Friday, June 13, 2014

Comment: Abbott lacks broad vision for Northern Australia | SBS News

Comment: Abbott lacks broad vision for Northern Australia | SBS News

The federal Government’s Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia, released this week, is a mixture of grandiose plans for a new foodbowl unsupported by scientific evidence, some useful policy drivers for building a more resilient economy in the north, and some glaring blind spots.

Usefully, the green paper acknowledges up front that northern Australia’s unique environmental assets are found no-where else on earth and support a multi-billion dollar tourism industry. In fact recent Tourism Australia research on international visitors reinforces this point finding that Australia is ranked the world’s number one destination for world class beauty and natural environment. So what are we talking about?
"The big blind spot in the Green Paper is a lack of attention to valuing and investing in environmental services and building an economy up north that keeps these stunning landscapes and rivers in good health."
Stretching over 2,500 kilometres from the Kimberley in the west, through Kakadu in the Northern Territory and the Gulf of Carpentaria, to Cape York Peninsula in the east, northern Australia is home to some of the most ecologically intact natural landscapes left on the planet fringed by World Heritage listed reefs. These landscapes form a sweep of forests, savannah woodlands and spinifex clad ranges, threaded by a mosaic of wetlands with meandering pristine rivers. They are world renowned for their natural and cultural values and support thousands of livelihoods in land and sea management, particularly in rural and remote Indigenous communities.
The big blind spot in the Green Paper is a lack of attention to valuing and investing in environmental services and building an economy up north that keeps these stunning landscapes and rivers in good health. These regions are worth our strongest efforts to protect and conserve it in line with the aspirations of Indigenous peoples who have been its custodians for tens of thousands of years.
Another blind spot is the focus on expanding fossil fuel energy development, mainly coal and gas, while playing lip service to a resource that the north has in abundance - sunshine! Australia could become a world leader in the deployment of renewable energy to power rural and remote communities, increasing their self reliance.


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  2. Buru to gas frack without EPA assessment

    The West Australian government has decided to allow Buru Energy to frack for gas in the Kimberley region without an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) assessment.

    The junior explorer plans to test tight gas flows using hydraulic fracturing stimulation at four existing wells along its Laurel Formation prospect in the second half of 2014.

    The EPA told the company in January that the proposal raised several environmental issues but it had decided against subjecting it to an impact assessment process.

    "The EPA considers that this small scale, `proof of concept' exploration drilling proposal is unlikely to have a significant effect on the environment," it said.

    Potential impacts such as vegetation clearing and pollution of groundwater due to well failure could be monitored and mitigated by the Department of Mines and Petroleum and the Department of Water, the EPA said.

    On Tuesday, WA environment minister Albert Jacobs said the EPA's decision was justified and dismissed 48 appeals.

    Conservation groups were outraged and renewed their call for a moratorium on gas fracking in WA.

    "This is WA's largest ever fracking proposal by a long shot, and for it to have no scrutiny by WA's only independent environmental watchdog is appalling," Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said.

    "While the government claims that gas fracking has been done safely in WA for decades, they fail to say that modern day fracking is completely different, with much higher risks for the environment, groundwater and public health."

    According to Buru Energy, some 780 wells have been fractured for oil and gas in the state since 1958, including seven tight gas wells that were fracked since 2005.

    The company and its joint venture partner Mitsubishi ultimately hope to deliver 1500 petajoules of gas into the WA domestic market over an initial 25-year period.

  3. BUT does this mean "for tourism"?

    Indigenous groups win Wild Rivers case against former Labor laws

    INDIGENOUS groups are celebrating a Federal Court win against development restrictions imposed under the former Labor government's Wild Rivers laws.

    Justice Andrew Greenwood ordered the Queensland government to pay legal costs incurred by indigenous groups that challenged the April 2009 laws.

    The judgment said the Archer Basin, Lockhart Basin and Stewart Basin declarations, restricting development in those parts of Cape York, in far north Queensland, are invalid and have no effect. The declarations had been made in April 2009 as part of the Wild Rivers Act of 2005.

    Tracey Ludwick, a Hope Vale-based campaigner with Give Us A Go, said the judgment would enable her people to pursue new eco-tourism projects.

    “This frees up the rivers again that they claimed were wild,” she told reporters.

    “We'll probably see a lot more of eco-tourism and different types of things like that up in Cape York.” Traditional owner Martha Koowartha, the widow of 1980s Cape York land rights campaigner John Koowartha, was elated after a four-year legal battle.

    “I'm so happy,” she told reporters outside court.

    The Cape York Land Council launched the legal challenge to the Wild Rivers declarations in 2010 on behalf of the Wik, Umpila and Lama Lama people of Cape York Peninsula.

    It challenged the declarations former Labor environment minister Stephen Robertson had made in 2009 restricting development.

    The proceeding originated in the High Court but were sent to the Federal Court.

  4. Shell sells $5.3b Woodside stake

    Royal Dutch Shell has moved forward with the long-awaited further sell-down of its stake in Woodside Petroleum, selling a $US5 billion ($5.3 billion) stake and reducing its holding to just 4.5 per cent, with Woodside buying back half of the shares.

    Shell is selling a 19 per cent stake, through an underwritten sell down to investors and to Woodside, the oil major said on Tuesday.

    As revealed by Street Talk, selected fund managers were asked to submit bids on Monday night ahead of Tuesday’s selldown.

    Woodside shares, which closed on Monday at $42.85, went into a trading halt on Tuesday morning, to allow Shell to sell down the 78.3 million shares to be divested through the investor part of the sale.

    It’s understood Citi and Goldman Sachs have underwritten the investor part of the sale at $41.35 a share, or a narrow 3 per cent discount to Woodside’s last close. Woodside is buying back 78.27 million shares at a price of $US34.24 a share.

    Shell is in the middle of a major divestment campaign as part of a program to streamline its global portfolio and focus on high-returning growth projects. It sold an initial stake in Woodside in late 2010.

    “Today’s announcement is part of our drive to improve Shell’s capital efficiency and to focus our Australia growth in directly owned assets”, Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden said.

    “It doesn’t change our view of Australia as an important player on the global energy stage, or Shell’s central role in the country’s energy industry.”

    Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman said the buyback would deliver “real value” to shareholders through increased earnings, cash flow and dividends per share.

    “This combined transaction is an efficient and disciplined use of capital,” Mr Coleman said in a statement.

    “In parallel, it allows us to optimise the company’s near-term capital structure, while maintaining the capacity to continue to develop existing projects and make additional investments in new growth opportunities.”

    Mr Coleman also noted that the deal would increase liquidity of Woodside shares in the market and resolve the uncertainty over the fate of Shell’s remaining stake in Woodside.

    Several analysts have been pushing the buyback idea as a value-creating way for Woodside to utilise its growing cash pile, especially after its large Browse LNG venture in Western Australia was delayed and it dropped its targeted investment in the Leviathan gas field in Israel.

    The shares are expected to be placed with institutions on Tuesday.

  5. Iron ore falls below $US90

    Iron ore has fallen below $US90 a metric tonne for the first time since 2012, after tumbling a further 2.1 per cent overnight amid slowing demand from China.

    Ore delivering to the port of Tianjin dropped to $US89, taking its slide for the year to 34 per cent as mining companies continue to expand supply despite slowing growth in the world's second biggest economy.

    Iron ore stock piles at Chinese ports are now sitting near record levels, putting sustained downward pressure on prices. Bloomberg reports that reserves at China's ports have climbed 31 per cent this year.

    "Port inventories are still relatively high, so there's more downside to iron ore prices," UOB Kay Hian analyst Helen Lau told Bloomberg, predicting a floor of $US80 in the second half.

    "During the summer season, you can expect the continuous slowing down of steel production. Steel mills have no interest in replenishing their stocks."

    Global consultancy Wood Mackenzie has tipped several years of relatively weak iron ore prices as Australian produces attempt to increase their share of Chinese imports.

    Wood Mackenzie has been forecasting average prices this year of $US107, falling to $US98 in 2015 then to a low point of $US90 in real 2014 terms, including costs and freight, in 2017.

    Wood Mackenzie's comments came as Deutsche Bank downgraded its iron ore price forecasts for the next three years. It trimmed its 2014 benchmark price for iron ore fines by $US3 to $US113.10 a tonne and now expects a 10.3 per cent drop in 2015 to $US89.30.

    Wood Mackenzie expects oversupply to be a feature in the market until about 2020, the duration depending on how quickly high-cost Chinese domestic ventures exit the market.

  6. US sends troops to Baghdad, but Australia says soldiers would be a last resort

    OUT 275 US military personnel are being deployed to Iraq to help American personnel and protect the embassy in Baghdad, says Barack Obama.

    But Australia has played down reports SAS soldiers could be sent to rescue Australian officials if the security situation in Iraq deteriorates further.

    Mr Obama said in a letter to Congressional leaders that the US military force, which began deploying on Sunday, has been sent “for the purpose of protecting US citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat’’.

    “This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.’’

    The move comes as jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham battle Iraqi security forces for control of a strategic northern town, and Washington weighs possible drone strikes against the militants.


    SO much for the mighty Halliburton oil grab.