean energy and climate. It was my story as a contemporary mother, advocate and environmental campaigner that we thought would resonate.  

My dual citizenship was no secret and there was majority support that dual citizenship was not going to affect my vote and there was a strong case to be argued if it was ever constitutionally challenged in the High Court or Federal Court of Australia, the only authorities in Australia that can make decisions regarding the interpretation of the constitution.

Then a lawyer pointed out that though this was true, there was a statutory declaration on the nomination form all candidates nominating as a candidate for federal election must sign saying they “are qualified under the Constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth to be elected as a Member of the House of Representatives.” At this point it became irrelevant if I thought the High Court or Federal court would find in my  favour.  It became irrelevant that no-one has ever been charged for signing a false statutory declaration on a federal election candidate nomination form though there have been high court cases challenging elected candidates with dual citizenship on their constitutional legitimacy to sit in the House of Representatives or Senate.

A stat dec is a stat dec.  It’s not about God, it’s about the laws of your land underpinning a civil society, it’s a citizen commitment to the shared rules and laws of the functioning nation. Democracy lies in the process, not in the results, it’s our shared set of rules and the journey we take together that counts. You just have to look at the fiasco inside the Labor that happens when each faction goes it alone.

And that’s what made it impossible for me to be a candidate in the upcoming federal election, and why more than 20% of our population are excluded as well.  It wasn’t what could happen to me, it was that the means didn’t justify the end.

The 1900 constitution was written to avoid stacking by self-interested English men, couched in language of protecting “the parliamentary system by disqualifying candidates and members of Parliament who are at risk of allowing conflicts of loyalty to affect their performance.” Justifiable at the time maybe, but not now.  But to change the Australian constitution requires a referendum, a momentous effort requiring committed stakeholders and a huge investment in community consultation. Only eight of the 44 referendums ever untaken in Australian have been carried and section 44 (iv) of the constitution regarding the democratic exclusion of dual citizens is not a priority.

White Australian-borns have been quick to say, just renounce, a response similar in my mind to the flippant “Just Get Married” comeback that the English gave mewhen I’d complain about the lack of recognition or rights for de facto relationships. I did email the NZ embassy and was sent forms on how to cut the umbilical cord and renounce my connection to the country of my birth. I’ve opened this pdf form many times, trying to be practical and sensible and knowing it would not change my identify. But I couldn’t do it. Both places are my home, I have loyalty of memory and nurture to one, a fierce loyalty and desires for the future of both.

Fortunately the NSW constitution does not exclude MPs based on dual citizenship. Candidates must simply be on the electoral role and not have been “convicted of the murder of a child or a child sexual offence,  the subject of proceedings for such an offence; or  the subject of an apprehended violence order for the purposes of protecting a child from sexual assault.”  Tick tick tick.

When’s CO2 going to become a trigger for the EPBC Act?

Time for a Co2 trigger for the EPBC

This week Tony Windsor’s private member’s water bill will be voted on in the senate. If it passes it will be the first time that Australian federal legislation recognises water as an Issue of National Significance and finally put in place an incentive for mining projects to consider water usage and impact in their planning.

If the bill passes a project that uses significant water reserves, threatens aquifers in the Great Artesian Basin or the contamination of ground water will now face Federal scrutiny. Federal MPs won’t be able to fob off concerned environmental group by saying “it’s a state issue.” Instead the project will now be able to be catapulted from the state approval process into the office of the federal Minster for the Environment under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).

This is all good news and, from the outset, will motivate mining companies to build mitigation measures into plans from the beginning. A Federal water trigger will improve chances that proper scientific appraisal will be completed before mining operational approval is granted, or even before exploration licences are given and financial incentives received.

But what about Co2 emissions, where’s the environmental and social incentive when it comes to mining projects with significant greenhouse emissions. Ninety-seven out of every one hundred climate scientists agree that it is Co2 emissions causing the planet’s temperature to rise and ensuing climate chaos. They agree that the belching of Co2 into the atmosphere, soon to reach 400ppm for the first time in 800,000 years, must be stalled. And they don’t mean from bovine graziers. They mean that coal and gas used for ‘cheap’ energy, the fossil fuels that power our cars, have to stay in the ground and that governments start supporting the off the shelf alternatives that are readily available but hindered by unstable regulation and a powerful fossil fuel lobby.

Climate change is already causing significant economic and social disruption in Australia. Its impact will soon make environmental intervention the major focus for governments and government intervention will be de rigeur. Australia’s Climate Change Authority has officially started its review of targets for reducing Australia’s carbon pollution by 2020, and beyond but this can’t be done in separation from the approval process for new mines. Yet, Australia’s federal Government has never refused approval for a single coal mine or an unconventional onshore gas field.

A recent Greenpeace report shows that if all the coal from proposed coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin are burned the emissions will be another 705 million tonnes of CO2 a year – nearly double that of Australia’s current fossil emissions of 395 million tonnes. In addition there are 33 new coal mines proposed for the NSW Hunter Valley and thousands of CSG mines planned for Queensland.

Australia’s price on carbon is motivating businesses to reduce their energy use and introduce energy efficiency measures. More and more councils are using roof space to install solar PV, they are improving waste management to avoid paying for greenhouse emissions from landfill. The Renewable Energy Target (RET) is motivating energy companies to offer renewable energy options to its customers. The Lismore Worker’s Club installed one of the NSW North Coast’s largest arrays of solar PV on its roof this year, reducing its power bills by $187,000 each year, and saving more than 162,000 tons of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere.

A price on carbon provided a good starting mechanism to deal with emitting industries that Australia may need, but export coal is not one of these. In addition to carbon pricing it’s time for a policy framework focussed on downstream emissions and take responsibility for our contribution to the global effect. A Co2 reduction incentive is the right complement to the climate change adaption programs every government body and most corporations are already undertaking.

It is time for projects resulting in annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of more than 50,000 tonnes per year be treated as an issue of national significance. It is time for state and federal government to take into account all the greenhouse polluting aspects of mines and include this as a consideration in the approval process for projects. The EPBC Act is Australia’s primary legislation that can protect the environment from the impact of mining. A greenhouse emissions trigger in this Act would, at least, require the planning of mega mines to be assessed against its greenhouse emissions.

More than half of the world’s multicellular life forms will be extinct by 2100 at the current rate of “human disruption of the biosphere” more. A study from CSIRO last year said that climate change is likely to start transforming Australia’s natural landscapes by 2030, and by 2070 many will disappear from the continent. The planet is nothing for humans if not a biodiversity assessment, you can’t have economics without an environment in balance. But just like Woodside’s recent decision to pull out of James Price Point, it’s still short term economics that are the final determinant.

Currently there is no requirement for projects such as new coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Hunter estuary, Adjani’s the 60-million ton per year open-cut mega coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, the gigantic new coal-related dam on the Dawson River or the 8,000 new coal seam gas wells in Queensland to be assessed on likely emissions and fugitive emission management and measurement. The real terminal though is the Great Barrier Reef and that terminal is its death. However, if greenhouse emissions at the destination for coal and gas passing through a port were taken into account, it could be a different story for these projects.

If passed this week, Windsor’s bill will force the pendulum back towards water not coal. A Co2 trigger would do the same for the climate, forcing the federal government to assess new coal and gas infrastructure against its Co2.

Mining needs an incentive to minimise greenhouse emissions produced during mining and offset the emissions occurring downstream. It’s too late now for this government to amend the EPBC even though Labor in 2006, when still in opposition, supported a greenhouse trigger. Let’s hope there will still be MPs following the September election who will listen to environmentally-concerned, value driven communities and citizens, it shouldn’t be such a radical thing to do. After all they have kids too.

.

thecurrentmoment

On the politics and economics of the present

AGENT SWARM

Pluralism and Individuation in a World of Becoming

Feminist Legal Clinic

Advancing the Human Rights of Women & Girls

Councillor Irene Doutney

City of Sydney Greens Councillor