April 14th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Howard's Coalition - fewer options left as election looms

EDITORIAL: The high cost of 'symbolic' politics

THE ENVIRONMENT: Bushfire victims take NSW, Vic govts to court

WATER: Details of PM's water plan - disaster for farmers

NSW STATE ELECTION: When will Liberals, Nationals ever learn?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Why young people read less / NSW's Knight with the Mournful Countenance / Journalistic hooliganism / The Easter Rising

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Losing the war on the home front / Assessing the terrorist threat

SCHOOLS: Labor's standard threat to schools

MEDICAL SCIENCE: New developments in stem-cell science

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Australia caught between Beijing and Washington

SRI LANKA: Bloodbath looms in war-torn Sri Lanka

OPINION: An ABC of the ABC - a listener's guide


Millions squandered (letter)

Regional rail networks (letter)

Labor's Mugabe dilemma (letter)

David Hicks (letter)

Russia's Putin should not be demonised (letter)

CINEMA: Story to scare the daylights out of you - Lives of Others

BOOKS: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

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The high cost of 'symbolic' politics

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 14, 2007
A proposed $5 billion iron ore mine in Western Australia has been stopped in order to appease radical environmental groups.

A proposed $5 billion iron ore mine in Western Australia will not go ahead because it will threaten the habitat of five previously undiscovered species of troglobites, thanks to a recent ruling by the WA Environmental Protection Authority.

What are troglobites? One reference said these tiny creatures, which live entirely in the dark, underground in crevices in the earth, include crickets, centipedes and cave spiders. It concluded, "There are countless varieties of troglobites and very little is known about their distribution, but scientists are identifying many new species and sub-species every year."

The EPA found that the five threatened species were present only in the area to be mined in WA's remote Pilbara region and not in the mining exclusion zone which the company planned to establish in the area. Even if the species were of any significance, has the EPA not heard of re-establishment of species? I found references to re-establishment of troglobites in this area of WA in the scientific literature going back to 1991. (The Journal of Animal Ecology, Vol. 60, No. 2, June, 1991).

To delay a major development on the grounds of minor species preservation highlights a dangerous trend to make public policy on the basis of emotion rather than fact.

The policy is similar to the management practices of Australia's eucalyptus forests.

Green rhetoric

For years, environmentalists have campaigned for national parks and state forests to be "locked up", to prevent timber-harvesting. The campaign uses rhetoric about the preservation of Australia's pristine forests, and saving Australia's "few remaining old-growth forests".

This campaign has largely succeeded, but the effect has been to turn healthy growing forests into tinderboxes of dead and ageing trees. This has contributed to the recurrence of wildfires in Eastern Australia over the past 10 years.

Another example includes the effective ban on further uranium mines in Australia. Currently, Australia is one of the largest producers of uranium oxide in the world, producing about 10,000 tonnes a year, from just three mines.

This is exported as low-grade uranium oxide which is converted overseas into enriched uranium fuel rods for power stations in Asia, Europe and the United States.

As state Labor governments can veto projects in their states, only a reversal of the ALP's bizarre "three mines" uranium policy will allow the development of any of the 20 other uranium deposits which have been discovered around Australia. In some parts of Australia, it is even illegal to prospect for uranium minerals!

The current policy has sabotaged the development of uranium mining in Australia for over 20 years. At one uranium deposit in the Northern Territory, a potential income of $6 billion has been lost.

In light of Kevin Rudd's commitment to greenhouse-gas abatement, one would expect that he would be committed not only to reversing the current uranium policy, imposed by his party's "watermelons" - green on the outside, red on the inside - but would be seriously committed to the development of the nuclear industry in Australia. Sadly, this is not the case.

Even if the current "three mines" policy is abandoned at this month's ALP national conference, as Mr Rudd wants, it does not represent a change of direction; it is merely an accommodation to the reality that uranium mining will create new jobs.

The green lobby, which imposed the three mines policy in the 1980s, is determined to shackle the development of an industry which would have beneficial environmental, technological, job-creation and income-producing benefits for Australia.

It is equally determined to impose its own ideological agenda of global warming, despite the scientific uncertainties which surround the "greenhouse effect".

Despite these uncertainties, we know that nothing Australia does will have any significant impact on either the world's emissions of CO2 or global warming, because Australia's contribution is negligible compared to those of the United States, Western Europe, India and China, to name a few.

So we are left with symbolic gestures, like the widely reported decision to turn off the city lights in Sydney for an hour on Saturday, March 31.

It is, of course, good to prevent energy being wasted, as it is to conserve water. But what about the other 23 hours on that day? And what about the other 364 days of the year?

As someone noted, the effect was the equivalent of taking almost 50,000 cars off the road for an hour - which is probably the number of cars which headed for parties at vantage points around Sydney Harbour to see the spectacle.

Returning to the real world, badly needed export industries such as mining are being strangulated, while the foreign debt expands by $50 billion annually, making higher interest rates later this year even more likely. The effect of this will be far more painful than turning off the lights for an hour.

- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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