Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Uranium mining go-ahead in Queensland a blow to the Greens

THE State Government's snap decision to overturn a 23-year ban on uranium mining paves the way for an $18 billion industry, thousands of jobs and $900 million in royalties.

Premier Campbell Newman's announcement yesterday came just 11 days after writing to the Australian Conservation Foundation saying he had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".

Green groups have slammed the move, labelling it dangerous, rushed and made with little or no consultation.

Mr Newman said the backflip was sparked by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's trip to India to open negotiations on uranium exports, which put the issue back on the agenda.

He said the world had moved on from the conflict the issue caused decades ago when the ban was put in place and he had personally never been opposed to uranium mining.

"It was not until the events of last week where we said 'this is crazy'," Mr Newman said.  "South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are all in the game and the Prime Minister and her ministers are urging us to overturn the ban," the Premier said.

"In fact, Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson urged Queensland to overturn the ban, back in June.  "Why do we have this position given our own party is extremely supportive?"

He said the only real surprise had been the strong views in support from the Labor Party.

Mr Newman said he took the option of a policy review to yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Goondiwindi but Ministers urged him to go further and were "adamant" that the ban be overturned.

"There has been serious public debate about the issue over the course of several months," Mr Newman said.

But the Government is facing criticism it rushed the decision without consultation after going to the polls claiming it had no plans to lift the ban.

Green groups said it took less than 11 days for Mr Newman to change his mind after he wrote to the Australian Conservation Foundation on October 11 stating that the Government's position was "crystal clear" and it had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".

Mount Isa City Council recently called on the Government to resume uranium mining, to reinvigorate the area and offer employment.   Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady said the lifting of the ban allowed explorers to move in and search for deposits and that could lead to discoveries of other commodities.

Cr McGrady - a former Labor mining minister - defended the Premier.  "What Mr Newman said was that uranium mining was not high on his list of priorities," he said.

"It's come down now to making a decision on uranium and he's done so because he realised there's jobs involved and royalties for the State Government."

Cr McGrady said his council had only last week called for Mr Newman to "at least instigate an inquiry as to whether there should be a uranium industry in Queensland".

A three-person committee will be named shortly to oversee the recommencement of uranium mining.

The decision even took the mining industry by surprise because it had been expecting a preliminary review.

But the Queensland Resources Council said it seemed that when there was "no marching in the streets" following the call for a debate on the issue the Government decided to move ahead.

Chief executive Michael Roche said the Government's decision would provide a strong boost to the regional economies of the north and northwest.

"It will create jobs and economic opportunities, including for indigenous Queenslanders," Mr Roche said.

He said three mines in Queensland would generate about 1000 permanent jobs and 2500 in construction. Most would be in the Mt Isa-Gulf area.

The estimated economic value of uranium in Queensland is $18 billion and a royalty of 5 per cent would deliver $900 million in royalties.

Several companies have spent years exploring for uranium in Queensland, speculating the ban would be overturned. Summit Resources has spent about $40 million in recent years in exploration in Queensland.  Its share price spiked dramatically yesterday when the decision was announced.

However, it is likely that it will take at least four years for any project to get developed because of the strict environmental approvals needed from both the State and Federal governments.

A hazardous materials port would also have to be built to cope with the exports.

Queensland's last operating uranium mine, Mary Kathleen, about 80km west of Mount Isa, closed in 1982 after 30 years in use.

The Goss Labor government won office in 1989 with a policy of no new uranium mining, an effective ban that has applied ever since.

Ironically on the exact same day in Brisbane in 1977, 371 people were arrested at an anti-uranium protest in Brisbane, including a Labor senator.


Must not be critical of whites who claim to be black

Gerard Henderson

"There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather" ... Anthony Mundine.

I'm with boxer Anthony "Choc" Mundine - in his most recent battle, at least. Last Thursday, during a media conference to publicise his forthcoming International Boxing Federation world middleweight contest with Tasmanian Daniel Geale, Mundine questioned his opponent's Aboriginal identity.

Mundine said he "thought they wiped all the Aborigines from Tasmania out" and added Geale had "a white wife and white kids". He later apologised for both statements. However, he did not resile from his comments about identity and declared yesterday: "There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather. That, I think, is wrong."

Mundine's recent comments about Aboriginality have been denounced by journalists and others, most notably by the Tasmanian indigenous activist Michael Mansell. He linked Mundine's attitude with that of the Ku Klux Klan and claimed his position resembled a "neo-Nazi type of thought". According to Mansell, Mundine is in need of re-education since his comments were "worse than what Andrew Bolt said" last year.

Mansell is an extremist, as is obvious from his statement that Mundine is not welcome in Tasmania until he issues a grovelling apology. Yet Mansell's position reflects a pattern in left-wing thought in recent years to call for the silencing of opponents from both the right-of-centre (like Bolt) or even the left-of-centre (like Mundine).

In his rush to censor Mundine, Mansell seems to have forgotten that, in the past, he himself has raised the issue of Aboriginal identity. On August 26, 2002, Four Corners ran a program titled "Blackfella, Whitefella" concerning disputes in Tasmania as to who was indigenous. Mansell told the reporter Quentin McDermott anyone who wanted "to participate in elections that are set up for Aboriginal people … should be able to satisfy the criteria that they are, in fact, Aborigines".

That was a decade ago. Now Mansell says calls for individuals to meet certain criteria before claiming to be indigenous is profoundly racist. What's changed? Well, it's possible that the likes of Mansell have taken comfort from Federal Court Judge Mordy Bromberg's decision in the 2011 case of Eatock v Bolt concerning what were called "fair-skinned Aboriginal people".

Bromberg found Bolt had made a number of factual errors in his comments on the "fair-skinned Aboriginal people" whom he had offended. But the judge went further by criticising the "tone" of Bolt's columns in the Herald-Sun, which had included "mockery and inflammatory language" and threatened "social harmony". Yet Bolt's comments last year were not more threatening to social harmony than Mundine's outburst last week.

Moreover, there is an issue of social policy involved. Professor Henry Reynolds stated it when interviewed by Four Corners in 2002. He argued that when "identity becomes the basis for a claim on the rest of us - that is, on the state or on the taxpayer - we all have to be concerned".

Last week, after upholding complaints against the broadcaster Alan Jones, the Australian Communications and Media Authority entered into an agreement with 2GB. As a result, Jones will be subjected to a form of re-education. He will be trained on "factual accuracy" and broadcasting "other significant viewpoints".

It's true 2GB has not one left-of-centre presenter for any of its key programs. But it's also true the ABC has not one conservative presenter or producer or editor for any of its prominent outlets. What's more, senior ABC management refuses to correct errors in documentaries broadcast on the ABC - as I have documented on my Media Watch Dog blog. Yet there is no call for the ABC to be re-educated with respect to fact-checking or to present other significant viewpoints.

It's surprising just how many academics and journalists are seemingly indifferent to demands to limit free expression. On October 12, Lateline ran a debate between Rod Tiffen (who was a paid consultant on the media inquiry of Ray Finkelstein, QC) and Campbell Reid (from News Limited).

The presenter Emma Alberici agreed with Tiffen that there was no big deal in the fact the ultimate sanction recommended by Finkelstein was jailing journalists - since editors could simply do as they were told by the proposed news media council. So, that's all right then, apparently.

Despite the fact there would be no right of appeal against a decision of the NMC and despite the fact the NMC would be chosen by senior academics who have historically been deficient themselves in overseeing plurality in the social science departments of universities which, like the ABC, resemble conservative-free zones.

Sure, Mundine may have offended some last week. But he did strike a blow for free speech in a society in which there is a growing demand to censor unfashionable opinion.


Kokoda a war myth?

A PROMINENT military historian has cast doubt on the legend of the Kokoda Track, questioning the significance of the WWII campaign in a move that has outraged veterans.

In what is viewed by Kokoda Diggers as a stinging insult, professor of defence history David Horner said it was a myth that the Japanese were going to invade Australia, adding the nation had developed a tendency to exaggerate the significance of military battles due to the reverence in which Gallipoli was held.

"It's all the Anzacs' fault," Prof Horner said. "Gallipoli was one of our most significant military campaigns (and now) everybody wants to be an Anzac. Everybody wants a medal. Everybody wants to be recognised ... every child gets a prize. If you fought in a battle, it has to be a battle that was really important. Whatever you do has to be given more credit and be seen as being more significant."

Defending the statements, made during his speech as part of a two-day celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign at the Australian War Memorial last month, Prof Horner said Japanese records show troops in PNG did not intend to come to Darwin and questioned whether Australian troops were as outnumbered as previously thought.

"The (Kokoda) campaign did not save Australia from invasion by the Japanese," he said.  "The original orders were to come to Port Moresby (but) Japanese orders were to stop after crossing the crest of the Owen Stanley range."

His claims have been slammed by Kokoda veterans and opposing experts.

An angry Bob Iskov, a 92-year-old veteran of the Kokoda campaign, said he knows the Japanese were bound for mainland Australia.  "I was part of a battalion which was sent to attack a village outside Gona," Mr Iskov said.

"I heard voices and so I took cover and saw three Japanese officers walking down the track towards me. I shot them and when we searched them, the colonel had maps on him, including maps of Darwin and its defences. Was he coming here to play golf?"

Bestselling author and Kokoda Foundation member Patrick Lindsay said the Japanese campaign had always intended on coming to Australia.  "I've interviewed 17 Japanese veterans of Kokoda and, without exception, all said they were coming to Australia," Mr Lindsay said.

Prof Horner stressed it was not his intention to lessen the memory of Australia's Diggers.  "They deserve every bit of credit and respect but as a historian I have to state what is accurate," he said.


Pregnant women turned away

OVERWHELMED public maternity hospitals are rejecting bookings for pregnant women, forcing them to find hospitals further away or switch to expensive private care.

In a trend being investigated by the Victorian Health Services Commissioner, staff at the recently expanded Werribee Mercy Hospital have told several local women this year that the hospital is too full to book them in for antenatal care.

This is despite a $14 million redevelopment that opened eight new maternity beds and four special care nursery cots last year to cater for a surging population of young families.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said she had also received complaints from women who had been turned away from the Royal Women's Hospital, which cared for more than 7000 births last financial year despite being built for 5000.

Ms Wilson said she was particularly concerned about women being denied public maternity services close to home and said the government needed to invest in growth corridors, particularly in Melbourne's west.

"The west is one of the fastest growing districts in the world. There are new suburbs springing up and there are young people buying houses and moving in, but the health services are not keeping up with that spurt of growth. Unless we do something about this quickly there are going to be big problems," she said.

Doctors told The Age the shortage of beds at Werribee and the Royal Women's was affecting Sunshine Hospital, which was now taking many additional bookings despite a lack of birth suites. They said it was also causing many women to be discharged home one day after birth, jeopardising post-natal care.

Last year, Victorian Auditor General Des Pearson revealed more than 200 women had given birth at Sunshine's emergency department due to a shortage of space in its maternity unit. The audit also found the Department of Health had failed to manage maternity services across the state during soaring demand over the past decade, particularly in the booming northern and western suburbs.

While the state government has funded Sunshine Hospital to build two new birthing suites this financial year, which will bring its total number to 12, Western Health's director of clinical services for women and children, Associate Professor Glyn Teale, said the hospital needed five more to bring it up to par.

"On the basis of the averages around the state in the Victorian Auditor General's report, we need in the region of 17 birth suites rather than 12," he said.

Executive Director of Mercy Public Hospitals, Linda Mellors, acknowledged Werribee Mercy was turning some women away, but would not say how often this was happening.

"Demand is constant and booking requests sometimes exceed the hospital's ability to ensure that every pregnancy is managed safely and appropriately. When this is the case we may need to refer the booking to another local hospital," she said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Women's said it referred women living outside of its local area who did not have a complex or high risk pregnancy to their local maternity hospitals because they had to prioritise

those needing specialist care. When asked how the hospital was delivering 2000 more births than it was built for, the spokeswoman declined to say whether beds had been added, but said there was "appropriate capacity".

President of the the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Rupert Sherwood said public hospitals needed to be funded in line with growing demand because maternity units were already running efficiently.

"A lot of the slack has already been taken up," he said.

"If a service gets overwhelmed, the risks to individual patients increase. You can't help that when you're dealing with large numbers … the potential for errors increases."

Dr Sherwood said while Victorian women were still getting excellent care in the public system compared to other countries, the average length of stay had reduced to about two days for women giving birth, meaning some would be sent home with problems, especially with breastfeeding.

A government spokesman said it had funded three new neonatal intensive care cots this financial year and had established a new Ministerial Perinatal Services Advisory Committee to help plan neonatal and maternity services for the state.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Maybe Labor's Baby-bonus cuts might free up some beds over the next year or two. There may even be a few less indigenous 15 year-olds in the Birth Suite up here.