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Tag Archives: Developing Northern Australia

Heavy lifting . . . for some

Photo: sbs.com.au

Photo: sbs.com.au

“The rich regard wealth as a personal attribute. So do the poor. Everyone is tacitly convinced of it. Only logic makes some difficulties by asserting that the possession of money may perhaps confer certain qualities, but can never itself be a human quality. Closer inspection gives this the lie. Every human nose instantly and unfailingly smells the delicate breath of independence that goes with the habit of commanding, the habit of everywhere choosing the best for oneself, the whiff of slight misanthropy and the unceasing consciousness of responsibility that goes with power, the scent of a large and secure income.” — Excerpt from rich people’s code of living, The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil

When Kerry Packer appeared before the Print Media Inquiry in 1991 he famously said

“Now of course I am minimizing my tax and if anybody in this country doesn’t minimize their tax they want their heads read because as a government I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra. I pay whatever tax I am required to pay under the law, not a penny more, not a penny less”

His daughter Gretel got married earlier in the year and Kerry spent $3 million on her wedding. Apparently, that same year he paid no income tax.

In 2012, mining magnate Nathan Tinkler of Whitehaven Coal put his plans for a $13 million beachfront pad in Newcastle on hold and moved his family to Singapore. In an amazing coincidence, Gina Rinehart has reportedly spent $S57 million ($A43.8 million) on two units, off the plan, in the same Seven Palms Sentosa Cove condominium project. Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded Facebook at age 21, also lives in Singapore.

It might be because Singapore is a nice place that so many mega-wealthy people are flocking there – or it could have something to do with the fact that capital gains are not taxed. Individuals are only taxed on income earned directly in Singapore, and for the super wealthy, there are no inheritance taxes. Personal tax rates in Singapore are among the lowest in the world, with a cap of 20 per cent, compared to the top tax rate of 45 per cent in Australia. It’s got the banking secrecy laws, it’s becoming a financial centre, new casinos and now a lot of the big banks are operating out of Singapore purely because it’s becoming a very exclusive place to live

Gina Rinehart’s personal wealth is more than two times greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of Cambodia, population 14.5 million. She has about 41 times more than the GDP of East Timor, population 1.3 million. She has more than the GDPs of Haiti and Bolivia put together (combined population 20 million).

She could buy up the economies of the world’s 10 poorest nations, and still have about $22 billion left over.

One in seven people — or 1 billion people around the world — do not have enough to eat. Rinehart could feed them all for a year.

In 2011, Rinehart made $1.5 billion more than was spent on the entire NSW health system ($17.3 billion). She made 18 times more than was allocated to the federal government’s climate change department. She made 70 times what the federal government will spend to improve education and training for young Aboriginal Australians.

In 2012 BRW Magazine said that Rinehart’s rise in wealth “is unparalleled”. It said she might soon become the world’s richest person: “A $100 billion fortune is not out of the question for Rinehart if the resources boom continues unabated.”

Despite her huge fortune, Rinehart is convinced she pays too much tax. Her tax lobby group ANDEV (Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision) campaigns to cut taxes on mining industry profits and lower payroll and income tax.

In February 2013, the Coalition released its policy/discussion paper ‘2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia’. The catalyst for the policy was a 2010 open letter signed by the executives of over 50 resources companies that called for the establishment of a special economic zone with fewer regulations and taxes to develop Australia’s north, and the capacity to import cheap labour.

“Various industries in Australia already make use of overseas countries’ labour without restriction – for example, sending work overseas to India and the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia where labour costs are lower. The group argues mining companies should be allowed to hire short term workers from overseas for the construction periods only, for say up to two years and nine months, thereby increasing long term job prospects in Australia, rather than becoming uncompetitive and these jobs heading overseas to countries like Guinea and other countries in Africa.”

It was quickly followed by the establishment of ANDEV, a lobby group chaired by Gina Rinehart to realise this vision. The Institute of Public Affairs was soon recruited to give the project a veneer of free market respectability.

ANDEV’s plan was not just a slight drop in taxes. It included vast sums of taxpayer investment in infrastructure, accompanied by the abolition or dramatic reduction of taxation levied. The Coalition policy has wording pulled straight from the ANDEV site in a series of op-eds and speeches. The 2012 National Party Conference keynote address, given by one of Rinehart’s employees, was dedicated to promoting this vision, going so far as to include ANDEV promotional material in all delegate’s packs and exhorting the audience to meet with him to discuss ANDEV privately.

The central thesis behind the ANDEV plan is that northern Australia is ‘underdeveloped’, ‘underutilised’ and ‘underpopulated’. The Coalition’s policy adopts these claims uncritically, spicing them up with promises of taming Australia’s ‘last frontier’. ANDEV also bandies around some odder reasons; the “multitudes of snakes” and “excessive heat” that afflicts residents of the North apparently entitles them to generous tax offsets. The latest Coalition incarnation of the policy leaves it to a future white paper to review how to achieve a preferential taxation regime without ending up in the High Court as it is probably unconstitutional.

Going on the word of vested interests, especially when the result is worth a huge influx of government subsidies, does not make for sound economic policy. Herein lies the problem at the heart of the Vision for Developing Northern Australia: it’s been driven from the office of a vested interest into a Liberal party that can no longer distinguish between crony capitalism and free markets. It undermines federalism by subsiding infrastructure spending and tax cuts without imposing the fiscal responsibility that a state faces in having to balance the books on this equation.

In 2010, the mining industry spent over $22 million in six weeks on its campaign against Kevin Rudd’s plan for a resource super profit tax. This led to a slump in Rudd’s popularity contributing to the Gillard takeover and the subsequent compromise deal on the MRRT costing the nation billions in revenue.

In March this year, the ATO announced an amnesty for off-shore tax evaders. Under the disclosure initiative, those who come forward will “generally” only be assessed for the last four years, even if they held the assets offshore for longer than that, and be liable for a maximum shortfall penalty of just 10% of their debt rather than 90%, the ATO said. Those coming forward also will escape investigation by the tax authority, and will avoid criminal prosecution.

While these people are busy investing their money and lobbying the government so they make no contribution to the country that has afforded them such wealth, average Australians are being hit with a “sick” tax and a deficit tax and told that we must work till 70, that pensions will decline in real terms, and the minimum wage will be slashed. We will continue to hand over billions in fossil fuel subsidies, spend billions on infrastructure for the miners, and provide guarantees for banks while we listen in amazement to the profit announcements. We will continue to provide tax concession schemes like negative gearing, investing in superannuation, and private health insurance rebates.

As Adam Bandt said

Around the world, there are some people who are incredibly wealthy who see it as part of their social duty to lift people out of poverty and to give a bit back to our society. Gina Rinehart certainly doesn’t fall into that category.

But there’s a broader issue here than just about the individual – it’s about in Australia, what do we consider to be a fair share for billionaires who make their money out of the minerals that we all own digging them up and selling them off overseas, which we only get to do once, what’s a fair share for those people to pay?

Gina Rinehart wrote and self-published a book called “Northern Australia and then some: Changes we need to make our country rich.” I will close with a quote from a review done by Cameron Whitehead at Crikey.

“What she has produced is a weirdly amateur book which is everywhere inscribed with the signature of someone accustomed to command but it is also — sometimes with a wildcard, unexpected poignancy — the work of someone who is blind to how she is being perceived. This is a book that reveals a woman for whom love, work and money are indistinguishable, a woman who has so much, and yet so little.”

Dam(n) the nation, full speed ahead!

barnaby

Photo: Barnabyisright.com

In 2011, Gina Rinehart flew Barnaby Joyce to India in a private jet, to watch the granddaughter of her business partner marry in front of 10,000 guests. Three months later, the GVK conglomerate bought a majority stake in the billionaire’s ”Alpha” coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin for $US1.26 billion.

In November 2012, Mrs Rinehart published a book called “Northern Australia and then some”, calling for the development of the North and the establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with lower taxes and a reduced regulatory burden. The publisher’s summary of the book states:

“The world is full of areas where we have beggars sitting in mountains of untapped ‘gold’. Rinehart’s message is a call to release the untapped human and economic potential through respect of the human right to free enterprise and private property.”

It sounds uncomfortably like Gina wants to abolish Native title so she can have unfettered access to those “mountains of gold”.

In February 2013, the Coalition leaked a discussion paper called Developing Northern Australia: A 2030 Vision which very closely echoed the views expressed by Gina in her book. Tony Abbott called for a “national imagination” to take advantage of the “enormous agricultural potential” of the Top End, including harnessing the “bountiful supply of water”.

He then travelled to Kununurra to stand on the wall of Australia’s largest dam and further discuss a one-third expansion of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. His focus included “natural resource development in liquefied natural gas, mining and agribusiness” – some key users of water – with little mention of truly utilising natural advantages of the north.

It was ridiculed by Labor and the Greens, discredited by scientists, and generally dismissed as an ill-conceived thought bubble.

Tony Bourke said

”They say that they want to use them to avoid drought, they want to use them to avoid flood and they want to use them for hydro power. Now, if you want to avoid drought, you need to manage a dam that is always full. If you want to avoid floods, you need to manage a dam that is constantly empty . . . if you want to manage it for hydro it has to be constantly flowing.”

Gina Rinehart is part of an organisation called Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV). They describe themselves this way:

“ANDEV is made up of individuals and businesses in Australia demanding that our government welcome investment and provide economic vision for the country’s future. We want to unleash the potential of North Australia by getting government out of the way.”

In response to the Coalition’s paper, they revealed that they, in conjunction with the IPA, had been working on the exact same idea – go figure. On the same day that the leaked paper was first reported, ANDEV published a media release saying:

“The Coalition’s draft discussion paper on water management, reported in today’s media, is a welcome recognition of the important role dams could play in revolutionising Northern Australia’s economy, according to the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV) have been calling for the creation of dams for over two years and it is refreshing for a major party to finally acknowledge the important role they can play in driving development in Northern Australia,” said Dom Talimanidis, Director of the joint ANDEV/IPA North Australia Project.”

They go on to say that

“The Coalition’s Draft Discussion Paper, Developing Northern Australia: A 2030 Vision received widespread support in the days after it was reported in the media. The Business Spectator praised the Discussion Paper’s vision and foresight here and here. The paper also received support from many groups in Northern Australia, including the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Mt Isa Mayor and former State Labor MP The Hon. Cr Tony McGrady AM. The Daily Telegraph’s editorial noted America’s economic growth was driven by westward expansion and questions why Australia can’t achieve something similar developing the North.”

Notable for their absence from this group of advocates was anyone with a scientific or environmental qualification. Shortly after, the idea seemed to fizzle out under a barrage of expert criticism.

rinehart In April 2013, Barnaby Joyce and Gina Rinehart were both guests at the IPA’s 70th birthday bash. Mrs Rinehart later contributed $50,000 to Mr Joyce’s campaign to enter the House of Representatives, attended his election after-party, flew to Canberra to hear his maiden speech, and afterwards invited a small group of Coalition friends for drinks in her private hotel suite. Aside from Mr Joyce, these included some of Mrs Rinehart’s closest political friends, the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal Party senators Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash.

Ever ready to push his benefactor’s barrow, we hear yesterday that

“FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has put dams back on the agenda by unveiling a Commonwealth ministerial working group to consider new options.”

The idea of developing the north is not new. The first Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into the development of northern Australia was held in 1912. In 1934, J. A. Gilruth, published a “Confidential Report on the Northern Territory of Australia”. He believed that statements about the opportunities being neglected in the north could be traced to either (1) those who had read only the biased laudatory accounts, but wished for some‐one else to be the pioneers; (2) those who had an interest in land or a lease and wished to realise a capital gain; and (3) business people to whom any influx of population means a profit.

Tom Rayner, who works for Charles Darwin University as a Research Leader in the Northern Research Futures Collaborative Research Network, had this to say:

“As a nation, we have witnessed similar clashes between commodities, communities and conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. As scientists, we have documented the effects of water extraction on floodplains, fish and forests. As farmers, we have experienced diminishing terms of trade and a transition away from the traditional family farm. As taxpayers, we have funded a multi-billion dollar rescue mission aimed at improving river health.

Now, staring down the barrel of a decade of rapid transformation, we confront a critical decision: “Is this a future we want to repeat in northern Australia?”

We know that dams damage rivers – there are literally hundreds of scientific studies detailing effects on connectivity, water quality and biodiversity. It is odd that, at a time when people elsewhere are discussing dam removal, we might want to build more.”

In 2009, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce produced a report on the potential impact of new development in northern Australia on water balance and quality, the environment, existing water users and the broader community.

The report points out that the rainfall received each year already supports a wide range of uses. These include unique aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; recreational and commercial fisheries and tourism that are based upon them; a range of largely non‐consumptive Indigenous uses; and consumptive use by irrigated agriculture, stock and domestic and mining. Water is critical to each of these uses, and increased consumptive use will involve a degree of trade‐off between new uses and the range of existing consumptive and non‐consumptive uses.

Conserving and accessing surface water for consumptive use is highly constrained by difficulties in impoundment and groundwater abstraction from one point may influence surface water flow and function at another, and vice versa.

The report also highlights the dangers to existing industries. Tourism, for example, contributes about $2,800 m p.a. to the northern Australian economy, and relies heavily on the largely pristine land and water of the north. Extractive industries such as commercial fishing (>$160 m) are heavily water dependent non‐consumptive uses of water. Opportunities available to these industries would be curtailed by significant consumptive water use or landscape modification. Changes to the natural resource base also impact the value of the Indigenous hybrid economy, upon which up to a third of the north’s population may depend.

Cultural life in northern Australia is extraordinarily dependent on the region’s high natural values. These, in turn, emanate from the intact landscapes and relatively undisturbed flows of the north’s waterways. Development can directly reduce these values by depleting water, reducing water quality or by changing the natural flow of water in the landscape; all of which impact aquatic, marine and terrestrial environments. Development can also indirectly and inadvertently impact these. Roads, for example, can disturb the flow of water across the landscape, altering connections between waterways and floodplains that support communities of vegetation, fish, birds and mammals. The impacts of development on the natural environment are varied, and many are persistent and difficult to correct.

In this, like so many other of this government’s decisions, we seem to be ignoring research and the lessons of the past. A new study from Oxford University has found that the vast majority of large dams around the globe are unprofitable undertakings as a result of exorbitant cost overruns, with actual costs exceeding original estimates by around 96 per cent on average in real terms.

“We find that even before accounting for negative impacts on human society and environment, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return,” the study said.

Already, the climate in the north is hot and alternates seasonally between arid and very wet. Small areas of arable soils are interspersed with large areas of land suitable only for grazing. The low fertility of soils and the high risks of climatic adversity (floods and cyclones) are major constraints to crop production. Management systems to prevent soil erosion are critical due to the high intensity of rainfall.

Climate change will lead to sea level rise and potentially greater storm surges which will impact on coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems. Some areas will be vulnerable to riverine flooding and more intense cyclonic activity.

In Darwin the number of days over 35 degrees Celsius is expected to increase from 11 per year currently experienced to up to 69 by 2030 and up to 308 by 2070 without global action to reduce emissions. Coupled with the extremely high humidity that Darwin experiences during the wet season, higher temperatures are expected to adversely affect levels of human comfort.

Projections indicate there may be an increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones in the more intense categories, with a decrease in the total number of cyclones. For example, the number of category 3 to 5 cyclones is projected to increase, and by 2030 there may be a 60 per cent increase in intensity of the most severe storms, and a 140 per cent increase by 2070.

In these days of “financial distress” when we are being warned to expect a “tough budget”, it is somewhat incongruous that Barnaby Joyce is prepared to spend $30+ billion building dams to fulfil Gina Rinehart’s demands to develop the North, regardless of the countless studies that warn of the non-viablility of the idea and the damage it would cause.

The paradigm of the “empty north” was derived from colonialist thinking and rejection of Indigenous tenure. The idea of making it the food bowl for Asia, while ignoring the environmental and climactic challenges, could make it a very expensive exercise in futility. I know mining requires a lot of water but have you really thought this through? Is it too much to expect you to listen to scientists and to read the reports that have already been done? Messing with water can be a very dangerous thing and you probably need someone other than Gina to advise you on this.