Wednesday 23 July 2014


The recent announcement by Primary Industries Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, that NSW taxpayers will pay Boral $8.55 million to buy back 50,000 cubic metres of timber allocations annually for the next nine years, is final confirmation by the Government of what conservationists have been warning them for a decade, that current logging is unsustainable.

The decision has been welcomed by some as a move that will see positive outcomes for forest health. However, the reality is that Forests Corp, formerly Forests NSW, has been unable to fulfil contracts for over a decade, saddling NSW taxpayers with a compensation bill for millions of dollars. Between 2004 and 2012 that timber supply shortfall amounted to an average of 40,400m³ of high quality saw logs annually. So buying back 50,000m³ will only see a reduction in logging rates of about 9,600m³ annually, meaning the carnage will continue.

The original plan, as outlined in the 1999 Regional Forest Agreements, was for a 20 year timber supply agreement, with a dramatic cut in native forest logging post 2020, and plantations taking over much of the supply. Forests NSW inability to fill contracts saw the end date extended to 2023. However, the worst part of this deal is, as Minister Hodgkinson's media release explains, the timber quota reduction will allow logging of native forests to continue indefinitely beyond 2023.

This latest $8.55 million payment to Boral comes on top of $11 million compensation paid to millers since 2000. As well as this latest payment, Boral received $2.78 million for an earlier buy-back; $550,000 compensation in about 2004 for short supply, and another undisclosed pay-out within the last twelve months.

In attempting to fill contracts, Forests Corp has been logging private property, thus extending the carnage beyond state forests and now, in another desperate bid to find timber, they plan to log previously protected steep land using the technique of cable logging. How they hope to become profitable using that expensive technique, when recording multi-million dollar losses through traditional logging, is a mystery.
- John Edwards

This post was published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 21, 2014.

Saturday 19 July 2014


The RMS - Roads and Maritime Services (previously known as the RTA) - continues to show a lack of concern about protecting important populations of native species.  The route of its proposed Pacific Highway upgrade from north of Coffs Harbour to Ballina will have a devastating effect on many species because of the clearing of native vegetation and the increased likelihood of roadkill. 

An important koala habitat area near Wardell, south of Ballina, is one area of concern.  Recently ecologist Mark Graham wrote to local papers expressing his concern about a statement made about this area by the Highway Upgrade Manager. This letter is printed below.

Yesterday on the ABC Mr Bob Higgins, Pacific Highway upgrade manager for the RMS said about the proposed Broadwater to Ballina deviation "The route that was selected is mostly on cleared land."  His statement is not correctThe reality is the proposed route will clear and sever intact corridors of forest and wetland that connect the Wardell heathland (part of the National Reserve System called the Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area) with the nationally significant forests (and koala habitats) of the Blackwall Range.  Indeed these areas are recognised as some of the most important wildlife corridors in Ballina Shire.

What Mr Higgins has repeatedly failed to address is that the proposed route is several kilometers longer than the existing highway.  It will require clearing lots of nationally important koala habitat and result in the isolation and  permanent degradation of hundreds of hectares of adjacent koala habitat.  It will clear and fragment the largest and most significant tracts of native vegetation in Ballina Shire.

The RMS policy about biodiversity states: "When managing biodiversity, RMS aims to: 1. Avoid and minimise impacts first. 2. Mitigate impacts where avoidance is not possible. 3. Offset where residual impacts cannot be avoided."

Mr Higgins has been informed (in person and in writing) since 2005 that building a highway along the proposed route will cause local extinctions of nationally protected species such as the koala and long-nosed potoroo.  He knows there is  no native vegetation, protected areas or culturally significant features along the existing highway between Broadwater and Ballina.  He also knows that avoiding any impacts on biodiversity is readily achievable.

Mr Higgins, you have no excuse for killing Ballina's koalas.

      - Mark Graham

This letter was published in The Daily Examiner on July 17, 2014.

Thursday 17 July 2014


Australian-based companies and state governments have made billions from the export coal industry. Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter, is set to double exports by 2020 as there are 89 new projects in the pipeline.  The investment is not only in the mines because servicing this expansion requires development of major infrastructure in the form of rail lines and ports such as the new coal terminals at Abbot Point on the Barrier Reef coastline.

China's coal imports have grown rapidly over the last decade and it now consumes half of the world's coal, obtaining 30% of its needs from Australia. 

Companies making coal investment decisions expect this demand to continue to grow well into the future.  State Governments are also looking to share in the bonanza as the royalties derived from the industry are very important to their tax base.  Just how lucrative this is for Queensland and NSW is shown by their coal royalty incomes for 2008-9 - $1.3 billion for NSW and $3.1 billion for Queensland.

Given the impact that burning coal has in contributing to carbon emissions and thence to climate change, all Australian governments should be working towards phasing out the industry rather than encouraging its major expansion.  It appears that all that the federal and state governments can see are the dollars to be made and the benefits to the state and the national economies. From those anxious to support the expansion of fossil fuel mining the term "the national interest" is frequently quoted as a reason  to have as much develoment of coal reserves as possible and to expedite this development. 

Downsides  such as the impacts on lifestyles and health of those living in close proximity to the huge open cut mines and the devastating effects on natural biodiversity are of minor interest to the  proponents and their government supporters as are the effects of coal use on climate change.

The interests of future generations (sometimes referred to as "intergenerational equity") simply are not relevant to most Australian politicians. Most of them obviously think in the short term - and some clearly still do not accept that climate change is real and that there is an urgent need to do something effective about it.

But aside from these major reasons for re-assessing whether we should continue digging up coal, there is another significant reason for re-assessment.

"It is clear that China's coal demand patterns are changing as a result of environment-related factors and consequently less coal will be consumed than is currently expected by many owners and operators of coal assets.  Given China's current role as the price setter in global and regional coal markets, falling demand will, all things being equal, reduce coal prices.  This would result in coal assets under development becoming stranded, or operating mines only covering their marginal costs and subsequently failing to provide a sufficient return on investment."

Obviously  there are significant risks in going ahead with future mines and the necessary expensive infrastructure.  

Just how carefully have investors and governments considered this?  It would appear that both the federal and various state governments do not see this as an issue.  Obviously many mining developers hold similar views.  Perhaps reality will finally hit when these mining proponents find it difficult to access capital to fund their ventures.

Saturday 12 July 2014


The suspension of Metgasco's licence to test drill for gas at Bentley (the Rosella well) north west of Casino (originally imposed February 6, 2014) was reviewed by the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) recently.  In extending the suspension the Director of OCSG stated that the company had still not met the requirements in relation to community consultation.

The company is required to undertake "genuine and effective consultation with the community" and to develop a community consultation plan.  In order for the consultation to be effective "those involved must represent a wide range of community interests".

While Metgasco had engaged in some consultation this was not considered sufficiently broad and it had not developed a community consultation plan which should have identified the relevant community interests.  The OCSG Executive Summary of its decision listed other community interests which should have been included -  Lismore and Kyogle Councils, local Chambers of Commerce, environment and other interested community groups.

The increase in local opposition to the proposed well was also referred to:  "Metrgasco's decision to defer a broader consultation program until after the Rosella Exploration Well had been drilled was not reasonable given the escalation of opposition to the activity in the Northern Rivers from the beginning of the year."

Metgasco's arrogance in failing to improve its community consultation after the initial suspension is in line with its attitude to general community concerns about gas mining, an attitude which has been obvious since it started operations in the Northern Rivers.

It is almost certain that the support the industry has had from both the NSW and federal governments has encouraged this attitude.  For example the NSW Government's help in breaking the Glenugie and Doubtful Creek blockades (at considerable expense to the public purse) was vital to undertaking those test drillings. And it is only recently that the local state National Party Members of Parliament in the Northern Rivers have withdrawn their active support for Metgasco.  And the reason is obvious - the imminence of the NSW elections to be held in March 2015.  And federal governments of both persausions have been loud in their support for gas mining and in many cases have condemned local communities for their opposition to the industry.

Metgasco has launched court proceedings against the NSW Government.  The case will be heard in October. 

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers believes that because of  "the damning evidence against Metgasco it is likely that the government will be reluctant to force invasive gas drilling on an unwilling community in an election year.  Nevertheless, the community remains vigilant and will watch the court case closely."