Tuesday, March 9, 2010

where are the Liberals? and everyone else for that matter?

The ABC 891 radio show with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan raised a very valid question this morning -

I spent the last few weeks wondering why the Liberals haven’t been able to seriously court the Green vote … I mean seriously, as in get together with Mark Parnell, who’s the Greens Leader in the Upper House here in South Australia, and do a preference deal with them and say … here’s some key issues that we can agree on – no mining in Arkaroola [emphasis mine] … the people who got Isobel Redmond into that position are people like Nick Minchin and Iain Evans, they don’t want any mining up there, so it’d be something that they would gladly hand over, concede to the Greens, it wouldn’t be a concession at all.

David Bevan ABC 891 Morning Show 09/03/10

The ABC has not done a particularly good job in reporting the Arkaroola issue throughout. For one, its performance during last year's lease renewal process was poor to the point of being misleading; I still meet people who tell me that the new lease was actually given to a 'different mining company' for an area 'nearby' ('and weren't they looking for gold or something?'), and all of this confusion was directly attributable to ABC reporting at the time.

(Let me restate here that exactly the same company was reassigned exactly the same lease - only the number changed, from 3258 to 4355 - in order to develop exactly the same Uranium deposit. The company - Marathon Resources - would be the first to tell you so.)

Likewise, last time I had cause to comment on the ABC's Matthew Abraham and David Bevan's performance it was, sadly, to note their contribution to the propagation of the bizarre claim that Marathon resources was only suspended from drilling operations for 'littering' in Arkaroola ( see Dial M for Misinformation) and providing a platform for some of Marathon board member Chris Schacht's other 'colourful' ideas.

However, I must say that exactly the question David Bevan has asked - or, at least, the 'why the heck have the Liberals not managed to capitalise on this obvious vote-winning issue?' variant - has crossed my own mind, and the minds of many others concerned over the fate of the Sanctuary.

I have actually written to both Isobel Redmond and to shadow Environment spokesperson Michelle Lensinck raising this very point. It must say that both the replies I received were unintentionally blackly comic, in that in each case they happily accused the Labor Party of not 'coming clean' and simply declaring whether it supported mining in Arkaroola or not, while simultaneously using precisely the same 'weasel' terminology as Labor uses in order to avoid making exactly this same commitment themselves!

And it's telling that Liberal leader Isobel Redmond, when challenged by Labor that she had 'turned her back on BHP' (as if! here we'll pause to note the usual silly, overwrought invective that characterises Australian politics!) responded as follows on radio 5AA in January this year -

As I’ve explained repeatedly, in the time since I’ve been leader I’ve met with Marathon, with Heathgate, with Santos, with Centrex, with all the major mining companies in this state

Well, if Marathon's the first cab of this mental rank I reckon we can pretty-easily surmise Ms. Redmond's attitude to them!

where the heck is everyone?

This lack of support raises a broader question - where the hell is everyone else on this issue?

The Greens have been the only party to consistently attempt to fight for this magnificent area - and, we should note, one of Australia's ecotourism icons and a phenomenally successful South Australian small business in its own right.

Senior Liberals Nick Minchin and Iain Evans have spoken out prominently in its defence. Their party, however, has not.

In fact, it seems that the remaining bulk of the state's politicians and the relevant Federals have been collectively washing their hair! (Yes, I have contacted Nick Xenophon's office - twice - to no avail.)

The lack of attention paid to this issue and the poor quality of reporting on it (with the notable exception of the Independent Weekly) has been a scandal in itself. Meanwhile the forthcoming state election seems to have degenerated into a risible soap-opera with the Premier cast as the villainous cad (a more unlikely suave lothario is hard to imagine, surely?), and this is about the most ridiculous reason for changing a government I can conceive of.

Yet here we have a real issue affecting one of the state's environmental and economic icons and the bulk of the self-styled custodians of our culture and heritage in both politics and the media are all looking the other way ('Ooh, something shiny!')

As many submissions on Seeking a Balance pointed out it's fortunately now pretty difficult to conceive of Queensland mining the barrier reef - but what is truly, definitely inconceivable is that anyone could propose to do so without provoking a roar of local public indignation that would be heard loud and clear all the way over here in Adelaide.

But attack a South Australian icon and the ruckus wouldn't rouse a light sleeper in the next room!

Apart from the the positive forces listed above we must add The Wilderness Society, the Spriggs themselves and their network of friends and supporters, all those who have been writing letters and making submissions (which in all likelihood includes you, dear reader!) and the heroic and time-consuming efforts of film-maker Tim Baier. I apologise if I've forgotten anyone, but my point is that the band is still remarkably - shamefully - small.

With what numbers we have we've all been struggling with little success to be heard in the vast, jaded shoulder-shrug which is nit-picking, cynical politics in SA, where caring passionately about something important is actually a disadvantage!

So, sadly, it seems South Australian are made of lesser stuff! I could say that we don't deserve Arkaroola - but, the real question to ask is whether Arkaroola deserves us!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

'a strong collective voice'

Firstly, congratulations to Tim Baier on his 'Unmineable Minds' taking second place in the Australian Ethical Investment's mini-documentary competition. Tim's film addresses the issue of the mining industry's targeting of Arkaroola.

Secondly, Tim's 3D movie of the northern flinders Ranges and Arkaroola is screening this week here in Adelaide. Session details are available in the previous blog or from from the Fringe's Standing in Amazement page.

To give you an idea of what to expect, the video above shows Tim's time-lapse photography set to music, though in nothing like the quality you'll get to see at one of his screenings! And not in 3D!

Thirdly, if you put in a submission on 'Seeking a Balance' you've probably received an e-mail requesting that you allow the publication of your submission.

Publication of submissions is generally desirable, in that it will let the public actually assess both their 'quality' - the actual content - and the quantity - how many were in favour of mining, how many against - for themselves. And also allow us all to identify any vested interests and assess the merits of any arguments accordingly.

The Seeking a Balance submission assessment process should not be reduced to a black box, with the state government later assuring us that in evaluating them and crafting their response they 'did the right thing, don't you worry about that!'

In the words of the latest 'From the Ark' Arkaroola update 'We need a strong collective voice in the public domain if we are to protect Arkaroola’s uplands.'

'respondents should not be intimidated'

But this e-mail also contains two scaryish, 'on your own head be it' style disclaimers, the second of which is the gloriously ungrammatical -

# I understand that I/organisation am/are responsible for the content of the submission.

('I understand that organisation are responsible for the content of the submission.' Sheesh!)

The first has already noted that that the criteria for which you'd need to assess that content might include 'breach of confidence or defamation.'

You probably aren't, but in the golden words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - 'Don't Panic'! You're almost certainly right not to be!

I've included the full text from the latest Arkaroola update below that sums up the situation nicely. But in short, I cannot say it better than 'Respondents should not be intimidated by the language in the email. Criticism of policy, of instruments used to inform the development of policy, and of company behaviour is justified. However, any content that cannot be defended, has no place in submissions.'

I have read many submissions, and like the ones I have placed on this site in various postings below they overwhelmingly deal with government policy and the undesirabilty of its facilitating mining access. This is entirely unproblematic.

And it's also worth noting from the outset that a corporation cannot sue for defamation. Individuals in a company may, but only if they've been specifically identified and grossly defamed.

So, if I was to make a public submission on some hypothetical issue - let's say An Administrative Inquiry into Corporate Rectitude - and was to say, for (absurd) example, 'the Managing Director of Company X is the founder of the local chapter of the Church of Satan and enjoys bathing in the Blood of Virgins' I'd probably be liable to a lawsuit.

(Though if the local newspaper had recently published a front-page exposé of the diabolic cult and a photo featuring the MD in all his blood-soaked Satanic regalia I'd still be on pretty solid ground! Even so I'd have been well advised to have said 'according to the Local Argus of such and such a date' before making the claim!)

But I'll let the Arkaroola update handle the issue in detail -

Because of the high level of interest in SaB, the Government has decided to make submissions public. As this was not intended nor planned for, submissions cannot be publicly released without respondents’ permission. We have been advised that: “It is your obligation to assess its content for any possible legal ramifications, for example a breach of confidence or defamation.” Should respondents elect not to make their submissions publicly available, only their name and organisation will be released on the website where submissions will be posted.

Whatever the motivation for this late development, Arkaroola encourages all respondents to make their submissions publicly available. We have no other way of judging whether the public consultation process will have any bearing on the final recommendations made by the architects of the policy, to their Ministers. This is not a set of issues where a simple show of hands should determine the outcome: 251 for, 250 against, I think the “Ayes” have it.

Predictably, shareholders and mining companies are likely to have argued strongly for greater access to iconic northern Flinders Ranges landscapes for mining, motivated by profits and personal wealth. However, those arguing for stronger protection, unpredictably, include geologists and geo-academics, as well as protected area managers, local government, tourism bodies including Australia’s peak ecotourism association, conservationists, and traditional owners. For all of these groups, the issues are not about personal gains but rather, about a greater public good. Their submissions reflect our responsibility for the protection of natural systems that are already under stress, that they may be enjoyed by those who come after us.

Respondents should not be intimidated by the language in the email. Criticism of policy, of instruments used to inform the development of policy, and of company behaviour is justified.

However, any content that cannot be defended, has no place in submissions.

We need a strong collective voice in the public domain if we are to protect Arkaroola’s uplands