Miners are spreading myths, says environmentalist

2529 Jimmy Cocking 130LETTER TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir – The mining lobby and its supporters are escalating their attacks on the NT Government’s raft of reforms to strengthen environmental protection in the Territory.

 

Media releases sent by the Minerals Council Australia are spreading myths about the new laws.

 

However, we know that these laws are necessary and are supported by Territorians. Territorians have had enough of mining companies doing as they please with the pristine and unique environments of the NT that we all enjoy.

 

The mining industry are not the economic saviours that they make themselves out to be.

 

They employ a small proportion of the NT workforce and are consistently propped up by government subsidies, while only ever offering boom and bust cycles of economic activity.

 

Yet now they are trying to hold the economy to ransom with tired big business talking points.

 

The NT is stronger and smarter than that and we will ensure that these laws come into effect to provide a strong, accountable and open framework of environmental protection.

 

This will ensure we can continue to enjoy the environments of the NT and protect them for our future generations. Without a healthy environment, there is no economy.
The minerals that are mined are owned by all of us.

 

The resources that come from the environment should be used to provide the services we all need, rather than simply lining the pockets of a greedy few.

 

Territorians are tired of footing the bill to clean up the mess left by mining companies.

 

Millions of dollars of public wealth are still being spent cleaning the land and water contaminated from the toxic legacy of past mines. These laws can reduce environmental harm and ensure that companies pay for the cost of necessary rehabilitation.

 

Ultimately the new laws will ensure that a condition of development in the NT is environmental protection.

 

The Environment Protection Bill creates a strong framework of transparent and enforceable rules that will ensure mining companies protect human and environmental health.

 

By opposing the laws, miners are effectively arguing they can’t afford to protect the people and the environment of the NT. Fortunately the laws have broad support, from Land Councils, health organisations, scientists, fishers and the general public.

 

Jimmy Cocking (pictured)

CEO Arid Lands Environment Centre

 

 

 

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14 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Alex Hope
    Posted January 23, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    @ Hal Duell: The editor asked me to clarify my earlier post, in that as per the CLC website FAQs the budget for the Land Councils is decided by the Aboriginal Affairs Minister using Aboriginal Benfits Account funds, which are in effect royalty payments from mineral extraction on Aboriginal land.
    So there is a connection between mining and CLC funding, but increased mining would not directly “swell the coffers”.
    The NLC and CLC websites are worth perusing if you want to understand their responsibilities and limitations, and also the amount of work they are doing in community development, a lot of which is funded using royalty payments from the associations receiving royalties.
    This includes activities like the Walpiri Education Trust (providing top up funds for education in their region) and the operational funds for the swimming pool at Yuendumu.
    The Purple House has also received a lot of royalty money, enabling people to go home for dialysis … thereby reducing pressure on services for the patients and their families in town.
    CLC is one cog in a large machine, and should be given credit for the positive things it does do, without expecting it to fix all the social problems resulting from our inability to create a social and political framework which could embrace two cultures with fundamentally different priorities.
    And @ Paul Parker: Sorry, I don’t work for CLC, so I cannot answer your questions in detail.
    However I understand that in general housing is not a land trust responsibility, rather the houses are vested in the NT Housing Commission.
    Since the Intervention the land trusts do receive rent for facilities on land leased from them, and I have heard that in many cases the funds are put to community purposes for local facilities, funeral funds etc, but this is only hearsay.

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  2. Paul Parker
    Posted January 23, 2019 at 9:01 am

    Re: Alex Hope Posted January 22, 2019 at 11:23 am
    Perhaps Alex can explain what each Land Trust as corporate land-title-holder and owner, actually spends building and maintaining housing being used by their shareholders “traditional owners” who do live on their land-title-held land ?
    Perhaps Alex can explain what each Land Trust as corporate land-title-holder and owner actually collects as rent to be spent building and maintaining housing used by their shareholders and “traditional owners” who do live on their land-title-held land?
    Perhaps Alex can explain the Commonwealth and NT Government financial contributions to benefit each land-trust-titled area?
    Please include also the dollars per resident.

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  3. Another Observer
    Posted January 23, 2019 at 6:29 am

    “… yet now they are trying to hold the economy to ransom with tired big business talking points …”
    Hold the economy to ransom? Would that be like “charities” masquerading as business and pushing full tax paying entities out of the market?
    Take the wood out of your own eye, fella!

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted January 22, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    @ Alex: No, I do not understand the function and funding of the CLC.
    What I do understand is that after how many years their client base still lives in squalor with little or no hope for a better life.
    Why else do so many continue to come to town in despair? Why else do so many residents of remote communities complain of the perceived control and nepotism?
    I suspect they (the CLC) are a self licking ice cream cone. Sorry, but there you have it.

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  5. Alex Hope
    Posted January 22, 2019 at 11:23 am

    @ Hal Duell: Hal, you have been around long enough to understand the function and funding of the CLC!
    I can’t let your disingenuous comment about “swelling the coffers of the CLC ” go without correction.
    The CLC represents the interests of the traditional owners of the land, under their instruction, in mining negotiations, and does not benefit itself from the mining royalties.
    Royalties are received in trust and passed to formal corporate bodies which distribute them according to rules posted on the ORIC website, along with financial returns, open to anyone to study.
    Yes there was a hiatus after the Land Rights Act came in when mining companies had to learn that they now had to negotiate access to land for mining, instead of having the open slather approach which resulted from rights to minerals under the ground in Australia being vested in the Crown rather than the owner of the land surface.
    Interestingly, as I recall, overseas companies who were used to negotiating access with landowners (which is the norm in most of the world) found this conceptually a great deal easier than Australian companies. However the situation now is that there is a great deal of activity, according to the Austrade website: “Over 80% of the mineral value extracted in the Northern Territory comes off Aboriginal owned land. Approximately 30% of this land is currently under exploration or under negotiation.”

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  6. Trevor Shiell
    Posted January 22, 2019 at 11:21 am

    There was once the possibility of mining diamonds from the Kimberlite pipes at the Merlin deposits near Boroloola by members of the Gutnick family who were prominent mining entrepreneurs at that time.
    The project never went ahead, I suspect, because diamond supply and consequent price is still tightly controlled by the De Beers family and other South African interest.
    At one time I was a shareholder in the Merlin mine but the ethics of it smelled to high heaven and I quit.
    There is no shortage of diamonds but the marketing is so tightly controlled to prevent barriers to further entry.
    In addition the main value is in industrial use and in the small but lucrative top end of the market.
    Like in so many of the high end uses (recently well demonstrated in the high fashion industry and in our own Indigenous art, where thousands of fine pieces are held in reserve for fear of flooding the market). The idea is to restrict supply to drive up price. There is little value in that for us in the NT as nice and comfortable as it may sound to have the Indigenous women cutting and polishing stones in the Mall thus increasing the supply and driving the price down.
    If it were not so there would be an immense flood of polished stone coming out of West Africa.
    The powers in control of the market will never let it happen – a sad reality of marketing.
    Re the development of other industries which are a more immediate need for us: The failing of this and previous governments has been the lack of proactive planning when new industries have emerged.
    The most most obvious ones of recent times have not been diamonds but medicinal cannabis, a billion dollar industry well suited to here, and production of hydrogen from water and solar power for the hydrogen car revolution coming our way.
    The establishment of hydrogen production facility in Adelaide was justified on the intensity of the sunlight in Adelaide!
    No-one thought to ask them to investigate The Centre, and this lack of proactive planning and action is the root cause of our economic woes.
    Where are the demonstration plots of medicinal cannabis to attract the investors?
    All covered in houses. And here we are involved in the Beetaloo gas discussions re fracking while the Permian beds under Texas and Mexico have so much gas that they are having difficulty giving it away.
    We stew in our own juice.

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  7. Alex Hope
    Posted January 22, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Fascinating story about the diamonds Ken, at least they are a mineral of some practical use, unlike gold.
    Gold mining should be banned.
    It uses vast amounts of energy and capital which could applied to the benefit of “everyday people” instead of speculators.
    What is the point of spendning all that time and money digging a mineral out of the ground, concentrating it into lumps of metal and then burying it back underground in vaults the other side of the world?
    It makes no sense in environmental or economic terms.
    I believe about 1% or less of production is used in electronics and other industries, and even the arguably equally useless “use’ for gold in jewellery uses only a tiny fraction of production.
    What we need in the debate about the pros and cons of mineral extraction in the Territory is some figures which are produced by an independent organisation setting out the costs and benefits to the community.
    The figures produced by the miners always inflate job numbers to a ridiculous extent, and the long term benefit is very hard to quantify after the FIFO workers have gone home and we are left with a hole in the ground surrounded by a denuded landscape.

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  8. Jimmy Cocking
    Posted January 22, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Thanks Hal. We’re not saying no to all extraction but the government should be able to say “no” earlier to prevent the wasted expenditure on impact assessments on projects that shouldn’t be allowed to proceed.
    This will increase certainty for industry and the environment to ensure that only projects that are shown to progress without compromising social, cultural, ecological or economic values may proceed rather than marginal projects that externalise the risk to the environment and the community.
    Investors should welcome these changes.
    The industry lobbyists are killing confidence in the NT.
    They’re wanting to open us up to the investors who don’t care about what happens outside of their project.
    We want to bring investors into the Territory who do care what happens outside the leasehold and commit to investing in Territorians and not just projects.
    We really do need to re-think the way that resources are allocated to ensure the benefits are enjoyed by those who have had to endure the consequences.
    We’re all having this conversation because the NT Government budget crisis. Some of us are trying to solve this long term problem, others are taking advantage.

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  9. Hal Duell
    Posted January 22, 2019 at 8:50 am

    That was a good reply, Jimmy, and thank you.
    I agree with you that the mining industries need to be regulated. There has to be an end to the old practice of extracting the resource, pocketing the profits and leaving the mess for others to deal with.
    But whether we like it or not, some extracting needs to take place if we are to do more than sit under a pristine tree while waiting for others to bring us a daily bowl of rice.
    So extract where possible under environmentally responsible regulations and ensure any resultant mess is dealt with adequately.
    And then we come to the profits. Some of these really must be left behind, and not just to swell the coffers of the regulating agencies, whether they be the NT Government or bodies like the CLC. They must, as much as is possible, be left out on the lands to deal not just with the material poverty, but with the poverty of hope, the dearth of expectations.
    Only then can the extraction industries be seen to be a force for the good and be worthy of our support.

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  10. Jimmy Cocking
    Posted January 21, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Ken.
    The environment subsidises all of our human activities. We share this planet with an ever dwindling number of other species who have also called this planet home for millions of years.
    We have companies that access cheap capital (at the moment) to dig up our natural resources, owned by the Australian people.
    They pay a small amount of royalties.
    Until recently they have been exempt from the Water Act and many avoid paying taxes as they run up expenses and can avoid corporate tax lawyers that are not available to the rest of us.
    They get fuel subsidies, they get free access to our roads, they donate to both sides of politics and fuel think tanks to drive sympathetic policy agendas. They avoid as much long term responsibility and rehabilitation as they can.
    The key point is that the NT Government is finally lifting the bar to protect the NT’s most important assets besides its people, which is nature – including groundwater, rivers, woodlands, wetlands and the animals and plants that inhabit them.
    The mining lobby and other industrialists are now attacking these laws because it might cost them some money to ensure they do not leave a litany of ecological disasters as has been the case previously, in the NT especially.
    All we want (like many Territorians) is for the laws to pass as they were proposed.
    They are robust and if supported will create certainty for industry as they will know how high and wide the hoops are and environmentalists won’t have to keep on repeating the fact that we currently have the weakest environmental laws in the country.
    It costs a lot to clean up pollution, especially as we enter a period of increased extremes of weather and the costs that will be born by society as infrastructure and insurance are affected.
    We just want what is right.
    And it is right for the NT Government not to weaken or change the laws at the behest of these industrial lobby groups.
    Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) is a charity.
    We are funded by donations and some grants to support our vision of “healthy futures for lands and people”.
    The NTG has provided funding to support the employment of a policy officer to engage in these processes for the benefit of the Territory.
    The Chief Minister said at the time that democracy requires a contest of ideas and although we may disagree at times, it’s important that the community has the debate.
    The CLP and the Federal Coalition cut all of our funding in 2014.
    They don’t seem to want to hear about the negative impacts of weak to non existent environmental protection.
    They also dismantled and defunded a lot of research and other important areas.
    Anyway, I think that covers it. I haven’t heard about diamonds but again, look across the border to see what happens when your economy is driven by a single sector.
    When it tanks, it tanks.
    Look at Inpex. NT has been a one trick horse since 2012.
    We need to diversify and strengthen our economy in the face of a warming world. If you’d like to know more about the work at ALEC you can go to its website http://www.alec.org.au, or email me director@alec.org.au.
    FYI, I don’t have a work vehicle, I use my own and I work more hours than I am paid.

    @ Chris Slater: Please email me at jimmy@abetteralice.com.au with some photos and your concerns and I will raise at council next Tuesday. Thanks all for your interest.

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  11. Chris Slater
    Posted January 21, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    Ermm. Interesting letter, Ken. Love to have a yarn with you one day.
    In the meantime Councillor Jimmy who is taking a nice sum from the ratepayers purse to focus on the little issues in town might like to take a subsidised drive along Hayes Street, The Gap.
    Perhaps then he may be able to tell me why I pay rates the same as a leafy suburb in Adelaide and yet endure an over-grown track that passes for a footpath, dead wood and rubbish that is potentially a fire hazard and an unacceptable mess and eyesore at the Gap Road end.
    I don’t think there has been any real maintenance on Hayes Street in two years.
    So forget the big issues Jimmy, do your job.

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  12. Hal Duell
    Posted January 21, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    I have only recently become aware of these claimed diamond deposits. If there really are potential diamond mines in the NT, what is the rationale for not developing them?
    I suggest that those such as Ken in this thread reapply.
    There has been a change of guard in the CLC, so maybe they will stop just saying no.
    And the NT itself is broke and going broker.
    I share Jimmy’s worries about fracking.
    But diamonds? And I do question his insistence on maintaining our “pristine” environment at the expense of all development.
    There’s some pretty pristine poverty going on out there as well.

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  13. Ken
    Posted January 21, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Jimmy Cocking is unfairly wrong.
    Does he drive around in in the Arid Environment 4WD Troopy going bush using diesel fuel? He does not have to pay for the 4WD car or the 4WD truck as they are gratuitously supplied. And the diesel fuel is paid by his department. The Toyota vehicles came from iron mined in WA and the diesel from “mined” oil in the ground. The oil changes also go back into the environment. Such hypocrisy! Or has he forgotten?
    The NT has no relevant mines where Queensland and Western Australia are supported my mining income. The unemployment in the NT among in particularly the Indigenous Australians is mind shattering as well as their inability to enable reconciliation.
    Mining can/will change this and enable health, education and self esteem among the traditional owners to achieve reconciliation.
    Alice Springs is a frontier town and the NT government is bankrupt.
    My experience is the search for minerals. I have found a diamond deposits out bush. It took me some 25 years ago (one third of a lifetime) to gain access to that land through the Central Land Council and the Resources Mines and Energy of the government. There are three if not four diamond deposits rivaling Argyle Diamond Mines in WA.
    It was the gross stupidity of the NT Government in the Resources section and the thinking of the mining and legal section of the land council that lost for the NT $30 billion in mining royalties and $30 billion to the land council in royalties (under the Land Right Act 1976).
    The Australian exports would have been like $100 billion of diamond products.
    Alice Springs would have become the diamond selling and cutting center.
    The Aboriginal women instead on sitting down in the Todd and on the Stuart Terrace could be trained with their artistic skills to cut diamonds instead of paint: Maybe overall 500 Aboriginal people earning big money both at the mine site(s) and in Gap Road?
    The income from this mining and diamond processing would have funded schools and teachers on communities who were not “fundamentalist” personages.
    That income belongs in effect to the traditional owners on whose land the deposit lies and not going overseas or interstate to buy land and buildings elsewhere? There are two (maybe three) diamond pipes and one dyke 800 meters long containing diamonds.
    CRA/RTS was thwarted back in 1994 obtaining search and exploration permits for diamonds under the Land Rights Act when also retired Geologist Frank Hughes (who found the Argyle Diamonds) spent six months out bush on that area. While he found the diamond indicators the NT lost big time on the adjoining WA border. Alice Springs lost big time in becoming the diamond selling and processing capital of Australia.
    The multiplier effect of $100 billion in the Territoty and Alice Springs would be inestimable.
    Wake up, environmentalist Cocking!

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  14. John Hagan
    Posted January 21, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Of course there are no subsidies going towards environmental issues.

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