Saturday, 28 February 2015

Strength in Diversity

Speech at the Unity Action Symposium, Chinchilla, February 28 2015 by PRA chairman Dale Stiller

The topic of this talk is ‘Strength in Diversity’ which is a look at the core principles common to the different organisations or groups, how an united approach of diverse groups  can help present a strong image and effect change  against how the coal seam gas industry is currently allowed to operate.

Let us start with the most important point, something I want you to keep in mind as this talk progresses. No matter what organisation you have thrown your hat in with it is not the organisation that is most important but the people it helps to support.

As soon as a society allows a minority or even an individual to be collateral damage for the likes of an economic benefit or even what appears to be a worthy cause then it is operating on an ethically deficient basis.

The coal seam gas industry has been given priority for almost unrestricted development at considerable haste at the cost of landowners and the productivity of agricultural lands.[1] Some mining companies are also not operating as good corporate citizens.  Also needed for these new resource projects is the necessary infrastructure and the government corporation Powerlink[2] delivering high voltage transmission lines was the worst of all to deal with

Each organisation has found it difficult to find acceptable outcomes for individuals who at no fault of their own are victims of circumstances supported by a bloody minded attitude of governments who are failing to govern for all.

A simple workable low cost solution is available to solve Bill & Lyn Dahlheimer’s[3] understandable desire to retire before they are frail & elderly but it has been ignored. Kylie Haeusler is discarded as collateral damage[4] fallen between the legislative cracks; the Chinchilla Jenkyn[5] & Nothdurft[6] families and others have an amenity of life that poor you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. A Georgetown cattleman[7] had a fence erected across his access road by a small gold mining outfit in October 2013. It is still there and causing massive financial difficulties. A Central Queensland woman is offered compensation only a sixth of the properties true worth by a new coal mine. Both of these last two cases were forced to go to court at huge cost to the landowner.

People have been placed in a situation of disadvantage.[8] The system is not only failing, it has been designed to work against landowners. I talk to many people like this and as the chair of an organisation set up to help people I often feel inadequate. The best thing I can and anyone can to help someone else is to listen and to stand by them offering moral support as together you seek a solution .

As individuals we are often inadequate in one aspect or the other. We each have some skills and as we come together in groups and organisations we complement each other’s skills

Even in the different groups we have our own strengths & weaknesses. For part of this presentation I will talk about some of the recent history of PRA not with the aim of promotion for what I will say will include weaknesses, but with the aim of illustration to support the topic of this presentation, ‘Strength in Diversity’.

Today is called the Unity Action Symposium, with the call to Unite for the future. This could be seen as a call to unite into one single super group. After all the pooling of a greater number of people will draw together a greater amount of talent and isn’t it the case that politics is a numbers game and politicians are always looking at numbers of voters who may vote for or against them?

I will return and give you my view on this later.

Before I get too far I must inform you that you have been warned that you should not listen to me as these words by a prominent figure in December 2010 indicate:

“The PRA example is exactly what we must avoid in addressing the CSG issues.”[9]

I’m sure this audience will take seriously the words of the now former Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, Jeff Seeney.

This attack came completely out of the blue in an opinion piece published in the Queensland Country Life in December 2010. Remember that the LNP were in opposition at the time, not gaining office until early 2012. PRA had not addressed any comment to the opposition, in fact PRA at far as I know had no recent contact all with Mr Seeney. PRA had been with increasing persistency bringing to the then governments attention and to the general public what landowners were being subjected to in what appeared to be a blind rush to roll out this new industry, Coal Seam Gas. People were being disadvantaged.
Mr Seeney wrote:
“it is clearly absurd to suggest a reality check of the CSG industry's operation over the past 10 years is an appalling idea”
“In regard to the CSG issues we can build a creditable case on demonstratable facts and verifiable mainstream science that will withstand any reality check” 

The then PRA chairman, Ron Bahnisch, asked for and was granted a right of reply and so in the next week’s publication Ron wrote with these words directed at Mr Seeney:[10]

“Let’s see him “build a credible case on demonstrable facts and verifiable main stream science that will withstand any reality check” in the CSG mining industry.

Labor minister Robertson is much closer to the unfortunate reality by claiming to proceed with the oxymoronic “adaptive precautionary principle”.

There lies the nub and the core of the dilemma. Neither position is obtainable or sustainable.”

Ron later in his opinion article wrote about CSG:

“The risks of coal seam gas extraction are real, otherwise there would be no need for the complex regulatory controls that have been imposed.

The major problem is that if damage occurs, it will be almost impossible to remedy, and that remedy will depend on the government of the day - no matter what colour” 
These two opinion articles and the comments published at the Rural Press farmonline web site together make for an interesting case study from which many points could be extracted for example Ron writes about the effectiveness of small interest groups to bring about government legislative change.

Mr Seeney correctly stated that

“PRA was formed in response to the shameful injustices of the Vegetation Management Act and the new organisation received a lot of early support from landholders.”

By his opinion article it appeared that he did not want PRA to bring its focus on the shameful injustices being perpetrated upon landholders, at the time in 2010 the Bligh Labor government and what was to come in 2012 the following Newman LNP government, by allowing the unrestricted access to the resource to multinational coal seam gas companies.

I have shown an unflattering light on Mr Seeney of the LNP in this talk but I will now also give condemnation to the contempt shown to landowners and primary producers by the Beattie/ Bligh Labor governments over a 20 year period. Bear with me as I am laying this groundwork to bring across later in this talk the points that are directed to the title, “Strength in Diversity’. Understanding this 20 year period of recent Queensland political history is important to understanding the response to the coal seam gas industry.

From this time comes the at times awkward tension that exists between some of groups who now find themselves on parallel paths advocating against CSG injustice. [11]

It was in this time that the highly commendable work of past departments of agriculture was gutted, agency staff either reemployed or made redundant and extension work largely abandoned. It may be in the best intentions that Agforce the agricultural sector’s peak body took on government contracts to disseminate information. The government got what it wanted the money funded the facilitation of policy unpopular with farmers; it was a lot cheaper than properly funding the department and they got a tamer peak body. It may be for the best of intentions but in accepting a funding stream beyond anything dream possible before, it became hard to yell too hard when latched onto the teat. This became so evident in the wake of the Newman government passing the appalling Mineral & Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act that in an unprecedented move the Queensland Country Life editorial questioned the “deafening silence”[12] on the part of Agforce. 

I sincerely hope that such silence is a thing of the past.

It was from this time that trust was destroyed between the agricultural sector and government and the cooperation & innovation between farmers and the agriculture department was lost to a department of Natural Resources and mines later to become the super department of DERM where staff were directed to dictate policy, coerce and prosecute.[13]

People not aware of this past have speculated to why Queensland farmers capitulated in the face of the CSG onslaught. Amongst other reasons it is because they felt abandoned by anyone in government to look after their interests and the peak body was providing “education” to how to adapt to the living with the CSG machine.  Most of the landowners who signed contracts with a CSG company did not do so because they were happy with the industry as the likes of APPEA falsely propagate but because of seeing no other possibility than to get the best deal that they could which was often inadequate.
What was motivating Mr Seeney from the opposition benches in December 2010 to write this opinion article to which online commenters were “mystified”, “puzzled” and asked “what point are you making”.  The future revealed a Newman LNP government making legislative change at the same break neck speed that the Bligh Labor government set loose the CSG monster. All of the various groups trying to ensure a better future for landowners disadvantaged by CSG were buried in submission writing. Not only were resource base legislation introduced or amended but also Planning Acts and also the Water Act blatantly moulded to best suit the unrestricted progress of resource projects.

I am keen to obtain & read a book reviewed in July 2013 by an online friend, retired newspaper editor, John Mikkelsen.  The book review is called ‘Mining captures politics’[14] and John writes:

“GOVERNMENTS change but the politics surrounding mining and resource developments don’t, according to the author of a controversial new book about to be launched in Gladstone. ‘Road to Exploitation’ subtitled ‘Political Capture by Mining in Queensland’ follows years of pains-taking research.

“The book authenticates not only landholders’ concerns about coal and CSG's unacceptable impacts upon their strategic cropping land and aquifers, but also concerns about damage to Gladstone Harbour's ecology through examples of sweetheart deals entered into by Cabinet that bound the government's regulatory and administrative agencies to policies of minimum compliance, lack of regulatory enforcement, false benchmarking of the science and eventually, abandonment of co-existence with behind the scenes resignation of unavoidable impacts.

“The book's contents and documentation justify the title and demonstrate this principle: Capture executive government in Queensland and the regulatory and administrative processes are captured as well”.”

It was in 2010 that Basin Sustainability Alliance[15] was formed and so was Lock the Gate; so why weren’t these two organisations given the blow torch as well.

The following is a series of assumptions on my part but I am assuming that BSA may not have come onto Mr Seeney’s radar as yet, which may have been a mistake as BSA was to lay a good foundation in its first year under its ‘Not at any cost’ motto.  More recently under David Hamilton’s leadership BSA was to refine the technique of polite but firm correspondence with political leaders; patient probing investigation accumulating knowledge and maintaining a highly credible appearance. In all of these things BSA does better than any other landowner advocate group that focuses on CSG.

I’m assuming that it may have been thought that any influence of the newly fledged Lock the Gate could be negated because of one of its founding members, Drew Hutton[16], who had a high profile as a former leader of the Queensland Greens party and association with various environmental causes. But Drew had a political savvy lacking in any rural based advocacy group leadership and importantly metropolitan media contacts. To get a rural based story into the metropolitan media was and remains difficult. Lock to the Gate is a simple message to sell that has appeal to an urban audience and a lot more people got to know about CSG, the potential impacts and the disadvantage placed upon landowners.
PRA came under attack in December 2010 because it could not be pigeon holed as an environmental group and also it had a very successful track record of legal action against DERM with 12 wins out of 13 court cases. To be clear PRA isn’t anti- environment rather pro supporting disadvantaged landowners. Repeating what I said earlier; as soon as a society allows a minority or even an individual to be collateral damage for the likes of an economic benefit or even what appears to be a worthy cause then it is operating on ethically deficient basis.  PRA advocated on behalf of people using the two pillars of science and specialist legal opinion. PRA also has a maxim that if the government or the majority of the population wanted something that caused disadvantage to landowners - then pay for it.

Over the last 12 months there been a concerted effort to polarise the debate about coal seam gas. Directed largely at the urban population, resource advocacy groups APPEA & Queensland Resources Council together with Newman government ministers have taken pains to promote the concept that only radical greenies were against coal seam gas. Landowners especially those disadvantaged were carefully not mentioned. Remember the defence of the indefensible M&ER Common Provisions Act in September last year with government ministers repeating that “only radical greenies” had a problem with the new Act.[17]

Andrew Cripps the Minister for Natural Resource & Mines sounded more and more ludicrous as time went on especially this exchange recorded for prosperity in Hansard:[18]

“Mr Cripps: Some of the objections put forward by the member for South Brisbane, the member for Bundamba and repeated by the member for Stafford and some members of the crossbench I am really frustrated with because they consistently repeated a falsehood that has been perpetuated, as I said on a number of occasions during my second reading contribution, by green activist groups and by certain legal firms and they are just as much to blame for perpetuating the myth.

Ms Trad: So AgForce is to blame for perpetuating a myth?

Mr CRIPPS: They are perpetuating a myth. I am happy to go on record that it is not just AgForce, but Cotton Australia and the Queensland Farmers Federation are perpetuating a myth.

Ms Trad: Well done, Minister. Congratulations. “

 Earlier when the Common Provisions bill was before the Parliamentary Committee there was only one hearing date appearing on the committee’s web page and no landowner or rural advocacy groups had been invited; however the Environmental Defenders Office had been. Agforce, Basin Sustainability Alliance, Cotton Australia, Shine Lawyers, EDO Qld and Qld Farmers Federation met prior to the hearing and produced an 8 point communique[19] for EDO to table at the hearing on behalf of all these organisations.

This united approach resulted in 3 more hearing being scheduled and also a very interesting response from Michael Roache of QRC who sent emails to each rural advocacy group who took part. By kind permission of David Hamilton to whom it was sent and also the current BSA president Lyn Nicholson I can reveal that Roache appeared to be quite worried by this joint approach and stated a preference of deal with each organisation individually. Micheal Roache wrote in part:
“it was hard not to feel an element of ambush in EDO tabling such a "consensus document".  I would have hoped that each of you would have felt comfortable approaching QRC with any concerns and would urge you to do so in the future.”
It’s an astonishing plead to return to the good old days of resource companies dividing and conquering. This is the case where the divide or diversity of advocacy organisations coming together on core principles proved to be powerful.

Last month a researcher from the Melbourne University, Steven Burge, was intervening landowners and others in the Surat basin about CSG. I asked for Stevens’s permission to use this quote of his in this talk as it shows the advantage of having a diverse range of voices speaking out about CSG.

“The reason that first gave me a very good indication that something was amiss with the development of the CSG industry was that it wasn’t just one section being vocal about it. If it was only groups who have in the past championed environmental causes being active it could be taken as nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a whole spectrum of different community sectors speaking out, some of which are normally seen as quite conservative and reluctant activists.”

Small local community groups are important that brings together the community of local landowners for moral support. Some groups even demand that resource or infrastructure project proponents negotiate with the group as a whole in the initial stages so that a base standard is met and that impacts to the community as a whole are minimised. This is a powerful tool, one the resource companies do not like, who much prefer the age old tactic of divide and conquer. Our hosts today, the Hopeland Community group[20] has taken it a step further to stage this symposium to disseminate information to the wider community.  Jenny York from the Woodduck group[21] [22]spoke earlier, there are Cameby Hall group people here today and there are examples further afield.

The greatest role for a small community group is to offer local moral support and associate with a larger organisation for resourcing and advocacy to government.
People are not all the same and different people group together because of common interests and values. Some of these values to the peripheral of core principles in objection to current CSG activity don’t make it possible for the formation of a super organisation. That is not a weakness, it is just life. Weakness would be the denial of the obvious. We need to focus on what we agree on while recognising the important differences.

We can be united in a core belief and real strength comes from recognising other differences with honesty, respect and civility.

Finally I will repeat my first and most important point. No matter what organisation you have thrown your hat in with it is not the organisation that is most important but the people it helps to support.
Thank you


1 comment:

Welcome to a place that has a focus (but not exclusively) on regional and rural Australia open for anyone living anywhere to read, learn and interact. Please feel free to make a comment.

You can use some HTML codes such as, a for active; b for bold; i for italics

Active code - substitute a for @
<@ href="web address">linked words

[Click Here] for a link to another site where there is a very good simple explanation.