Power and Protest/”People Power”:
(Social Movements in the 20th Century)
- the environmental movement –
A report arising from a visit to NSW, September 2011
Links: Imagining Other index page
A. General Introduction:
1. First impressions #first,
2.5 economic background #economics: 2.5.1 growth predictions #growth, 2.5.2 tax and the deficit #deficit, 2.5.3 mining #mining, includes link on mining and the Great Barrier Reef: #reef, 2.5.4 trade unions #trade unions,
B. Environmental issues #environment issues:
1. carbon tax #carbon tax
3. fracking #fracking
4. dams on ‘wild rivers’ #dams
6. Australian green groups #groups
7. Sources #sources
- many of the buses on the streets of Sydney advertise that they are running on Liquid Natural Gas, which is claimed to be better for the environment – is it?
- in much of the country there is no need for central heating – on the other hand in the warm parts air conditioning is routinely used, and given the vast distance between major cities and the generally ‘spacious’ environment, cars and ‘planes are widely used
- on the other hand the lifestyle is healthier since the
climate favours outdoor activities (office workers jogging in
- domestic re-cycling is practised as over here
- we did meet a couple of Greenpeace activists, distributing leaflets about the destruction of the Indonesian rain forests... (though we didn’t have time to talk as we were aiming to catch a ferry)
- and on a largely positive note, Greens are part of the government and influencing government policies, for example on the ‘carbon tax’ – but the Greens depend on Julia Gillard whose position is controversial (see below: political background).
Reading the papers in September 2011, it became clear that there are a number of major environmental controversies:
(i) proposed carbon tax
(ii) controversy over a proposed liquefied natural gas hub –
(iii) fracking (or ‘fracking’) for coal seam gas (CSG)
(iv) use of the bush to grow crops (by building dams on ‘wild rivers’).
Of course, what I could glean from the papers was limited, as – like our own press? – they gave hardly any background to the stories, and seemed to assume that their readers knew the history of each story/news item (which I didn’t!).
2.1 Media: It is clear that some in the media (largely owned by Murdoch...) are bitterly opposed to many green initiatives – and some of the comments are pretty blunt (an Aussie characteristic?!). In a recent book, by Robert Marne, on Murdoch’s paper The Australian, (paradoxically I am quoting from a review of the book in the same paper!) it is shown that between 2004 and 2011, the paper had published four times as many articles against action on climate change as in support. The paper, of course, maintains that it has presented a balanced picture of both sides!!
There is a row going on since Fairfax accused News Corp of hiring hackers to damage a rival pay TV operator in Australia in the 1990s.
The environment and politics: All the environmental issues are intensely political, in the widest sense i.e.
conflicts of interest and ideology, and power-struggles. So for example the
carbon tax is opposed by powerful voices in the mining industry (coal and iron
ore are very important contributors to Australian economic success), and large
companies such as BHP and
1. The political situation: the Greens are in government.
3. The need to improve the living conditions for aboriginal peoples.
4. Immigration –
‘boat people’ arrive from
The first two of these are directly relevant to the environment, and the third indirectly. (I deal with the latter under Kimberley Gas Hub controversy, and at the end of these notes).The immigration issue seemed to be a major headache for the government and could cause it to fall?
Prime Minister is Julia Gillard (Labour) - a controversial figure, and many would like to see her fall. She was previously Deputy PM in the Labor government of Kevin Rudd – but took over the leadership in a ‘palace coup’ and in a way that has left ‘legitimacy problems’ . Rudd was unpopular with his party because his style was too presidential, and he didn’t consult his cabinet colleagues sufficiently. Other factors in Rudd’s downfall included his proposal for a mining tax, (40% tax on the industry’s ‘super-profits’) which led to opposition from the mining industry – and his wavering on carbon trading legislation: having said climate change was ‘the great moral issue of our time’ he then backed away from the issue.
[See Jonathan Watts’ Guardian report,
See below on the economy...
and on mining... (Note
See Guardian article on the Gillard/Green alliance, Sep 2010:
Greens gained 7 out of 76 seats in the upper house (the Senate) and 1 in the lower house (their first) – having won 11.7% of the vote (putting them third of the main parties in Australia).
However, by September 2011 it was widely felt that Gillard’s days as PM were numbered – not only because of these ‘legitimacy problems’ (above), but also because of the question of ‘boat people’ (refugees/asylum-seekers from Asia landing on the coast of Australia...) and because of opposition to the carbon tax – see (ii) below.  Ironically, when Rudd was leader Gillard and Wayne Swann (now Treasurer) at first supported the idea of a carbon tax, and then changed her mind to oppose it - at one stage in her campaign she said there would never be one.  No one is sure why she changed her line on this? And now in government she is pushing one through! (See more on carbon tax below)
All this suggests to  that Rudd could make a come-back.
The opposition is led by Tony Abbott... but is described as a ‘coalition’ – while Labour governs with the support of the Greens... – confusing!]
Mining: (see article cited above) up by 77% (coal up 45%, gas up 100%, iron ore up 104%, non-ferrous ore up 92%, other up 82%) – this will mean a shift away from other sectors:
Manufacturing up 5%
Agriculture up 12%
Mining services up 38%
Construction up 51%
Steel up 10% (and will have a $300 million assistance package under the carbon tax scheme).
Generation of electricity predicted pattern:
Coal-fired power down 9%
Gas up 25%
Renewables up 527%
The Australian dollar’s value tends to reflect commodity prices – i.e. it varies and is not stable, but it is currently strong because of the demand for iron ore and coal 
Deficit is only 1.5% of GDP  (
There had been a mining boom between 2004 and 2008, and Australia had not implemented the kind of tax cuts that Bush did which  says explains the change from a surplus to a deficit in the US.
See further below on the carbon tax concerning its likely economic effects.
[additional detail: a stimulus of $66.7 bn accounts for only part of the deficit: $153.8 bn (though a surplus of $79.2 had been predicted, so the total deterioration was $233 bn, and the stimulus accounts then for a quarter of the deterioration) – the rest is due to tax cuts. ‘The deficit is structural, due to the overly generous tax cuts and handouts awarded to voters during the first phase of the mining boom between 2004 and 2008’ says George Megalogenis.
The average tax burden in
- in 2000: 38.3%
- in 2010: 31.7%
US tax cuts turned the
Some (‘mainstream’) writers ( – see later for FoE’s position...) warn of the danger of too much reliance on mining – in doing this they are also countering the industry’s arguments that it is essential to the Australian economy, and pointing out that the boom cannot last.
Paul Cleary (“Too Much Luck’ on the mining boom)  for example warns of the danger of a bust after the mining boom (and recommends ‘creaming off’ revenue to create a sovereign wealth fund as a hedge against a bust). Also the book calls for ‘mining to become a servant not a master’ – less rush would mean less environmental damage (water tables, destruction of farmland, holes in the ground after open-cut extraction etc).
[Update: Recently, in the Guardian, Damian Carrington reports that banking group Citi has warned the value of coal could collapse if there is a global agreement to limit the use of it.
and a report by The Climate Institute and Carbon Tracker says that ‘Investments in Australian coal rest on a speculative bubble of climate denial, indifference or dreaming.”
Australian coal reserves owned by listed companies alone are equivalent to 25% of the global carbon budget for coal for 2050.
In the same issue, John Pilger argues that barely a fraction of mining, oil and gas revenue has benefited Aboriginal communities, whose poverty is an enduring shock. Mining companies succeeded in pressuring against Kevin Rudd when he proposed a modest tax. They spent A$22m on a propaganda comapaign – Rudd was removed by his own party. See above on politics, and below on Aborigines.
Areas endangered: Upper Hunter in NSW, Darling Downs in
Two years ago PM Kevin Rudd proposed a ‘super-profits’ tax – but it met with opposition from miners and ‘effectively will be halved under Julia Gillard.’
Cleary supports the tax, and also argues that the boom cannot last, and that a national balance sheet of natural resources is needed – most natural resources will experience a run-down during this century (he quotes Geo-science Australia on this), and new discoveries will not come in quickly enough to fill the gap.
He says mining should have a resource rent tax like the petroleum industry: the latter pays a 40% tax after costs and an agreed initial return – coal and iron ore pay 22.5% and other mining contributed nothing.
During campaign against Rudd’s proposed super-profits tax it was often claimed mining was ‘the bedrock
 Contribution of mining to the economy: Treasury report published 3rd Sep
says that mining did not contribute as much as has been claimed to keep
Conditions of workers – see  Angus Whitley. Mining is often in remote areas – some miners take a plane to go to work! There is discussion over whether its best to set up living communities for miners round the mines – but this can lead to loneliness, breaking up families etc.
See also, on how mining threatens the
More on mining companies, especially their opposition to taxes:
Typical trade unionist now, as shown by survey ‘Voices from Working Australia’ - for ACTU (Australian Council of TUs): public sector workers, more women (especially part-time), balancing family life, work and household budget, faced with ‘public service cuts’ as the economy tightens
From this survey and a public poll covering the same ground, the most important issues for trade unionists and the public were:
1 housing affordability and cost of living
2 job security – also women were concerned about flexible hours
For unionists: access to education and quality of schools
For the public: healthcare
For unionists ‘addressing climate change’ came fifth (with 24%)
For the public it came sixth (12.95)
For the public ‘maintaining a budget surplus’ came fifth (14.7%)
For the unions this came least vital (6.4%) with ‘managing the economy in the interests of working people’ more popular with both groups.
Wikipedia on carbon tax: a means of reducing CO2 output by taxing emissions (or at any point in the cycle) – Pigovian tax i.e. redresses balance when damage done to environment which not paid for – regressive [why?], but low income groups can be compensated through the revenue from the tax.
In 2007 Rudd (Labour) won and set about establishing Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Liberals under Turnbull at first agreed then changed their position, so the bill did not get through. When Gillard took over as Labor leader, she at first agreed with carbon pricing, only later to say there would not be a carbon tax.
Gillard found she needed the Greens to govern – they got agreement on a committee to look into policy
on climate change – they agreed to: implement a
carbon tax from
The biggest producers of CO2, around 500 entities, will have to buy permits for each tonne of CO2 emitted. Personal income tax will be reduced for those earning less than $80,000 a year, and the tax-free threshold would be increased from $6,000 to $18,200
‘Mainstream’ argument against: :
Against the view that carbon pricing will damage growth:  Treasury model predicts there will still be growth, as above – also of:
- GDP by about 30% by 2020 (from $1.3 trillion currently to more than $1.7 trillion)
- incomes: rise by around $9000 by 2020
- jobs: increase by 1.6 million by 2020
The carbon price, according to this model, would cut growth by less than 0.1 of a percentage point a year to 2050.
Mark Dreyfus (Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) says  carbon pricing does not ‘distort the market’, rather: ‘pricing carbon corrects a market failure as damage caused by emissions is not reflected in the price of goods and services.’
Against the argument that the creation of property in the form of carbon units will leave governments having to compensate people in the future at a price the government will not be able to afford, Dreyfus argues: carbon units are ‘property’ in the Australian legislation, while ‘there has been uncertainty in the past about the treatment of emissions units in the EU and Kyoto trading schemes’ (creating problems for tax, accounting, financial services regulation etc).
Against the argument that pollution caps are too high, he says there are ‘default pollution caps’ in order to make it clear there will be a transition to an emissions trading scheme after three years. Target is to reduce emissions by 5% by 2010 (a bipartisan target, and the caps are therefore not excessive).
Against the view that
Also  Australia and Norway put a joint submission to the UN climate change talks (prior to the Durban meeting) calling for legally binding agreements for cutting emissions for both developed and developing countries.
 Editorial in The
Australian 22nd Sep: comments that the EU scheme has had wildly
fluctuating prices, and nearly collapsed altogether – and of course now the
Eurozone has its economic difficulties. Another key issue is that
Woodside Petroleum (in a joint venture with BP, BHP, Shell and Chevron according to http://www.perthnow.com.au/business/police-riot-squad-corners-kimberley-gas-hub-protestors/story-e6frg2r3-1226087854178) propose to build a $30 billion liquefied natural gas hub (‘Browse’) – at James Price Point, near the town of Broome, on Western Australia’s far north coast, [14, 15] where some of Australia’s poorest Aborigines live. Some local people want the site moved, preferably 800 km further south to an industrialised area called Pilbara.
Conflict is between environmentalists, including the Australian Conservation Foundation, and the Wilderness Foundation -  and Woodside, and those who want development of gas, including the Premier of Western Australia Colin Barnett. Woodside claim the scheme would create up to 8,500 jobs during construction and 400 – 600 during operations.
The ACF claims it is a high-risk investment and is having teleconferences with major shareholders and likely customers, and a Merrill Lynch report urged Woodside to consider lower risk options for developing the Browse LNG project.
The dispute involves the question of the effects of development on aboriginal peoples... (*) see below
Greens were accused of racially insulting aboriginal supporters of the scheme :
- a newsletter circulated by opponents of the scheme called aboriginal supporters ‘money-hungry coconuts’ – and Nolan Hunter, the chief executive of Kimberley Land Council (aboriginal body), is called the ‘chief coconut’ because he got a deal for $1.5 bn to go to the region’s indigenous population in return for their support of the project. But: : ‘anti-gas campaign groups yesterday condemned the newsletter.’
 In April 2009 the KLC signed a ‘heads of agreement’ with Woodside and the state government – and the Goolarabooloo Jabbir Jabbir native title group voted to support the project. KLC believes the deal is a ‘landmark exercise in democratic decision-making’ that will lead to hundreds of jobs, and a package of health, education, housing and training measures.
The region’s indigenous Labor MP, Carol Martin, is also attacked in the latest newsletter, and is described as ‘black on the outside, white on the inside and full of the milk of white man’s money.’ Martin says she is shocked at the level of vitriol coming out in the newsletters.
There have been protesters at the site where survey work is
being carried out, since July 2011. Save the
Nolan Hunter, (chief executive of Kimberley Land Council) said that in 2007 green groups supported a single site in the region but now were opposed to it. Quote... ‘People who oppose the gas have housing, they have income and their kids have good educational opportunities. They want somewhere pristine to come and spend their money on holidays.’
Greens also accused of hypocrisy because they campaigned with farmers against the development when it can be argued that farming causes more environmental damage.
Update: In December 2011 the
There is discussion as to whether the court decision is just a technical hitch (the land was not described adequately in the agreement).
The government of WA say they will go ahead, taking a smaller area of land...
Fracking is done to extract Coal-Seam gas (CSG) i.e. methane trapped in coal seams, normally below the aquifers that carry water from the underground Great Artesian basin - which can be extracted when the pressure is released by drilling down through the aquifers into the coal seams.
The seams are saturated with salty water, and when the pressure is released this rises to the surface, reducing pressure and releasing methane (though this still has to be separated from the water as it rises). The gas is then used to run power stations or sold into the domestic market for use in homes.
Most (95%) of
When the pressure is not high enough for the gas and water to rise by itself, then fracking is used: a mix of water and sand, with added chemicals (1%), is injected into the coal seam to split it open and release the methane. After extraction is completed the wells are cemented to stop water from flowing from the aquifers into the seams, but the main concern is that the pressure reduction in the seams will affect the nearby aquifers – whether the layers of clay between the aquifers and the coal seams will stop water flowing out of the aquifers, or the drilling might actually link seams and aquifers together.
The fact that drilling has been going on for 15 years may not tell us anything, because water may seep slowly, over decades (Gavin Mudd [!] of Monash University).
Environmentalists and farmers are both concerned and what no expansion of fracking until there is more knowledge about the effects. (Mistakes have been made in the past e.g. the over-extraction of water from the Murray-Darling Basin...). CSG operators are bound to compensate farmers for loss of water from aquifers, but farmers argue you can’t repair a damaged or polluted aquifer.
Another concern is what to do with all the salty and polluted water that comes out – and the danger of chemicals getting into the aquifers. Opponents argue that dangerous chemicals are used (benzene, tolulene, ethylbenzine and xylenes) but CSG operators say these are banned in the two affected states, and that most of the chemicals used are ordinary ones such as hydrochloric acid and bleach. To which objectors say these are OK under the sink but not coming out of taps! Also some of the hazardous chemicals occur naturally in coal seams.
The state government in Queensland uses CSG industry experts to provide advice, and seems to have little knowledge of the details of the process – yet there are CSG 2000 wells in Queensland, and 5500 have been approved!
Even Santos says (buried in a report): “In all fields there is a potential for water to move vertically from aquifers below and above the well field into the coal seams” and it says that it could take many hundreds of years for water to be drawn down to replace what is lost.
Here conservationists are pitted against farmers and others who argue that the land is better used to grow crops than being protected as ‘wild’ land.
There was a lot of discussion over the treatment of refugees coming from South East Asia – the Australian government argues it cannot process them on the mainland and wants to send them to Malaysia, where they would be held in camps. They argue that such measures would deter any but genuine refugees – people-traffickers in particular. Opponents say this would not work, and the conditions in the camps are inhumane. Then a High Court judgment ruled against the government because Malaysia is not a signatory to the international human rights convention. This threw the government’s plans into disorder.
Apart from the human rights issue, attitudes to both immigrants and native peoples are often simply racist – e.g.:
From : prior to Rudd’s time, the government was led by John Howard – whose slogan before his ‘dark victory’ in 2001 was: ‘We will decide who comes to this country’, and whose border protection policy led the Norwegian mass killer Breivik to describe him as ‘one of the most sensible leaders in the Western world’.
[Prior to this, says Adams, he had attacked ‘political correctness,’ Asian immigration and multiculturalism. Because the refugees were more likely to be Muslim, (‘poor bastards fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’) and were not – say – ‘white Christians fleeing upheaval in Zimbabwe or South Africa’, they were labeled ‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ and even ‘terrorists.’ As this line took the wind out of the opposition (Beazley’s) sails, and helped win the election, ‘Little wonder Abbott keeps the campaign going a decade later. And the Gillard Government reacts with the same cowardice as Beazley.’
(Note that Howard wore a bullet-proof vest when speaking to angry crowds and calling for changes in the gun laws after a massacre at Port Arthur, when Martin Bryant killed 35 people)].
[Update – devastating article by John Pilger, focussing on a
prison known as Quod, which is now a lodge where tourists can stay. It was the
scene of whipping and murder of prisoners by one man who ran the prison – Henry
Vincent – and hangings took place there. But all this is hidden from view
There were, during September 2011, many articles in the press about the plight of aboriginal peoples – for example, discussions of ‘managed income’ i.e. controlling welfare payments to prevent them being spent on alcohol and drugs.
It is only comparatively recently that there has been public recognition of the damage done to the aboriginals by white settlement. The Labor government of Gough Whitlam (1972 – 1975) recognised aboriginal rights to Federal lands, but it was not until 1991 that the High Court recognised that the ‘whole of Australia had originally belonged to the Aboriginals and Torres Strait islanders all along’: they had a right to unalienated land and were the traditional owners. This did not stop mining leases being ‘aggressively’ taken up on aboriginal land, but at least royalties had now to be paid (Thomas Keneally author of: Australians: Origins to Eureka, Allen and Unwin). See Thomas Keneally’s Guardian article:
The article was sparked off by a demonstration in Canberra on ‘Australia Day’ 26th Jan – commemorating the first penal colony being set up in Sydney in 1788, and otherwise known as ‘Invasion Day.’ Opposition leader Tony Abbott was the target of the demonstration, after his remarks that it was time for the ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy’ (on the grounds of Old Parliament House in Canberra) to ‘move on’ (actually as Keneally says, his words were more ambiguous than this summary suggests).
This issue is relevant to the environment in several ways
(i) as noted above, arguments are used such as: the economy has to grow in order to find money to help the aborigines, and in the case of the proposed Kimberley hub... attempts were made to get the aboriginal peoples ‘on board’ – counter-argument was that this was bribery..
(ii) I think there is a recognition now on the part of Australians that (a) the aborigines have been unfairly treated and (b) environmentalists are aware that the aboriginals’ philosophy of life has a (spiritual) dimension which is positive about and protective of the natural environment...
See Max Dulumunmun Harrison: My People’s Dreaming...
See also John Pilger’s articles, e.g. New Statesman 13th Aug 2012 on Australian aboriginal sportsmen and women: Colin Tatz in Obstacle Race notes that of 1,200 he studied, only 6 (i.e. 0.5%) had access to the same sporting facilities as whites.
- opposes emissions trading as not reducing emissions and ‘handing money to big polluters’
In Feb 2011 Sydney FoE said proposals for a carbon price looked like a resurrection of the old Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme which had been rejected because it was worse than doing nothing - http://www.sydney.foe.org.au/news/projects/climate-justice
- chemicals – especially pesticide bisphenol A in drinking water catchment areas
- sustainable food
- indigenous rights and land – many local groups operate jointly with indigenous peoples
- climate refugees and opposition to expansion of coal mining –
- climate justice (see their publication... Climate Justice Kit)
Greenpeace Australia - issues:
Nuclear testing (Mururoa)
Whale and dolphin protection (no whales killed by Australia since 1978)
Protection of forests, marine reserves, biodiversity, against over-fishing etc
Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF):
- has an interactive ‘consumption atlas’ showing how much water is
used/greenhouse gases are produced/ecofootprint of different regions –
ecofootprint: total amount of land required to supply all the resources of a
Campaign to protect the Murray-Darling basin: South Australia becoming a ‘salt dump’ because too much water being extracted by industries upstream of the Murray-Darling basin in Queensland, NDSW and Victoria – 90% of wetlands have been destroyed, 90% of fish gone, 80% reduction in waterbirds... A national Baisn Plan, to ensure sustainability, will be presented to parliament in 2012 but there is much opposition (allegations that the plan will cost jobs, that food prices will rise etc) http://www.acfonline.org.au/articles/news.asp?news_id=3506
Support for clean energy law, passed in Senate Nov 2011, and campaign for Clean Energy Finance Corporation...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Say_Yes_demonstrations Say Yes demonstrations on World Environment Day, 5th June 2011 – coalition of groups Say Yes Australia to get support for action on climate change.
 Christopher Pearson, The Weekend Australian, Sep 24-5, 2011
 Peter van Onselen, ditto.
 Sid Maher The Australian Sep 22.
 Luke Slattery ditto.
 Cheryl McGregor, Newcastle Herald,
 Angus Whitely: Workers to live near pit, Sydney Morning Herald, Sep 3-4 2011 p 8.
 Phillip Adams, in a piece on ‘Deadly slogans’ (the danger of hateful language) in The Weekend Australian Magazine (provided on flight?!)
 Sarah Turner in The Australian Wed Sep 21st.
 The Monthly, July 2011 (article dated 15th June – author?).
 George Megalogenis, The Australian Sep 21st.
 Mark Dreyfus, The Australian Sep 22nd.
 Paul Maley, The Australian, Sep 21st.
 Editorial, The Australian, 22nd Sep.
 Paige Taylor, The Australian 21st Sep (i.e. as [10, 12])
 Paige Taylor, The Australian Sep 22
 Review in Weekend Australian Sep 24-5, by Matthew Ricketson, of ‘Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation, by Robert Manne, Quarterly Essay 43, Black Inc.
 Review in Weekend Australian Sep 24-5, by Robert Murray, of ‘Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia’s Future’ by Paul Cleary, Black Inc.
 Sydney Morning Herald, Sep 3-4: Clancy Yeates: Mining was minor...’
 Anthony Klan, Weekend Australian Sep 25-5.
 Andrew Bolt, The Telegraph, Wed Sep 21.
Book mentioned in comment on Watts’ article: ‘Scorcher: the dirty politics of climate change’, by Clive Hamilton. Comments also include: mining vs. Hunter valley farmers... and a comparison between Australia and America in terms of changes being made to become more sustainable (America is doing better!).