Saturday, September 21, 2013

Shocking photos and an update from the Colorado fracking flood zone

Shocking photos and an update from the Colorado fracking flood zone


  1. Sonar mapping for oil killed whales in Madagascar, a study has found

    A NOISY technology that blasts high-frequency sounds below water to map the ocean for oil probably caused the deaths of 75 melon-headed whales off Madagascar. An independent panel of scientists found that sonar surveying by ExxonMobil in late May 2008 led to the sudden displacement of around 100 whales, of which at least three-quarters died. "This is the first known such marine mammal mass stranding event closely associated with relatively high frequency mapping sonar systems," said the report released by the International Whaling Commission. "Earlier such events may have been undetected because detailed inquiries were not conducted." The researchers described a "highly unusual event" in which melon-headed whales became stranded in shallow waters in the Loza Lagoon system in northwest Madagascar in May and June 2008. The culprit was named as a high-power 12 kilohertz multibeam echosounder system, or MBES, operated by an ExxonMobil vessel on May 29 about 65 kilometers offshore from the first known stranding. The five-member independent scientific review panel said the vessel's MBES was "the most plausible and likely behavioral trigger for the animals initially entering the lagoon system." The sounds would have been "clearly audible over many hundreds of square kilometers of melon headed whale deep water habitat areas." The report said that seismic airguns, long opposed by environmental groups for the potential harm they can cause to marine life, were not to blame for the event. "They used the multi-beam echo sounder first. That scared the animals into the lagoon and then the air guns were used afterward," explained marine scientist Matt Huelsenbeck of the advocacy group Oceana. "So that is not to say that air guns would not have caused it had they been used first. They are even louder than the multi-beam echo sounder." A spokesman for ExxonMobil said the company disagrees with the findings. "ExxonMobil believes the panel's finding about the multi-beam echo sounder is unjustified due to the lack of certainty of information and observations recorded during the response efforts in 2008," spokesman Patrick McGinn told AFP in an email. He added that observers employed by the Madagascar government and the oil giant "were on board the vessel and did not observe any whales in the area." Nevertheless, the company has, since 2008, developed a "detailed risk assessment process" that takes into account the local characteristics and the potential for harm to marine life, McGinn said. High frequency echo sounders are often used to map the ocean floor and can be dangerous to smaller whales and dolphins, while the air gun blasts that follow are lower frequency and may endanger large whales, according to Oceana. Even though sonar mapping is used frequently to reveal details about the ocean floor and to find fish, the report said "there may well be a very low probability that the operation of such sources will induce marine mammal strandings -- animals may simply avoid them or even ignore them most of the time." "Now we are seeing that (sonar) disturbance is an even more important thing than was previously assumed," said Huelsenbeck. "You don't have to kill the animal outright. If you are scaring it into a situation where it can die, that is just as serious of an issue." The evidence was compiled by the International Whaling Commission, the US Marine Mammal Commission, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, ExxonMobil, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Government of Madagascar.

  2. 'Rising sea levels' put $400m project in doubt

    A $400 million coastal development is being reviewed by the State Government after data revealed that parts of the site could potentially be plunged under water because of rising sea levels.

    Planning Minister John Day revealed the Port Kennedy development, on the coast of Warnbro Sound, had become financially unviable in light of new climate change predictions.

    Recently updated Department of Planning guidelines on coastal setbacks predicted sea levels could rise 0.9m in the next 100 years, instead of 0.38m as previously forecast.

    As a result, the developable land area agreed to by the Government and developers Western Australian Beach and Golf Resort Pty Ltd in 2004 has been greatly reduced.

    Mr Day told Parliament the project was no longer feasible and had to be redesigned.

    The project is understood to be the first development to be affected by new sea level predictions.

    One of the biggest beachside developments planned in Perth, the Port Kennedy project was to be a mixed-use residential and tourism hub with 128 ecotourism units and about 650 dwellings. It also included boating facilities, a boardwalk network, public jetty and nine-hole public golf course.

    Managed by Mirvac on behalf of WABGR, construction started in 2010, with public works, including a boat ramp, already completed.

    Mirvac development director Kim Lawrance said the company remained committed to the project but parameters and time frames would need to be revised. Mr Lawrance said he believed more land would be released for development to compensate for the reductions.

    A spokeswoman for Mr Day said community members and stakeholders would be notified of the changes in the coming days but only vacant land was affected by the increased setbacks.
    But she could not say whether existing properties in the area, including those at the established Long Beach Estate, would need to be adapted because of the sea level predictions.

  3. Tardiness threatens watchdog

    Public confidence in the corruption watchdog is at risk of being eroded by a "tardy" approach in responding to the Parliamentary Inspector and delays answering people seeking information about investigations into allegations of misconduct by public officers, former judge Michael Murray has warned.

    Mr Murray, sworn in as Parliamentary Inspector of the Corruption and Crime Commission in January, also criticised the CCC and WA Police for delays in reviewing complaints about internal misconduct investigations.

    In his first annual report since his appointment, tabled in State Parliament yesterday, Mr Murray raised concerns about the "circuitous characteristics" of the legislation that deals with misconduct complaints referred to the CCC which can make it "inefficient and costly".

    He also complained about the offices of the Parliamentary Inspector, which he said undermined its independence by being within the Department of the Attorney-General, were too small and did not allow sensitive records to be properly and safely stored.

    Mr Murray, a former Supreme Court judge, said problems about the adequacy of CCC action in response to complaints about police internal misconduct investigations included "unacceptable delays" by police in producing information the CCC requested and "poor communication" by both agencies with complainants.

    He said he had no reason to question the co-operation of the CCC with his office, but his concerns were about "tardiness generally". "One of the effects of these consequences is the erosion of public confidence in the commission and its procedures," Mr Murray said.

    A CCC spokeswoman said the matters in the annual report had been raised previously and dealt with some months ago.
    Attorney-General Michael Mischin said the Government was considering amending legislation to address the inspector's concerns.

  4. High-spending Western Australia succumbs to resources curse

    Judith Sloan •
    The Australian •
    September 28, 2013 12:00AM

    IF former trade minister Craig Emerson can make a goose of himself, I don't see why we couldn't ask Western Australia's Premier to sing us a little ditty. I have even written the lyrics for him. Here they are:

    Don't cry for me, West Australia

    The truth is we spent too much

    All through our wild days No GST rise

    We kept our promise We're out of money.

    Now WA has lost its AAA credit rating, with Standard & Poor's citing "limited political will" to cut spending, it is time to look back at what went wrong.

    In a weird way, the WA experience resembles a case of the resources curse, a condition more normally used to describe the dreadful outcomes that have often occurred in resource-rich undeveloped countries. In what may seem counterintuitive, through the years many poor countries blessed by vast reserves of resources have underperformed other poor countries without the same stroke of luck.

    There are a variety of reasons for this outcome, including the appreciation of the currency in resource-rich countries, which in turn undermines the competitiveness of non-resource industries. But the real reason resources have proved to be a curse in these countries is that governments try to bank the gains from the exploitation of the resources before these gains have eventuated.

    Promises are made to the population in the form of new government infrastructure and services, but scant attention is paid to the inherent volatility of taxation derived from mining. Being part of the federation, of course, WA does not have its own currency. But by virtue of the rapid increase of its costs relative to the rest of the country, there is a sense in which it faces a higher currency.

    Absent any internal devaluation, the WA economy will struggle as the mining investment boom runs out of steam. So where did all this begin?

    It is easy to forget that in the early 2000s, the WA economy was struggling. The mining boom changed all that. The surprise election of the Barnett government in 2008 and the formation of an unlikely coalition with the Nationals was another turning point.

    One of the key commitments the new Premier, Colin Barnett, gave to the Nationals at that time was to fund the so-called Royalties for Regions program.

    Under this program, 25 per cent of all mining and onshore petroleum royalties are invested in regional WA. "We are achieving our goal of building strong and vibrant regional communities that are desirable places to live," said the government's blurb. More than $6 billion has been expended on the program to date. In addition to government spending in the regions, the Barnett government embarked on large and expensive infrastructure projects in Perth.

    Government spending on services - health, education, disability - also increased rapidly. The Grattan Institute has estimated that the WA government spends $2000 more per resident than the two largest states.

    Growth in government spending on health in WA, for example, was 25 per cent higher than the national average in the decade ending in 2012-13. Much of the higher spending has been financed from royalties. While payroll tax, stamp duty and motor vehicle taxes in WA are similar in proportional terms to NSW, Victoria and Queensland, revenue from mining made up nearly a quarter of all revenue in the most recent WA budget.

    This is up from 9 per cent a decade ago. The hike in royalty income is the result of two factors.


  5. WA curse cont....

    The first is the dramatic increase in resource output leading to organic growth in royalty revenue. The second is the decision made by the Barnett government to increase the rate at which royalties are levied.

    For example, royalties on iron-ore fines has increased from 5.625 per cent to 7.5 per cent. Why has the financial standing of the WA government deteriorated so rapidly? Even though a budget surplus is being predicted for this financial year, the Barnett government is forecasting a deficit for next year.

    More alarming for the ratings agency is the fact that state debt is forecast to increase by more than $6bn in the next three years, reaching more than $28bn. While the outlook for WA's credit rating (now AA+) is currently stable, Standard & Poor's noted: "A cash operating deficit could be a result of revenue pressures, or from a failure to remain committed to sufficient cost savings.

    An expectation that the debt levels looked likely to breach 120 per cent of consolidated revenues would also likely pressure the ratings." A combination of lavish spending on services and an overly ambitious infrastructure spending program is the primary reason for the parlous state of the WA government's finances.

    There will be no choice for the government other than to find savings and trim back its construction plans. Sale of assets will also be part of the adjustment. The WA government would also point to its receipt of relatively low GST revenue as another reason for its budget problems. Under the principle of horizontal fiscal equalisation, WA has been increasingly penalised by virtue of its ability to raise its own revenue.

    The state's share of the national GST revenue is currently 45 per cent of its population share. Instead of receiving $5.2bn in 2012-13, were the GST proceeds distributed on an equal per capita basis, WA received $2.9bn - a gap of $2.3bn. In other words, the difference is very substantial.

    Having said this, there are swings and roundabouts with the GST distribution. WA was a recipient state for many years up until the early 2000s. Moreover, WA has received significant tied grants from the commonwealth - more than $2bn in 2012-13. The bottom line is that WA has, to some degree, experienced the resources curse.

    The government ramped up spending on services, part of which was inevitable as wages were high in the state as a result of the mining boom, in turn creating the need to increase the pay of public-sector workers.

    An excessively ambitious and ill-timed infrastructure program - light rail, new roads, new highways, airport rail link, new hospitals - will now have to be scaled back. It was always unwise to assume that the resources sector could provide a steady source of revenue at anywhere near the levels experienced at the height of the mining boom. This is not to deny that some interesting experiments have been undertaken by the WA government.

    Unimpressed by the uniform, ill-conceived and intrusive proposals emanating from Canberra, the WA government has done its own thing in terms of reforming school education. And its provision of disability services is high quality while being tightly targeted. Having said this, state governments really need to cut their coat according to their cloth lest the ratings agency intervene. (The commonwealth government has a much easier time when it comes to ratings because of its much greater capacity to raise revenue.)

    This is a lesson the WA government apparently ignored. While it seemed for a while that the mining boom might last forever, these things never do.

  6. East coast gas prices set to triple

    AUSTRALIA'S east coast gas market -- which has delivered comparatively cheap gas to industry and domestic consumers in isolation from the rest of the world -- is heading for a huge shake-up that could see prices triple.

    By one estimate from think tank the Grattan Institute, industrial consumers could end up paying an extra $1.4 billion annually while domestic gas bills in eastern states would also shoot higher, with Victoria worst affected with an annual increase of $160.Add in the prospect of a short-term squeeze on NSW supplies in 2016 -- as the manoeuvring by those who produce gas and those who contract to buy it unfolds due to the move to a higher gas price -- and the price picture worsens.

    There are two driving forces behind the move from comparatively cheap gas to what could become among the most expensive in the developed world among countries with the own abundant indigenous gas reserves.

    The first force takes shape next year, when the first of Queensland's $70bn in LNG export projects -- BG's $20bn QCLNG project at Gladstone's Curtis island -- begins sucking up gas at a rate that will dwarf all other consumers in the east coast market. It will be followed by two equally big projects in following years.

    In all, the three projects will consume three times as much gas as the domestic market alone.

    The LNG projects are all about capturing prices that are up to three times as much as gas in the domestic market (about $12 a gigajoule before processing and shipping costs, versus $4).As the projects are largely based on converting immense but previously unused coal-seam gas reserves in Queensland into export dollars, the resultant investment boom should be cause for national celebration.

    But the start to the Queensland projects comes with some serious fallout because after decades of isolation the east coast gas market will now be tied to the global gas market. And in this part of the world, that means higher prices.

    There is broad agreement that the relatively low east coast (average wholesale) price of $4 will rise. How much higher is uncertain, but the trend is not.

    Energy fellow at the Grattan Institute, Lucy Carter, told The Weekend Australian: "The real challenge with gas prices is that you can have a scenario where there can be a $12 price."But there could also be a scenario where there is a $6 or $7 gas price. And both of those would be reasonable. So there is huge uncertainty about where the gas price is going.

    "The linking of the east coast market to the higher-priced Asian market through the Queensland projects had made sure of that, she said. The future gas price was "now dependent on everything from what the Japanese government decides to do about recommissioning nuclear power stations, through to the extent to which the US government moves forward on allowing gas exports to Asia".

    - See more at:

  7. Water trigger 'has no environmental dividend'

    The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has hit out at new environmental legislation implemented by the Federal Government yesterday.

    Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the so-called 'water trigger' will apply to 47 large coal mining and coal seam gas projects in New South Wales.

    The 47 projects are from a total of 50 being assessed under national environment law.

    Mr Hunt says they had been "left in limbo" by the previous Federal Labor Government but were simply procedural decisions to decide "whether or not to refer a new project under the water trigger legislation".

    The water trigger gives the Federal Government powers to scrutinise and assess the cumulative impacts of coal seam gas (CSG) and coal projects on water supplies, under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act (EPBC).


    Fracking a headache for Napthine

    The Napthine government is headed for a pre-election showdown with farmers, miners and environmentalists as it decides whether to lift a moratorium on the controversial practice of fracking.

    The government is expected to receive high-level advice recommending expansion of coal seam gas (CSG) in some of its most politically sensitive areas, a move that could cause a split within Coalition ranks.

    Well-placed sources believe a review by former federal minister Peter Reith will strongly endorse development of CSG and other types of ''unconventional gas'' in Victoria, arguing that action is needed in the face of future price increases.

    But any shift is likely to prove contentious for government MPs in country seats, where farmers fear that fracking - the process of extracting gas by injecting water and chemicals underground - could be detrimental to their land and water supplies. Victoria does not have a coal seam gas industry, but about 24 licences have been granted for unconventional gas exploration around the state - including in the seats of Premier Denis Napthine and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan.

    In the Nationals heartland of Gippsland, Lakes Oil, which is partly owned by Gina Rinehart, has already fracked 11 sites, and is ready to frack another, known as the Wombat gasfield, as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

    Mr Ryan admitted the issue was a concern for his constituents, and vowed that he would not support an expansion of CSG mining unless he was satisfied that water supplies, agricultural production and ''generally liveability'' were not compromised.

    But the Nationals leader also said he believed Australia faced challenges with future supplies of natural gas.

    ''There's a recognition that unless something happens to augment our supplies in Australia, we are inevitably faced with very severe price increases and prospect of supply shortages,'' said Mr Ryan, who represents the seat of Gippsland South. ''We are hastening slowly with this … Our first responsibility is to make sure we don't trade or risk anything as far as development is concerned. If we are to go down this path, one of the key things is to engage with people, giving them accurate information about the facts.''

    Victoria's moratorium has been in place since August last year, but any decision to lift the ban is likely to spark divisions within government ranks.

  8. Qld exports threaten gas supplies on east coast

    Deep-seated doubts have been raised over the outlook for gas supply in the eastern states of Australia in the wake of the looming launch of a series of gas export projects in Queensland.

    These projects are due to start production from 2014, raising the prospect of supply shortages emerging from 2015 - little more than 15 months away.

    Domestic gas prices are already rising to international levels as gas producers scramble to take advantage of the dramatic shift in the industry's dynamics.

    The Australian Energy Market Commission has queried whether existing new fields could be developed soon enough to meet expected supply shortfalls.

    The commission, an arm of government that oversees the gas and the electricity markets, is seeking to ensure appropriate policies are in place to avoid problems emerging.

    In its report released on Friday, it pointed to the possibility for new sources of gas such as from the Kipper field in Bass Strait, the Gunnedah and Gloucester basins in NSW, the Ironbark field in Queensland and unconventional gas from the Cooper Basin and possibly the Northern Territory, although this source is yet to be technically proven.

    ''Production from existing sources in eastern Australia could increase,'' the AEMC report noted.

    ''It is unclear at this stage, though, whether all of the proposed projects will proceed and if they do, whether they will be used to supply the domestic or export market.''

    The other uncertainty is whether any of the new fields could be developed soon enough to fill the expected gap given the need for ongoing exploration, government approvals and spending commitments to be made.

    Reflecting the mounting supply concerns which have emerged within the energy industry, one of the largest retailers, Origin Energy, recently turned to Exxon and BHP Billiton for a large new supply contract from Bass Strait, agreeing to pay an oil-price linked gas price, among the first of these high-priced contracts to be seen in the local market.

    ''Conditions in the market are expected to become even tighter from 2015,'' the AEMC said.

    Work is under way to launch a short-term, or spot gas market centred on Wallumbilla in western Queensland as the hub, along with making gas pipeline capacity more transparent, which could also help a short-term gas trading market emerge.

    At present, all gas is contracted on medium to long-term contracts, with little transparency over the pricing.

    The AEMC study comes as the federal government is to intervene in NSW to break the impasse which has stopped the development of the coal seam gas sector amid deep-seated opposition in some quarters. Earlier this year, the Victorian government established a taskforce to examine gas supply and pricing issues, with the federal government also reviewing the outlook.

    There is ongoing speculation of the loss of jobs in manufacturing due to rising gas prices, with some companies considering shifting capacity abroad, or speculation it could move to locations nearer to gas supplies, such as Victoria, to avoid paying pipeline costs.

    The biggest move so far was the decision of Incitec Pivot to establish an $US850 million ($907 million) ammonia plant in the US to tap cheaper gas, due to concerns over the outlook for gas prices in Australia.

  9. Australia on the verge of a gas boom

    Australia is in the midst of a gas boom.

    Domestic gas supplies and exports are expected to grow rapidly by the end of the decade, enticing more major international oil and gas players to set up shop.

    While iron ore, coal and gold have traditionally been the nation's big earners, analysts say Asia's insatiable demand for energy will lead to strong growth in gas production, as more than $200 billion in projects come online.

    The industry is talking about an imminent boom in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, with four-fold growth projected by 2020 as China and Japan soak up Australia's supply.

    But some analysts question whether the heady projections are realistic, given the risks that demand will not materialise.

    Still, the federal government forecasts Australia will become the second biggest LNG exporter in just over two years.

    Seven major projects are being built across the country, with three in WA, three in Queensland and one in the Northern Territory.

    WA Premier Colin Barnett is certainly excited by the prospect of a gas boom in his state, predicting China's rapid growth will continue and as Japan acknowledges it will need more gas post-Fukushima.

    As well as trumpeting WA's prized offshore conventional gas fields, Mr Barnett would love to the current shale gas boom in the US replicated in his home state.

    "As some of the shale gas in the Canning Basin is developed I think you'll see the same phenomenon," Mr Barnett has said.

    However, a recent HSBC report found a lack of roads and pipelines could hinder the industry's development.

    It hasn't deterred junior explorer Buru Energy, and majors Mitsubishi and ConocoPhillips, from having a good look.

    Meanwhile, new offshore projects are starting to produce gas, alongside the North West Shelf and Woodside's Pluto project in WA.

    Last week BHP Billiton flew in executives from Houston to open its $1.5 billion Macedon gas plant, which will supply 20 per cent of WA's gas.

    The modest-sized plant is set to be dwarfed by its gigantic Onslow neighbours including Gorgon, valued at $53 billion, and the $29 billion Wheatstone.

    BHP's head of conventional gas Steve Pastor said the company liked WA because of its decades-long experience in oil and gas, and its proximity to the export market.

    "The advantage Western Australia has is it's got fantastic resources," Mr Pastor said.

    Less than six months after Woodside canned its onshore gas plant near Broome, floating gas processing is now all the rage.

    Proposed floating LNG vessels in the Browse Basin and Scarborough Basin are in the early development stages, while multinational Shell presses ahead with building its world first Prelude floating LNG vessel in Korea.

    Such is the popularity of the model that Shell plans to build more floating LNG plants.

    Energy giant Exxon Exxon and its equal partner BHP Billiton will soon decide whether to pursue a floating option for Scarborough this year.
    "Floating LNG is considered the best option," ExxonMobil says.


    Programmed wins $100m contract

    Contractor Programmed says its marine services division has won a $100 million contract on the Ichthys LNG project off the Kimberley coast.

    Programmed will provide vessel management, marine and construction manning, catering and logistical services to Heerema Marine Contractors for its work on the INPEX-operated project.

    The contract will support the installation of offshore moorings, structures and flowlines as part of the offshore Ichthys field development, 820km south-west of Darwin.

    Work on the project is expected to begin the middle of next year and last for about one year.

    Programmed managing director Chris Sutherland said the contract highlighted our continuing success in securing contracts to support the marine management, manning and logistical needs of Australia's largest oil and gas projects.
    Shares in Programmed were up six cents, or 2.3 per cent, to $2.67 at 9.45am.

  10. More performances like this and Joe Hockey will send confidence backwards

    Joe Hockey looked like the dog that caught the car at his first press conference as Treasurer.

    His expression oscillated between bewilderment and annoyance, as he went dangerously close to complaining about having too full a "dance card", and being forced to spend too much time in the capital.

    Tell it to Wayne Swan one was tempted to say - the poor sod seemed to be always in Canberra slaving thanklessly over the numbers, doing the hard grunt work of budget preparation and fiscal management.


    Swan was roundly criticised for his less than confident start back in 2007 - in some eyes he would never recover.

    One suspects now though that if Hockey, just nine days into the job, were fully candid, he'd admit to a grudging respect for his old nemesis.

    Read more:


    Ministers claimed costs for wedding trip

    Two of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's most high-profile ministers claimed thousands of dollars in taxpayer entitlements for attending the wedding of close friend and Sydney shock jock Michael Smith.

    It was a little less than two years ago and Smith had just left 2UE after a falling out over his attempt to raise allegations about then prime minister Julia Gillard's relationship with a former union official and the misappropriation of funds.

    He was tearing up the dance floor.

    The shock jock did not have a best man. But two close friends spoke: George Brandis, then one of the Abbott opposition's lead attack dogs and now Attorney-General, and deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce. Mr Joyce read a poem called Fair Dinkum Love. Senator Brandis made a bridal speech before dominating the dance floor.

    According to travel expenses lodged with the Department of Finance, the duo collectively billed taxpayers nearly $3000 for flights, hire cars and incidental expenses incurred on the trip.


    Senator Brandis claimed $1700, including more than $1000 on return flights, $143 on a hire car and the overnight ''official business'' allowance designed to cover accommodation and incidentals.

    He told Fairfax Media on Saturday that he regarded the wedding as a chance to ''foster collaboration'' over Mr Smith's work covering the then prime minister and the Craig Thomson scandal and it was therefore ''primarily a professional rather than a social engagement''.

    ''These were both matters of significant national interest on which I spoke frequently in Parliament and the media,'' he wrote in a statement.


    Milne's Greens 'marching to slow death'

    On her way out of the party-room meeting that returned Christine Milne as Greens leader on Monday morning, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young walked past a table of journalists at Aussies Cafe at Parliament House.

    To their bewilderment, Senator Hanson-Young matter-of-factly announced that her party had just returned a leader that would see the party ''marching to a slow death''.

    After the election, at which the Greens bled a third of their vote, recriminations within the party have been swift. There is clear disquiet in the party's senior ranks about Senator Milne's leadership, but for the first time, it is out in the open. It was revealed last week six of the party's 18 most senior staffers, including Senator Milne's chief-of-staff Ben Oquist, had left.

    One Greens senator told Fairfax Media: ''I believe all this [leadership speculation] is because there are concerns about where [Senator Milne] takes us in the next three years. If we have the same result we had this election, we will be gone; we can't afford to do it again.''


    But who is driving the destabilisation in this post-Bob Brown era of the Greens?

  11. Sound familiar?

    Looks like the same trap Barnett has fallen into - and Abbott did say he intended to model himself on the Emperor.


    Ways to bridge the gaps on infrastructure

    It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone - perhaps not even the man himself - to wonder how Tony Abbott can establish himself as an ''infrastructure prime minister'' and also get the budget back to surplus ASAP.

    He's certainly right to imply we need to be renewing and expanding a lot of our infrastructure and that this can't be left solely to the state governments.

    But as everyone knows, building new infrastructure can be very expensive. In principle, it can be paid for by increasing taxes, by cutting spending elsewhere or just by allowing the budget deficit to get bigger and borrowing to cover it.

    Trouble is, from where Abbott sits, none of those possibilities looks attractive. He's spent four years railing against higher taxes, and though he's also promised to cut government spending by eliminating Labor's waste, in practice it's hard to get much agreement on what's wasteful and what's not. It's highly unlikely Abbott could identify sufficient waste to pay for much infrastructure as well as getting the deficit down.


    But simply allowing the deficit to get bigger by borrowing to finance infrastructure spending is surely unthinkable. Leaving aside all Abbott and Joe Hockey have said about the Labor government's debt and deficit, wouldn't it involve living beyond our means and leaving our debts to be inherited by our children and grandchildren?

    (There is a fourth possible solution, to use ''public-private partnership'' arrangements to get the private sector to pay for and build the infrastructure and then, in effect, rent it back to us. But even if you think the private sector is better at building and managing infrastructure than the government, this solution is still a way of hiding the debt by shifting it off the government's books onto those of the private sector. It involves creative accounting.)

    So what about this notion of living beyond our means and burdening future generations? I'm sure this is a big part of the reason so many people agreed with the Liberals' attack on debt and deficit.

    This is an issue to which economists have given much thought over many years (more thought, dare I say, that many of the people who readily accepted Abbott's argument).

    For a start, economists and accountants have long drawn a distinction between day-to-day spending to maintain the operations of a household (or a business or a government) and spending of a capital nature, where you're building or buying some kind of asset that will last for many years, that will contribute to meeting your day-to-day needs for many years, and usually can be sold to someone else if circumstances change.

    An accountant will tell you you're only living beyond your means if you're borrowing to cover day-to-day needs (''recurrent spending''), not if you're borrowing to buy an asset that will retain its value for many years. After all, do you regard a family that borrows to buy a home, thereby acquiring a mortgage usually many times greater than its annual income, as living beyond its means? Of course not.

    But the analogy between households and governments shouldn't be pushed too far. A family and a government have very different sizes, obligations and powers. Governments, for instance, have the right to levy taxes, which is one reason their borrowings are regarded as low-risk.

    And when it comes to borrowing by governments to finance infrastructure, economists have given the matter much thought. Two professors at the University of Melbourne, John Freebairn and Max Corden, argue in a paper this week that by focusing on the debt being left for the next generation we're seeing only half the story.


  12. Sugar slaves black chapter in agricultural history

    One hundred and fifty years ago, Lesley Gabey's grandparents were stolen from a beach, aged just 12 and 14.

    They were lured with gifts of lollies and jewellery from their South Pacific homes onto boats; others were promised a fortune they had no hope of ever receiving.

    Instead, the South Sea Islanders were consigned to a lifetime of slavery in the cane fields of North Queensland.

    Mrs Gabey recalls the stories passed down through the generations of her family.

    "A lot of our people died in the cane fields.

    "I remember my grandfather telling my father that at the end of the day if anybody was dead, they'd just heap them up at the end of the sugar cane field.

    "At the end of the week they'd just dig a big hole and put them in a mass grave so there are lots of mass graves in the Townsville, Ayr, Ingham area that our people are buried in."

    "They didn't work for hardly anything. In those days, it'd be probably, threepence for a week or a month."

    "But we've got evidence in our museum in Rockhampton of 'tickets to heaven' that they actually worked for because our grandfathers and grandmothers, the Coming of the Light had come to them, the London missionaries had been to the South Pacific before they'd come here to Australia as slaves.

    "So, they knew God and so, I suppose were eager and pleased that they had their ticket to heaven at the end of the week."

    The infamous 'blackbirding' of South Sea Islanders is a dark chapter in Australia's agricultural history.

    The Australian sugar industry - today worth $2 billion in exports - was built quite literally off the backs of their blood, sweat and tears yet few know the suffering and atrocities that occurred 150 years ago.

    This year's commemoration of the event has been an opportunity to remember the contribution of a "forgotten people", a displaced ethnic group which has struggled to retain and be recognised for its own unique, cultural identity.

    "They were stopped from speaking their own language, they weren't allowed to practice the culture, so that was all cut off."

    "But we kept it in our individual homes because we all still have that cultural background, so we hung onto it to know that there is a distinct culture there aside from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or any other culture. It's a distinct culture... we've never forgotten that."

    Lesley Gabey and other direct descendants have been at the forefront of that fight for recognition as well as improve housing, health and education services for the Australian South Sea Islander community for the past 40 years.

    She was part of the first contingent to travel to Canberra after the formation of the Australian South Sea Islander United Council (ASSIUC) was formed in 1972 and still is slightly bemused at the reaction with which they were greeted by government ministers and bureaucrats.

    "I think it was a bit hard for them because they were surprised we were still here," she smiles.

    "You know, we thought you all went home, we didn't know you were still here!

    "I think they were intrigued to know who we were and what we were doing which is why they granted an audience with them.

    "It took a lot of struggle because people just didn't know we were here."

    From there, the group was able to achieve the right to access equal benefits and rights as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, university scholarships for young people and their "own box" to tick on government forms and even the Census.

    A proud moment also came in 2000 when the Beattie Government in Queensland signed a formal recognition statement.

    "They're little steps but even those little steps were something, something our elders believed in and something we'll keep fighting for."