What do Alan Jones, Ross Gittins and Mamamia have in common?

  1. What do Alan Jones, Ross Gittins and Mamamia have in common?

  2. Mining’s David vs Goliath II

  3. Abbott’s risky free trade policy

  4. Recent Publications

Q: What do Alan Jones, Ross Gittins and Mamamia have in common?

A: They all agree that The Australia Institute does research that matters!

Rather than jump ship to New Zealand following the federal election, The Australia Institute has been busy proving that progressive ideas can still shape national debate.

In the past week our research on issues ranging from coal seam gas, superannuation, government debt and work/life balance has been in the spotlight, across a range of media.

Here’s a link to:

Not to mention how chuffed we were to see the Fairfax papers profile Richard and the unique role The Australia Institute is playing in challenging the dodgy modelling that the big miners rely so heavily on.

Our favourite bit:

[The Australia Institute] is the only thinktank in Australia to do so in a systematic way. And for an office with just 10 staff and $1 million in annual funding, it’s been making a decent go of it.

It has been a busy time for us since the election but we wanted to take the time to say thank you and to show you what your support helps us to achieve.

While the next three years will be hard going, hard going need not mean complete defeat for us progressives.

Please consider becoming a monthly supporter – it’s tax deductible and it makes a difference. This week proves that. DONATE HERE

Mining’s David vs Goliath II

The past month has been an important time for the environment, economics and the law in NSW.  You may remember that The Australia Institute represented the small Hunter Valley community of Bulga in their David-and-Goliath-style court victory against Rio Tinto earlier this year.  Not accepting the judge’s decision, Rio and the NSW government appealed to the NSW Supreme Court and the appeal finished on 6 September.  A verdict is expected in November.

In the meantime, we have been involved in another Hunter community versus coal giant case.  The village of Camberwell has already been largely bought up by Chinese coal company, Yancoal.  The company’s Ashton South Eastern Open Cut project would almost certainly see the remaining residents bought out and could have major impacts on water resources, agriculture, aboriginal heritage and health in the local area.

The controversial project was rejected by government planners in 2011 due to water and health concerns, but approved on appeal in 2012.  The local community has taken the company and the government to the NSW Land and Environment Court in a last-ditch attempt to defend their village.  They are being represented by public-interest environmental lawyers EDO NSW.

Our role in the Warkworth case was to critique the economic assessment of the mine.  Our evidence proved to be a key part in the judge’s decision:

“I am not satisfied that the economic analyses provided on behalf of Warkworth support the conclusion urged by both Warkworth and the Minister, namely that the economic benefits of the project outweigh the environmental, social and other costs.”

Because of this, the economics of the Ashton SEOC project has come under unprecedented scrutiny.  Decision makers – or at least judges – are starting to really take an interest in just how many jobs do these mines create; exactly how much money accrues to NSW and not to foreign mining companies; and what are the environmental and social costs in economic terms.

Richard Denniss and the Institute’s newest staff member, economist Rod Campbell, provided the court with some answers.  Based on the proponent’s own modelling, we showed the court that the project would:

  • Destroy 84 jobs in non-mining industries in the region
  • Create a total of 2 “indirect” jobs in NSW
  • Deliver around $55 million in financial benefits to NSW – down from the proponent’s original claim of nearly $500m

Most gratifyingly, the mine’s own economist largely agreed with us!  This further underlines how big mining companies rely on exaggerated claims about the economic benefits they will deliver to local communities.  No date for the judgement has been issued.

Abbott’s risky free trade policy

On the eve of the federal election the Coalition released its trade policy. It was a Friday and it was done without much fanfare. But the eagle-eyes of The Australia Institute’s Senior Research Fellow David Richardson spotted something that worried him.

On page 4 the Coalition committed to:

… remaining open to utilising investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses as part of Australia’s negotiating position.

We issued a press release warning that such a policy would leave the federal government vulnerable to legal action from international companies. Put simply, such clauses give foreign companies the right to take legal action against new federal laws that could potentially affect their profits.

We provided the following example: if a drug company sells a drug that is later found to have severe side effects and the Australian government took action to have it banned, taxpayers may have to make large payments to the company to compensate for loss of income.

We also flagged concerns with what this might mean for the regulation of coal seam gas.

This article in The Global Mail provides a detailed and compelling case for why we should care about the Coalition’s stance, especially when it comes to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and other free trade negotiations.

We would also encourage you to check out the website of the Australian Fair Trade Investment Network (AFTINET) which has been campaigning since 2000 for a fairer and more democratic global trade system. A petition calling on the Prime Minister to rethink his position on ISDS clauses is circulating here.

Recent Publications

In infrastructure funding, nothing is certain save debt and taxes, Australian Financial Review, 8 October 2013 The great “gas crisis” swindle, The Drum, 27 September 2013 Macfarlane swallows spin from gas industry on drilling, Crikey, 27 September 2013 Left need not abandon all hope, The Canberra Times, 14 September 2013  Cut, cut, cut, R Denniss, August 2013 Coal and gas mining in Australia, The Australian Network of Environmental Defender’s Offices, August 2013

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