Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Coal v Food v Water - Mining on the foodbowl that is the Liverpool Plains

From Pauline Roberts of the Caroona Coal Action Group, via Networker Denis Wilson of The Nature of Robertson:

Dear All

We were delighted to welcome
Lee Rhiannon MLC and Tony Windsor MP to our 1 Year Blockade Anniversary Thanksgiving Party today. Yes, we have kept this community-based blockade on the Duddy's property "Rossmar Park" going for one year preventing access for further damaging coal "exploration" on Prime Agricultural Land.

We held a multi-denominational service of thanksgiving today in the glorious sunshine, thankful for our productive land, our critical above-ground and aquifer supplies and our strong and resilient community. 130 people attended this great day with an open fire, enjoying mulled wine, hearty stew and damper and sticky date pudding laid on by the SOS Liverpool Plains girls. We were very pleased to find
Graham Brown and Lance Batey in our midst and are grateful for the pledges of support from other similarly affected communities on the Darling Downs, like Felton.

Whilst we wait for a proper Water Study to begin, we are as committed as ever to preventing coal and gas mining on Australia's scarce Prime Agricultural Land, so this Blockade continues.

This Monday 20
th July at 8.30pm, Four Corners will be running a story about our area: "The Good Earth" [
www.abc.net.au/4corners] on ABC1. (It is repeated 11.35pm on Tuesday 21st) We hope you will be able to watch and that it has a positive result for those of us who believe food and water security is important.

Our thanks to Coal Communities for your continued support and good wishes.

Kind regards

Pauline Roberts
CCAG & SOS Liverpool Plains
There is an excerpt of the transcript on the ABC website here.
If you watched The Good Earth on Four Corners last night, you will have confronted one of the major issues facing us in Australia. What is happening on the Liverpool Plains, as Mrs Duddy so emotively pointed out, goes to the heart of our identity as Australians.

The Liverpool Plains is rich agricultural country - with its own underground aquifers. George Clift pointed out that in his seventy years of farming, he had suffered only one crop failure. On the dryest inhabited continent on earth, that is a boast that can seldom be made.

Under the ground is not only water, but coal which two separate companies, BHP Billiton and Shenua, have exploration rights for which they have spent stratospheric amounts of money to the cash-strapped New South Wales (NSW) government.

The Liverpool Plains is not the only place in Australia or the world in which this is occurring. I recently posted on the situation on that other place of great fertility, the Darling Downs in Queensland.

The essence is that one resource is being played off against another and against another: coal -v- food -v- water. What seems to have been forgotten by both miners and government is that we, in Australia, can survive without coal. We cannot survive without clean water and quality food.

Socially and politically, the protests and blockade on the Liverpool Plains is interesting.

The situation has the landed gentry whose huge agricultural holdings date back several generations and whose traditional political allegiance is to the conservative National Party resourcing the blockade and treating with The Greens as well as the local independent of National Party origins, Tony Windsor.

The Nationals are angry as can well be seen in the persons of Queensland Nationals, Barnaby Joyce (Senate Leader) and Ron Boswell. In fact, the anger, the action and re-action of The Nationals brought back memories of a similar response to the in-roads made into The Nationals vote by Pauline Hanson. It brings a smile, because decades - and a couple of generations of politicians - ago, Jack McEwan, Minister for Trade, did his best to provide an insurance policy for The Nationals who are reliant on a declining agricultural electoral base still by orienting his party to the mining industry.

Now, on Four Corners, is displayed Barnaby & Co on the horns of a dilemma for The Nationals: miners -v- agriculture; Australians -v- Chinese; Australians -v- international conglomerate pretending to be Australian.

So that gives one an idea of the politics and the economics involved. Then there is the personal, the social. Farmers on the blockade are promising not to succumb to financial blandishments from the miners. George Clift says that it won't happen with him. He will go out in a box first, he says. The much younger Chris Howarth has sold to Shenhua.

Chris is not the only one - but he, commendablyl, came to the camera and explained. And who can blame him. This is a man in his middle years with a wife and a young family. Shenhua are offering farmers more than the value of their property. Chris says that if he stayed, the situation of his property in relation to the geography of Shenhua's rights is such that his family would be living next door to an open-cut mine. How could one live with that? Lifestyle gone; livelihood jeopardised; property declining in value and the opportunity to underwrite the family's future. Surely, a no-brainer?

What is needed here is a clear-thinking response from government. Government must break the nexus of the clash of rights and resources. Government must stop behaving like an addict with its hand in the till and prostituting itself for every dollar it can get while selling the birthright of Australians - to food security - for the Biblical mess of pottage.

It is also high time that the electorate became able to see politicians withstanding the "winning ways" of international corporates and high-flying lobbyists, many of whom have long-standing personal and political connections to the government which happens to be in power at the time which means corporations frequently have a choice of political attractive lobbyists depending upon who is in power.

So we wait to hear what happens next?
  • Will the agricultural interests of the Liverpool Plains be successful in the latest round of Court proceedings?
  • Will the farmers of the Liverpool Plains remain entrenched within the National Party (my own prediction given the disciplined nature of the National Party vote) or defect to The Greens?
  • Will the major and far-reaching environmental issues facing Australia transcend political, factional and social boundaries to establish cross-party support for intelligent and sensible policies on resource management?
  • Will the miners be checked now that their behaviour has been aired on television?
  • Will governments begin to look and act as if they represent the interests of Australians?
  • Will governments take a tack away from the cynical and self-serving glad-handing of corporates and lobbyists and desist from forelock-tugging?
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