Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Opposition to coal seam gas based on worst-case scenarios

Scot MacDonald

IN THE United States, the emergence of the shale gas industry is creating thousands of jobs and breathing economic life into depressed regions.

Australia, and in particular regional Australia, has a similar opportunity with coal seam gas.

As a member of the NSW legislative council inquiry into coal seam gas, I’ve listened to hours of hearings, read countless submissions and spoken to dozens of stakeholders.

Most of the witnesses were very negative towards the nascent industry and, other than industry spokesmen or government officials, few were openly supportive.

Of those who opposed coal seam gas, I can’t recall a single piece of evidence or data to support their case. They were based on NIMBYsm, supposition, emotion and worst-case scenarios.

I’ve lived and worked in regional NSW or Queensland for more than 30 years.

In all that time, the mantra has been more regional jobs, more regional businesses, better infrastructure, reversing population decline, building export businesses, keeping our children in local jobs and so on. Now we have the prospect of an industry in coal seam gas that can deliver on those aspirations.

While no one can argue with the need for environmental caution and appropriate safeguards, the unwillingness to see the positives in the industry has been confronting.

What has disappointed me the most has been the failure of leadership and vision in our regional communities.

With the exception of the mayors of Gunnedah, Narrabri and Tamworth, local government representatives have been happy to be silent or run with the crowd.

For me this is an intergenerational issue. While those with assets are eager to “lock the gate” and maintain the status quo, the cost of turning our backs on coal seam gas will be borne mainly by future generations.

North West NSW can become the source of cheap, accessible, reliable energy.

In a world where all these features will be scarce, our region has the opportunity to transform itself from an agriculturally dependent, low-employment, low-growth, low-income demographic to a dynamic, developing, mixed-economic region with a key comparative advantage of affordable energy. Right now, international investors are looking for these features to build energy reliant industries.

For example, North West NSW is a heavy importer of nitrogen fertilisers for agricultural production. Perhaps we could follow the US trend to build fertiliser factories close to the source of its major raw material, which is gas.

Right now, these opportunities are being seized in places like the USA and Canada.

I would like to challenge the army of economic development officers, chambers of commerce, regional development boards and local governments from Tamworth to the Queensland border to take up the challenge for their communities of seizing this once-in-a-century game changer.


Rupert Murdoch's MOTHER is still alive

At that rate Rupert will be around for a while yet

DAME Elisabeth Murdoch is celebrating her 103rd birthday today.

The philanthropist and mother of media titan Rupert Murdoch will celebrate with friends and family, including grandson Lachlan Murdoch, at a concert in her honour at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Born on February 8, 1909, Dame Elisabeth was 18 when she met and married newspaper journalist Keith Murdoch. They had four children - Helen, Rupert, Anne and Janet.

Known for her work in child health and welfare and the arts, Dame Elisabeth reportedly supports more than 100 charities annually.

She is also an avid gardener and regularly opens up her immaculate gardens at Cruden Farm, near Melbourne, to the public.


1500 hospital beds closed in Victoria

A SECRET nurse bed toll reveals more than 1500 Victorian hospital beds were closed in a month. Fed-up nurses have recorded bed closures for the first time, saying it is occurring on an unprecedented scale.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick blamed the closures on the State Government's failure to provide hospitals with adequate funding. "The diagnosis is grim. Our hospitals are very sick and failing Victorians," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

The beds, which included paediatric, surgical and intensive care, were closed for varying periods between December 23, 2011, and January 25, 2012.

The Australian Medical Association and the Government said beds were closed in holiday periods because medical staff took leave and fewer operations were performed.

"The numbers of beds that were being closed over that period was about par for the course," AMA Victoria vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said they accepted that surgeons took holidays, but only 40 per cent of the 1516 beds were surgical.

"There aren't fewer people attending emergency departments," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"People don't stop having strokes in January ... they still have medical conditions that require hospital treatment."

A hospital source told the Herald Sun nurses were frustrated by emergency department queues and surgery cancellations.

"Waiting lists are so long, we should be operating and clearing the backlog, there shouldn't be closed beds," he said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said empty beds were unacceptable, particularly after the Government stated the nurses' industrial action, which closed almost 1000 beds, had "threatened patient safety and welfare".

The union, which is in dispute with the Government over pay, nurse-to-patient ratios and health assistants, will publish the bed toll on its website.

Department of Health figures show in the past four years there were between 834 and 1026 bed closures in December.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister David Davis said up to 20 per cent of staff from major health services might be on leave during December and January.

She said the Government had promised 100 new beds in its first year and had increased health financing.


Greens press case for billion-dollar dental scheme

As usual, the Greens are to the Left of the ALP

The Greens are insisting the Federal Government allocate at least $1 billion in this year's budget to meet a commitment on taxpayer-funded dental care.

The Greens have proposed introducing a Medicare-style dental scheme, which could cost about $5.5 billion, and a report on the feasibility of the plan is due from the National Advisory Council on Dental Health this week.

The Opposition thinks the Government is gearing up to scrap the dental deal with the Greens, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard said honouring the commitment needed to be weighed up in the budget process.

Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale says he is optimistic, but wants significant start-up funds.

"There are existing schemes that can be used, but we think that unless you're talking about a scale of investment in the order of $1 billion or more that you're not going to make the necessary inroads in this year's budget that we need to make," he said.

"We do have an agreement with the Government that there needs to be significant investment.

"I'm optimistic that they will follow through with the recommendations of that report which I'm sure will recommend a significant investment in dental health over the coming years."

Greens MP Adam Bandt asked Ms Gillard whether she would honour her commitment to the Greens. In answering, the Prime Minister detailed spending commitments the Government had made to date, and then added: "But as we weigh what we can do in the budget process, we will of course make the appropriate fiscal decisions for the nation."


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