Friday, April 13, 2012

Qld. Premier demands complete control over environmental assessments

He will be a formidable foe for Gillard at the next election if she interferes  -- and Qld. is the swing State that any Federal government must win

CAMPBELL Newman has demanded the Federal Government hand over complete control of environmental assessments to the state in a move designed to cut business costs.

But Julia Gillard has vowed to retain the final say over high-risk and World Heritage area developments, warning Mr Newman's plan could allow Queensland to build a nuclear reactor without any input from the rest of the country.

Ms Gillard has struck to deal with all state and territory leaders to remove duplication of most environmental approvals as part of a drive to cut "green tape".

Liberal premiers including Mr Newman say they want the carbon tax on the table as part of the talks, which will continue at the Council of Australian Governments summit in Canberra today.

But Mr Newman has gone further than other Premiers and called for complete control over environmental assessments in the Sunshine State.  "It's a bit rich for the Prime Minister to suggest that the states have to work with her to reduce that green tape when the Federal Government coming over the top in Queensland on major resource and tourism projects is causing huge delays and blocking the economic progress of Queensland," Mr Newman said.

The Premier told The Courier-Mail he did not want to see a repeat of the delays and inconsistent rulings that had held up ports, rail and coal mines in the Galilee Basin.

He also said the Federal Government's decision to overrule the Traveston Dam after it was approved by the Bligh government was "one of the most appalling decisions in the use of that Act".

Ms Gillard said her plan to streamline environmental rules with states would mean developers "don't go through double assessments".

But she said the Federal Government still had to oversee developments in World Heritage areas in Commonwealth waters and nuclear power.

Ms Gillard said Mr Newman's proposal would stop the Federal Government having a say if there was a plan for another nuclear reactor like the Lucas Heights plant in Sydney.

The COAG meeting in Canberra today is likely to sign off on a plan for guaranteed vocational education places, but states will also trade blows over the carve up of the GST and the impact of the mining tax.

Mr Newman also took a swipe at federal Labor's industrial relations laws, saying they had contributed to the increase in strikes in Queensland coal mines and were partly to blame for the closure of the Norwich Park coal mine.

Business leaders who met with Ms Gillard and premiers yesterday welcomed the plan to cut "green tape".  BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers said the current overlap of state and federal rules was "tortuous".

Business Council of Australia chief Tony Shepherd called for governments to also scrap renewable energy targets.

But the Greens said the plan to streamline assessments could cut environmental protection.


Push to remove Qld. ports from World Heritage area

IN a move that has outraged environmentalists, the State Government is considering a push to remove several Queensland ports from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney claims the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area should be redrawn, with the embattled Gladstone Harbour the first port on his list of exclusion zones.  Mr Seeney said the Government was committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef but argued the Gladstone Harbour was not a part of it.

"If there is going to be a continual misrepresentation of those boundaries then I think that will build a case for the realignment of the boundaries," he said.  "It is obviously a misrepresentation to talk about Gladstone Harbour being part of the Great Barrier Reef."  Mr Seeney added other ports could be considered for exclusion from the area.

However, any such proposal would meet with resistance from the Federal Government, with Environment Minister Tony Burke saying the current boundaries were appropriate.  "The Government has no plans to change the boundary of the property," he said.

Greens member and environmental medicine specialist Dr Andrew Jeremijenko was outraged by the suggestions.  "There's a lot of rare and endangered species that use Gladstone Harbour," he said.   "There's no gate at the end of the Great Barrier Reef  Gladstone Harbour is used as a migratory place."

Dr Jeremijenko said the harbour was facing problems that could no longer be ignored.  "Fishermen are coming forward and saying `the water's making me sick'," he said.

"What Jeff Seeney's saying is that he doesn't care about the fishing industry and the tourism industry  he just wants this to be a developed harbour."


Shock closure of Norwich Park mine sends powerful warning to unions

THE shock closure of the Norwich Park mine sends a powerful warning to unions that mining giants can shut sites even in a resource boom.

Morningstar analyst Mark Taylor said it was also "an easy way" to send a "powerful" message to unions who were in a pay dispute for the past 16 months with strikes.  "If you're closing down an operation that's not particularly profitable for you, and if you're copping grief from unions, it's kind of an easy way to send a message to them that mines can shut down if they're not profitable," he told The Courier-Mail.

The comment comes as CFMEU mining and energy division district president Stephen Smyth raised suspicion over the closure given ongoing strikes at the site.  "I'd hate to think this is the length they'd go to ... shut a mine down to show them," he said. "If it is, it's a pretty low act to do. For BHP, this is probably simply a business transaction."  Mr Smyth said the mine had functioned when the coal price was a lot lower than it was now. [But were the unions as Bolshie then?]

Last night, a BHP spokeswoman denied the allegations, stating the motives behind the mine closure were in the open.  "We talked about it losing money for months now," the spokeswoman said.

"It was affected by the wet weather in Queensland last year and obviously the higher-cost environment that we're all currently experiencing across the industry.

"Obviously industrial action hasn't helped the situation but the cause is basically the economic viability of the operation given the wet weather and the higher-cost environment."  She reaffirmed that BMA was ceasing production across the mine and would "seek to redeploy employees to our other mines".

Mr Taylor said a loss-making mine was more likely to stay open in a boom "because you're going to be making money out of it".  But he said if prices went off, it would no longer be profitable and become the first to shut.  He said coal prices had been declining "for a while" to around US$200 a tonne.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman yesterday blamed the Federal Government's workplace policies for the closure of Norwich Park mine.  "Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) and her cabinet need to take responsibility for creating an environment where we're seeing a break-out in industrial action," he said.

"I ask the company concerned to think long and hard about what they're doing.  " ... the very future of the community of Dysart is at stake."


Secretive university of Canberra

The University of Canberra asked five journalism students to withdraw Freedom of Information applications targeting controversial stories involving UC journalism course cuts and its sponsorship of the ACT Brumbies.

The students submitted their request as part of a final-year investigative journalism assignment into freedom of information processes but four of the five students withdrew them after intervention from the Dean of Arts and Design, Professor Greg Battye.

Third-year journalism student Lauren Ingram refused to withdraw her request and said she had been threatened with possible expulsion for asking about details of planned cuts to the journalism degree and the abolition of nearly half of the journalism practice units – including, ironically, the investigative journalism unit.

Ms Ingram said there had been “a serious lack of genuine student consultation and a remarkable amount of spin-doctoring from UC” regarding the course changes.  She felt it was appropriate to seek information on the cuts for her assignment and planned to publish her findings on the UC’s on-line student newspaper.

Ms Ingram said she had been completely surprised by the university’s reaction.  She said she came out publicly yesterday on media webstie because she believed it was unacceptable for the university to even request students withdraw FOI requests into sensitive administrative decisions, much less threaten them.

Ms Ingram said Professor Battye had instructed her journalism lecturer and former Canberra Times editor Crispin Hull to “pass on a message to me as the one remaining student refusing to withdraw their FOI request’’.

“Battye cited UC legal advice and said to let me know that if I continued with the FOI it could result in a breach of the student conduct rules. Such breaches can lead to expulsion or exclusion from university, or being failed in the subject involved. Battye claimed he had a legal opinion that the assessment required UC academic ethics clearance, which had not been sought.’’

Ms Ingram said “I told the lecturer the request went against ‘everything I've been taught about journalism’.”  The Canberra Times was awaiting a statement from Professor Battye.

Mr Hull said yesterday the Crikey story was one-sided and said he had clearly defended his students from Professor Battye's claim they risked breaching the UC’s ethical guidelines.

According to an email from Mr Hull to Professor Battye sent last Tuesday, Mr Hull said “First, there is no risk. As I tell students, every Australian has a legally enforceable right to ask for and obtain access to documents under FOI, so there cannot possibly be any ethics-committee requirements for such "research", if indeed it even qualifies as "research". Any legal advice you have to the contrary, in my view, is plainly wrong.’’

He also said that “such a warning, in my view, would be tantamount to bullying conduct, and I will not be a part of it.’’

Mr Hull noted that singling out the student who was pursuing an FOI request with the UC would also “appear extremely odd’’.  He did, however, write to students last week to tell them "The FOI office feels swamped and will have to spend a lot of time and enormous cost with your FOI requests ... [the FOI officer] would like to be relieved of the legal burden of having to fulfil the FOI requests according to the FOI Act".

He requested student formally drop their FOI requests in exchange for a guest lecture from David Hamilton, the university's FOI officer:

"It would be good if you could officially withdraw your FOI requests as soon as possible and in return we will get [David's] FOI insights and you will get the opportunity to ask him questions about the FOI process. I think this will go further towards achieving our educational aims than doggedly persisting with the formal FOI process."

Ms Ingram received more than 400 pages of documents relating to the journalism course changes last Thursday and was in the midst of reading them.

Mr Hull said the process of the course was to give students a real-life experience of the FOI process, and while they could submit an FOI to the UC in their capacity as a private citizen, he would be requesting next year’s class not use the UC for the assignment.

“There is the potential for the exercise to get warped when the FOI people know it is a student exercise,” he said.  “It is all just too in-house."  But he praised Ms Ingram for her doggedness in pursuing her request and said she showed ”obvious promise as a journalist".


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