Saturday, November 29, 2008

Marathon Resources AGM picketed

A small group of 25 persons picketed the Marathon Resources AGM in Adelaide on Friday November 28.

The small numbers were actually quite heartening given that it was a working day, and that only half that number had attended our picket of the uranium conference held in Adelaide earlier in the year.

Besides bloggers like myself and Bill Doyle ( ), there were representatives of the Friends of the Earth, the Wilderness Society, the Communist Party and the Greens. Greens MP Mark Parnell brought along his own amplification system and made a speech calling for Marathon to be denied mining rights in Arkaroola.

Marathon shows no signs of admitting defeat. It has recently appointed two new Directors, one with responsibility for trying to win further support from the Adnyamathanha Aboriginal community, who are the traditional owners of the area that includes Arkaroola; the other is a former employee of multinational giant GHD with expertise in water and energy management.

Dr Dan Tyson has been recruited because of his recent experience in negotiating “mutually beneficial outcomes for both mining companies and indigenous groups arising from major resource developments”.

Amy Tucker comes from GHD “where her role included work as the technical editor of a desalination pre-feasibility study report for BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam Expansion”. Marathon's water needs if Mt Gee goes ahead will be enormous, and it will presumably be Tucker's job to provide the spin for yet further waste and pollution of our nation's most valuable and needed resource.

Would it be too cynical to suggest that Chris Schacht and Mike Rann have a “gentleman’s agreement” to the effect that once the clean-up of illegally dumped wastes is concluded, Marathon will have its exploration licence restored with “close monitoring” by PIRSA and the EPA to assuage public concern about further despoliation?

If Marathon is sitting on such an undisclosed understanding, it would help explain its continual financial commitment to the project at a time when its capital flow from all operations is absolutely minimal.

Marathon Chairman Peter Williams was quite upbeat in his address to shareholders but once again was referring mainly to inferred – not proven – grades of uranium ore at Mt Gee. The red areas in their power point presentation don’t show the drill holes/pinholes, so they are guessing, but they reckon they have the motherlode for the Beverly uranium mine, that’s why they are excited.

That’s why Reg Sprigg sat on it, and some other deposits too. He gave it maximum protection from mining by declaring a sanctuary and reintroducing the yellow-footed rock wallaby. The problem was then and is now – that it never should have been a private sanctuary. It should always have been returned to the ownership of the indigenous custodians to manage as a national park.

It is interesting that former state Premier Don Dunstan’s old law firm got in on the act through Sam Appleyard who now works for Marathon. They’ve known all along, which is why the Dunstan government didn’t take it on as a sanctuary or park. The big money that supported the Dunstan government wanted the option of development one day. Local journalist Des Ryan wrote a book on Dunstan, It’s Grossly Improper, which reveals how corrupt he was – and was virtually run out of town as a consequence.

We repeat our call for Marathon to be thrown out of Arkaroola once and for all, and our support for Greens MP Mark Parnell’s bill to outlaw any mining in Arkaroola.

And in anticipation of a deal to let Marathon resume its exploration, we call again for the creation of an Independent Commission Against Corruption in South Australia.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Protect the Great Artesian Basin! Stop Olympic Dam!

Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzacott told Directors and shareholders of BHP Billiton today (Thursday Nov 26 2008) at the Melbourne AGM to “close down the Olympic Dam uranium mine immediately” and to “stop taking the sacred water out of the Great Artesian Basin”.

This courageous and defiant call was made by a man who has spent his life standing up to some of the giants in mining, industry and politics on behalf of his land and his people.

The local (South Australian) media have buried Buzzacott’s comments and it’s been left to a New Zealand site to give voice to his anger at BHP Billiton.[1]

Olympic Dam

The Olympic Dam mine, sometimes also known as Roxby Downs from the name of the nearby town at which the miners live, is an underground copper and uranium mine originally opened by Western Mining Corporation in 1987[2].

WMC was bought out by BHP Billiton in 2005. BHP Billiton has plans for a massive expansion of the mine using open cut methods. The mine will become the largest in the world[3].

Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is an underground aquifer covering nearly 25 per cent of Australia. Bores sunk into the GAB frequently released high volume and high temperature water with a wastage rate estimated to be around 80 per cent.

Several decades ago, the flow rate from bores diminished forcing governments to seal a number of wells in an effort to preserve the resource[4].

A decade or so ago, a debate erupted about the nature of the GAB. Government and industry sources favour the view that the GAB is an open system replenished by rainfall in Northern Queensland[5].

However, a different view has been put by others, most notable Prof. Lance Endersbee, who contends that the GAB is a closed system of non-renewable plutonic water, and that continuing to use the waters from this source has huge implications for, amongst other things, “potential recovery of oil and gas”[6].

Expansion of Olympic Dam

BHP Billiton currently draws about 35 megalitres of water per day from the GAB for mining purposes. This water comes from two borefields north of Olympic Dam. It does not pay for this water. Therefore there is no incentive not to waste the water, nor to limit the future draw on the borefields. When the mine is expanded in a couple of years’ time, it will require at least an extra 125 megalitres per day. However, artesian pressure in the borefields is declining and BHP Billiton has announced plans for a desalination plant in the north of Spencer’s Gulf.

Who wins and who loses?

In addition to waters required for mining, GAB water is used for stock, for domestic purposes and for township supplies. The Queensland city of Toowoomba announced on October 18, 2008 that it would become the first major urban centre to draw water from the GAB, having rejected proposals for the use of recycled and treated effluent. The town is expected to draw 2000 megalitres of water from the GAB each year.

Ultimately all of these users will be losers for, even if the “open system” lobbyists are correct, the rate of usage is many times more than that claimed for acquifer recharge by infiltration of rainwater[7]. And if they are wrong, and Endersbee’s “closed system” is correct and accounts for the major part of GAB water as a non-renewable source, then we collectively - as a nation – are in for very bad times ahead.

Aboriginal custodians

Which brings us back to the Aboriginal custodians of the land.

No-one has more to lose than these people. Some of the major concentrations of Aboriginal communities are found on land above the GAB.

Their knowledge of the water resources is the accumulation of many tens of thousands of years of practical experience in surviving and maintaining communities on the driest continent in the world.

As the Aboriginal worker sacked from the Challenger gold mine is reported to have said, water in the centre of Australia is like a spider’s web of streams under the ground, and they knew where to dig for it[8].

In the southern sweep of the GAB, adjacent to Olympic Dam, are a series of mound springs that provided a continuous flow of water. These mound springs are now endangered and some have dried up, threatening rare native flora and fauna[9].

As custodians of the land, with obligations of tradition and custom attached to it, Aboriginal people don’t want to see the waters wasted, nor to have them disappear, literally beneath their feet.

People hesitant to speak out

Nor do many non-indigenous people living in the outback.

However, BHP Billiton is a formidable opponent. It has the power to make its presence felt. It wields very large economic and political sticks, and has the resources to play divide and rule games, as did its predecessor WMC[10].

“We’re too afraid up here to make too many waves,” one person told me. “Many here in the outback have no confidence in the mining operations being beneficial in the long run.”

Another summed it up, saying “He who holds the gold and silver makes the rules. Melbourne and Adelaide might be about to run out of water, but the carpetbaggers are about to rampage our state. Without free water for BHP there’s no mining.”

Even online, some websites are showing evidence of people’s outrage at BHP’s water grab.

“Alex” responded to a Coober Pedy Regional Times posting of Endersbee’s “plutonic waters” article with the comment that “The GAB give-away has got to stop, BHP and the rest of the consortium know it’s a steal…sucking the lifeblood out of this beautiful nation”. “Christina” highlighted the risk of “permanent radioactive pollution of the GAB through uranium mining”, whilst “InTheKnowRoxby”, a former miner at the site wrote that “Most workers who come out of Roxby have either been carelessly radiated and buggered off. Or they are appalled by the practices around water which are nothing short of a criminal coverup…what we ex-Olympic Dam workers predict as the end of the Great Artesian Basin”[11].

Bullying the elders

The Olympic Dam operation was exempted from the requirements of nearly every relevant state piece of legislation back in 1982[12]. As the current owners of Olympic Dam, BHP Billiton must consult with traditional owners and get their consent to development activities; however, BHP Billiton can choose who to consult with and how to consult, and can determine the level of protection, if any, to be accorded to Aboriginal heritage sites.

At the moment, BHP is in a hurry to get signatures of approval for the expansion of the mine from a group of Kokatha elders who are being dragged into a meeting on December 14, 2008. However, there is some resistance from within this group. One source reports that some of the elders are not only reluctant to sign, but want to withdraw signatures already obtained from now-deceased elders. BHP is confident that even one signature will suffice to provide evidence of consultation and consent.

“The traditional aborigine is not interested in the Aussie currency, it’s only the new generation,” a resident of Roxby Downs told me. “However, the elders have the first right to signatures. It seems like they (BHP) can’t wait for them to die out. They (the elders) are always accused of just wanting money, which amuses me as isn’t that what companies like BHP want??? Pot calling the kettle black especially with BHP being an offshore company.”

Mineral rich, water poor

Our illustrious Premier keeps bragging that we are mineral rich, that we are set to become the “Saudi Arabia of uranium mining”.

Nowhere does he alert us to the fact that pressure in the GAB has dropped dramatically.

BHP Billiton continues to bleed the GAB dry without paying a cent for its water wastage. Cyanide used in mineral recovery (leaching) and radioactive wastes lie about as surface waters, poisoning wildlife and filtering back into local shallow aquifers. Not content with what it has already, BHP Billiton is currently trying to buy properties along the Birdsville Track...they need MORE water than the GAB can deliver.

For the sake of the shareholders of an already bloated multinational, South Australia and other parts of the country are being damaged for all time[13].

This must stop.

We must take an interest in this issue and put country first.

The legal exemptions granted to WMC and inherited by BHP Billiton in the form of the SA Roxby Downs Indenture Act must be repealed!

The voice of Kevin Buzzacott must be heard in South Australia!

[4] and
[6] and


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Masters of war invade the classroom

While everyone’s attention yesterday was on the Industrial Commission where the Australian Education Union and the SA government were at loggerheads over a planned 24 hour strike, State Premier Mike Rann was at Aberfoyle Park High School launching a “partnership” between the school and US arms giant Raytheon.
(Nuclear "bunker busters" used by Israelis against Palestinian freedom fighters are made by Raytheon.)

Rann is 100% behind the militarization of the state’s economy, meaning, inevitably, its integration into the US military and industrial complex. The government actively promotes SA as the “Defence state” and pursues the strategic goal of “growing Defence presence in SA”.

Google Raytheon and you get the normal corporate presentations which should be looked at to get some feel for the scope and nature of its operations. It is the fifth-largest defence contractor in the world, and the fourth largest in the US. It is a manufacturer of the million dollar Patriot missiles (right) and the so-called “bunker buster” bombs currently in use in the Middle East and Afghanistan. It also produces radars, satellite sensors and military communications equipment.

Wikipedia has a useful entry which records, among other things, a Raytheon employee’s attempt to censor the site, together with various legal malpractices for which it has been convicted.

The Corpwatch website has useful critical information, but one of the most interesting and inspiring stories relating to Raytheon concerns the unanimous jury verdict acquitting the Raytheon 9 who, in August 2006, trashed the Belfast office of Raytheon at the time of the war in Lebanon. They mounted a legal defence based around the argument that they were decommissioning the company to prevent it committing war crimes during the war.

Raytheon is establishing a growing presence in Australia. Last year it entered into a $1 million partnership with Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre. This was described at the time as the company’s “largest community initiative undertaken by Raytheon outside the United States.” The partnership allows Raytheon employees to act as “guides” in a travelling exhibition organised by Questacon aimed at inspiring young Australians to choose a career in science and maths.
(A couple of old war criminal buddies, Ratheon boss, left, and then PM Howard in June 2007)

Raytheon underwrites similar “educational initiatives” in the US aimed at entrapping aspiring scientists and mathematicians in the manufacture of advanced weapons systems for the US war machine.

Most recently in Adelaide Raytheon announced that it had signed an agreement to lease a new facility in the commercial precinct of Techport Australia that will become the Raytheon Australia South Australian Engineering Centre. In SA Raytheon acts, amongst other things, as mission systems integrator for the Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer program.

The company did suffer a setback last year in the Northern Territory when Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Tony Fitzgerald rejected an application from the company for an exemption designed to allow it to exclude from employment people whose race or nationality were deemed to be a security threat to the US military. In an unusual move, Fitzgerald published the reasons for his rejection, depsite the company having withdrawn its application. It makes interesting reading (here).

An unusual secrecy descended over Aberfoyle Park High School in the days leading up to the launch of the Raytheon deal.

According to teachers who spoke to local organisation Progressive Educators, they had no knowledge that the deal was in the offing until Wednesday afternoon when they were told that there would be the launch of a commercial partnership and a few heavies around the school the next day.

On Thursday, the science area was apparently cordoned off (the school recently erected a 2 metre high spike-topped perimeter fence that makes it look more like Stalag 13 than a pace of public education). Later that morning, in front of a select group, the state Premier revealed the school-Raytheon partnership which will provide $150,000 per year for three years to provide laptops to the school’s “gifted” students program. In return, Raytheon engineers and scientists will have access to the “gifted” students and “mentor” them in the direction of possible future employment with the company.
(One wonders if the company will be so honest as to warn any students whose race or nationality will make them unacceptable to Raytheon as future employees, not to bother with the "mentoring"!)

Only at the end of the day were the staff informed, by a circular from the principal, about the deal.

This sets an amazingly ugly precedent for the incorporation of South Australian public education into the needs of the corporate world. (A local primary school was recently told that a local land developer had been placed on the panel to select its next principal. The education union protested and prevented this from happening).

No consultation with staff or students. One presumes, but not with any great confidence, that the school’s governing council, which has parent representation, was consulted, but that would have been as far as any consultation with parents went.

No discussion of the ethics or morality of engaging teenage students with the recruiting agents of one of the world’s largest manufacturers of weapons of death.

The whole process is contemptuous of democratic and peaceful values.

And the fact that Rann, who has been unable to find the time to deal with the year-long dispute between his government and education workers, can prioritise his time to include blessing such a profane event speaks volumes of his supposedly social-democratic government’s real values.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Taxi Strike in Chongqing

(Reprinted from the on-line Caijing magazine. Further links at the bottom. Photo shows police arriving to inspect a taxi overturned during the strike.)

Chaotic Taxi Strike Pays Off in Chongqing 11-15 10:47 Caijing Magazine comments( 0 )

The official response to a walkout by thousands of Chongqing taxi drivers quelled tension and satisfied some demands.

By staff reporter Li Weiao and Deng Hai

A two-day strike by more than 8,000 taxi drivers in Chongqing, China’s largest municipality, ended peacefully after the city government pledged to address grievances and allow formation of a long-sought trade union.

Calm returned after taxi drivers returned to work November 5. The incident formally closed the next day, after the local Communist Party secretary, Bo Xilai, called for a taxi driver union during a roundtable discussion with drivers and citizens.

But tensions ran high in the city of 13 million during the walkout, which began on a Monday morning. Taxi drivers refused to take passengers, forcing commuters into packed buses. Businesses were disrupted, rendering the city dysfunctional.

Violence erupted as well. Strikers attacked some of the few drivers who stayed on the job. Drivers who picked up passengers had their cars blocked, or even smashed (see photo, below).

Why Strike?

What prompted such a large-scale strike by taxi drivers? The municipality’s deputy secretary, Cui Jian, offered a four-point explanation.

First, he said, drivers were upset about the management fees collected by taxi companies. In the past year, Cui said, companies set fees arbitrarily, charging each driver between 10,000 and 20,000 yuan a year.

In addition, some drivers think the base fare – 5 yuan – is too low. Fuel shortages, which led to long queues at filling stations, was a third complaint. Another reason for the walkout, Cui said, was the prevalence of unlicensed “black taxis” whose drivers compete against legitimate taxis for customers.

Disgruntled drivers who spoke with Caijing also cited the rising cost of living.

“I think the real reason is that living costs are going up,” a driver who refused to be named said November 6. “Our people’s incomes have not risen at the same pace or level (as costs). Instead we earn less than before. We only earn 2,000 yuan per month, no matter how hard we work.”

Wang Shaolong, a driver with the Gaobo Taxi Co., said take-home wages have actually fallen over the past decade. “Ten years ago, we earned more than 3,000 per month,” Wang said. “But now we only earn 2,000. We earn less even though we work harder.”

A taxi driver well known in Chongqing for filing a lawsuit against local traffic police, Yang Xiaoming, said reasons for the strike can be found in the official statement as well as on the street. But he argued that a fundamental reason is the method of profit distribution at taxi companies.

Tension caused by conflicting interests in the local taxi industry has been growing, Yang said, and the bubble was bound to burst someday. Moreover, drivers lack job protection, which affects their benefits such as social security, as well as labor relations and workloads.

Government Action

Amid the turmoil, party secretary Bo called in department heads to analyze the strike. Immediately, a plan was launched: Public transportation was expanded, taxi companies were urged to encourage drivers back to work, supplies of the natural gas that fuels local taxis increased, and the city pledged to fight black taxis more strenuously.

The party faulted the city transportation commission for “not being responsible for a long time” and said it “should be held responsible.” The party and city administrators ordered transportation chief Ding Chun to pinpoint mistakes, name those responsible for the strike, and impose penalties.

Ding submitted a punishment report to the party committee November 5. Afterward, police said they were investigating persons who allegedly manipulated the strike. In a November 7 interview with Caijing, city government spokesperson Zhou Bo said those involved in the violence against picket line-crossing drivers had broken the law and should be punished.

“But we should differentiate between deliberate behavior and the normal appeals of drivers,” Zhou said. “We should not impose theoretical concepts on normal behavior.”

Four press conferences were held by the city government between the afternoon of November 3 – the strike’s first day – and the afternoon of November 5. Thus, city officials on the one hand dealt directly with the matter but, on the other, tried to win media support through public relations. “In today’s Internet era, hiding things does not help,” said Zhou. “It will only make things worse.”

Meet the Drivers

By 6 p.m. on November 4, some 80 percent of the city’s taxi drivers had returned to work. And by 8 a.m. the next day, transportation was back to normal.

But the city government had more work to do. To defuse the tension, a meeting was arranged by Bo and other government officials with 40 taxi drivers, 20 citizen representatives, five taxi company representatives, and two fuel station representatives.

The discussion was aired live by a local TV news channel, a radio station, the Xinhua News Chongqing channel, the People’s Daily Net and other media. It was also podcast live on the Internet.

Bo and other officials sat among the taxi drivers. The atmosphere was relaxed; no one at the table sat behind a name card. The conversation lasted three, peaceful hours. People spoke freely.
“We did not arrange (the discussion) or decide who would speak or when,” city spokesperson Zhou said. “Otherwise, the audience would know and feel anxious, which would make things even worse.”

Bo brought a stack of paper that a participating official told Caijing was “a collection of the most outrageous critiques from the Internet about the drivers’ strike.”

The insurance issue was raised by one driver, even though another driver who attended told Caijing that his “company leader told us we should not raise medical and pension insurance issues at the meeting.”

At the end, Bo made several promises, including pledges to “crack down on black taxis,” ease the fuel crunch, and reduce the management fee. Also, government officials said they would continue negotiating with taxi companies in hopes of lowering management fees.

The open discussion led to positive media coverage and Internet reviews, and many have argued that it improved the government’s credibility.

Taxi Driver Association

One incredible aspect of the strike was that almost every driver in the city was involved, even though none belong to an organized union.

A proposal for a taxi driver union was raised as early as 2005. But the plan was rejected. Drivers later repeated their wish from time to time, but never was the request well received.

“We thought a labor union would be impossible,” Yang said. “So we did not mention it again.”

So it was quite a surprise when, toward the end of the meeting with drivers, Bo embraced the union idea.

“We have an association for taxi companies, but we do not have an association for taxi drivers,” he said. “I think in the future taxi drivers should have an organization to more effectively and regularly make their appeals.”

Forming an association for taxi drivers is “a systematic guarantee,” Bo said.

Yang said he “will definitely compete” for the position of leader of the future union. Such a union chief should have integrity and represent the interests of drivers, he said.

Would an organized and empowered drivers’ association strengthen to the point of competing against the government, making it more difficult for the government to deal with similar cases? Zhou said city officials don’t think so.

“This is surely a difficult question that Secretary Bo answered for us,” Zhou told Caijing. “We will not see a taxi driver association as a rival against the government, but as a communication channel to better understand their wishes and requests. We have confidence and the ability.”


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Desalination Plant: Why the rush?

(Port Stanvac, above, was originally opened as an oil refinery owned and operated by Standard Oil and Vacuum Oil, two of the world's largest oil companies. A few years ago, then owner Mobil Oil closed the site down, leaving a badly contaminated site which has yet to be remediated by Mobil. According to the SA Minister for Water Security, Karlene Maywald, the cost of puchasing the site, and its remediation, are part of the $1.34 million estimated cost of the desalination plant. It's lucky the taxpayers have such big pockets!)

The rush to proceed with the desalination plant at Port Stanvac is driven by two things:
- the need by government to be seen to be doing something about Adelaide’s water crisis,
- the commitment by the government through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements to hand over opportunities for infrastructure investment to big monopoly companies.

One cannot fault a government that attempts to address the water crisis providing two circumstances apply:
- solving one problem does not lead to other problems occurring in its wake,
- the project represents value for money and is a benefit to the community.

The proposed desalination plant fails on both grounds!

Environmental Problems

The most obvious negative effect of the plant is the pumping out into the Gulf of St Vincent (left) of a plume of brine which, given its density and the sluggishness of Gulf waters, will settle like a blanket over a wide area of the seabed, destroying sea grasses, fish and mollusks. Larvae of species such as prawns, razorfish, scallops, abalone and sea urchins will be sucked into the intake pipes and killed. The plant is the most wasteful option in terms of the energy required for production of potable water.

We reject the EIS which minimizes and dismisses these problems!

Paying for Private Profit (PPPs)

All PPP projects are required to develop a Public Sector Comparator (PSC) to establish that they are better value for money than traditional methods by which governments meet the cost of infrastructure growth.

In practice, most PSCs never see the light of day, hidden under various “commercial confidentiality” clauses until well after the signing of contracts.

Not only will the plant need to be run for the financial benefit of private company profits and dividends to shareholders, but it is almost certain that a “take or pay” clause will be inserted in the contract to ensure that the government will keep channeling taxpayer dollars to the private operators at a certain agreed level whether or not the community requires water from it at a particular point in time.

The government has acknowledged that the consumers will be hit with annual price hikes in their water bills. Hendrik Gout, in the Independent Weekly (Nov 14-20, 2008) provides further evidence of how high these costs might spiral.

The SA Auditor-General, in his June 2008 report (written before Foley’s recent disclosures of SA exposure to the financial melt-down), warned:

"The credit market crunch experienced in 2007-08 and continuing at the time of finalising this Report, raise the credit and financing risk of the PPPs. In such extraordinary circumstances, progress of these transactions should be done with high degree of caution and may indeed need review of assumptions and information used to date. This may be a significant risk to the fundamental premise of whether a PPP provides a net benefit to the public compared to conventional public sector procurement."

Rather than proceeding with “a high degree of caution”, the government is pushing full steam ahead for a PPP desalination plant.

We reject the PPP as a model for public infrastructure development!

No to the desalination plant on environmental grounds!

No to paying for private profit for a public utility!

Demand a return to the social responsibility of governments!

The Organising Group for the Spirit of Eureka Committee (SA)


From the Spirit of Eureka Charter:

16. The acceptance by government that infrastructure such as education, health, public transport, energy, telecommunications, postal services, water and community services is vital to the collective well-being of all citizens and must be publicly owned and managed, and acceptance that the efficiency of public services must be measured in terms of the quality of service provided as well as economic cost.

20. Protection and promotion of a healthy and sustainable environment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rann forces Dublin residents to take Marathon waste

In the late 1990s, a watchtower housing an armed guard who never slept was erected near Dublin.

This was no Irish joke, but a very serious protest by residents of the tiny South Australian town on the road between Adelaide and Port Wakefield.

The object of their protest was the planned Inkerman landfill or waste management site proposed by the then Liberal state government of Premier John Olsen.

What had begun as a few simple slogans on banners attached to fences became a celebrated display of quite sophisticated public art as residents developed momentum behind their opposition to a private dump next to their homes.

A giant cockroach and other remarkable constructions appeared over the next few months.

The protests delayed the development of the landfill site, but with the support of the new Labor government of Premier Mike Rann, site owner Waste Management Pacific (SA) opened for business in 2005.

In 2004, TPI (TransPacific Industries, as Waste Management Pacific SA) was successful in winning a 10 year contract with Wastecare SA, (a regional subsidiary comprising 6 local government councils) for an effective public private partnership (PPP) for the delivery of waste management infrastructure and service.

Under a design build and operate (DBO) contract, TPI completed an $11 million Resource Recovery and Waste Transfer Station (RRWTS) owned by Wastecare SA to receive waste and dispatches residual waste under a separate long term contract at its Inkerman landfill.

The Inkerman Landfill has just been announced as the lucky recipient of waste from Marathon Resources’ required clean-up of materials illegally buried at Mt Gee in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. Marathon had an exploration licence and was drilling for uranium samples within the Sanctuary.

Leigh Creek and Hawker had previously rejected the waste.

Now Rann is using the fact that the Inkerman Landfill has been declared by the state government to be a “major project development” under the state’s planning control to bypass the local community and help kickstart Marathon’s clean-up at Mt Gee.

This is likely to anger local residents who believe that it is their “ability to ‘keep the bastards honest’” that has led to the Landfill operating within acceptable bounds. This was the view of Mr John Stewart, previously an anti-Landfill campaigner, who supported an application last year by TPI for a Landfill Excellence Award.

“Under the ever watchful eye of the community, the overall appearance of the landfill is very neat and tidy,” wrote Mr Stewart.

But the dumping of the Marathon wastes goes beyond neatness and tidiness.

Wakefield Regional Council CEO Phil Barry also wrote, in June 2007, in support of TPI’s application for the award, saying “Incorporated in the professional approach is ongoing communication with the local community and Council, including the continuation of a landfill consultative committee involving Council and community representatives.”

That was June 2007. Now, Mr Barry complains that the local Council had no say about taking the exploration waste from Arkaroola.

“We would expect the state system to be communicating to the local council and local community on the matter,” he said.

“We have had a say in the past…the operators had set up a community consultative committee to which community members and the council were represented, but it’s also known that the local community committee only gets told possibly what it needs to get told….there’s been no feedback to that community committee or the council on that latest matter.”

So here we have the arrogant, aloof and out-of-touch Rann Government not bothering to take the time to consult a local community known to have had serious past concerns about the operation of a major landfill on its doorstep, and convinced only that its own watchfulness is “keeping the bastards honest”.

Instead, the “pro-growth, pro-mining and pro-business” so-called Labor government displays the worst features of a crony capitalist regime in working to a timeline that suits the interests of Arkaroola environment despoiler Marathon Resources.

Mike Rann’s name needs to be added to that of John Olsen as an enforcer of toxic waste on a small rural community.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Public Education, Not Profiteers, Should Run Early Childhood

There is a huge public outcry against the Federal Government’s announced $22 million bail-out of failed private child care chain ABC Learning.

No doubt this reflects some of the anger of people around the world at the use of tax payer money to bail out the finance capitalists in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

Some of it is also directed personally at entrepreneurial owner Eddie Groves and his estranged wife Le Neve. Shareholders in particular are hopping mad at the couple, and other directors, who promoted the expansion of the company into overseas markets, only to find that the childcare colossus had financial feet of clay in the form of margin loans taken out by Groves and other directors.

Groves built an empire on the social need for child care facilities for young children belonging to working couples and single working parents. He entered a market that had been hitherto largely the province of community-based providers and competed aggressively with them for market share.
Groves was assisted in the expansion of his private company by conservative Federal governments who shared his ideology of private provision of social service. They encouraged his growth by the introduction of subsidies, guaranteeing a reliable stream of income from taxation revenue.

However, Groves and other for-profit operators should never have been allowed near child care.

And child care for working parents should never have been divorced from the issue of a public entitlement to educational development of young children in their pre-school years.

I don’t have scope to expound on the latter point in detail here. For those interested in the issue, the eminent expert in the field, Dr Fraser Mustard recently released his report Investing in the Early Childhood Years here: and it deals extensively with recent research into brain development and the crucial role of the early years in the development of children. (Mustard was employed by the South Australian Government as its Thinker in Residence between 2006-07.)

One of Mustard’s key recommendations to the SA government, however, was no. 11.2:

In keeping with the ideal of public education, the Government of South Australia should incorporate its preschool program into the programs of the early child development and parenting centres and fully fund them for all children from birth.”

If implemented, this recommendation would overthrow the existing subordination of the birth to pre-school years to day care and fee-for-service private providers and be the first real act of the Education Revolution that has to date failed to materialise in any thing other than sycophancy to reactionary US ideologues like New York City’s Joseph Klein.

Mustard’s recommendation points the way forward for the government to take-over ABC Learning, not as a bail-out that keeps it alive as a profit-oriented business, but as an act of transformation into a government provided entitlement for all children in their early years.

Working alongside community-run centres, the strength of the public sector in the provision of early childhood education and care, with complementary legislation, could see the full implementation of the raft of recommendations made by Fraser Mustard.

Public education, not private providers, should run early childhood education and care!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Chinese increase stake in Marathon

Just what was said between SA Premier Mike Rann and former Labor Federal Senator and SA Labor heavyweight Chris Schacht (left) when they were in China together last month?

The two were part of a South Australian business delegation promoting amongst other things, sales of uranium to the Chinese.

How terribly convenient for Marathon Resources Director Chris Schacht to have the State Premier in tow before a uranium-hungry Chinese audience.

Marathon yesterday announced a 2 for 5 share issue to raise $7.7 million (ie existing shareholders can buy two shares for every five that they now own).

But how could they possibly encourage investors to put further money into a company that has been trading as low as 22 cents per share in recent times?

Obviously some expression of market confidence was required.

Enter Chen Zeng.

Chen Zeng is the Australian-based representative of the massive China International Trade and Investment Corporation (CITIC). CITIC has had a ten-year relationship with Queenslander Ken Talbot’s Macarthur Coal and last year upped its stake in the company to just under 20%, thus avoiding the need for the federal government’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval.

When CITIC bought into Marathon Resources, an equal purchase was made by Talbot Group Holdings Pty Ltd. A similar pattern of matching purchases was made in relation to explorer Southern Uranium early in 2007: Talbot Group and CITIC formed a joint venture to take a 17.6 per cent stake in the company.

CITIC and Talbot currently together hold approximately 20.9% of Marathon’s shares. Chen Zeng is obviously aware that investors generally have lost confidence in Marathon and would sensibly have balked at the prospect of investing more Chinese money in a sinking ship.

Yet Chen Zeng has approved a further CITIC purchase of $2 million worth of the 32 cent per share new issue, and has Talbot right alongside promising to purchase an equal amount. Thus, $4 million or just over half of the planned capital increase has been accounted for by just two major investors.

(CITIC’s share acquisition will take it above the level allowed by the FIRB without approval, but Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan’s unease about the role of Chinese sovereign wealth funds, the approval is sure to be a mere formality.)

Two million Aussie dollars is loose change for a giant like CITIC, but even so, there must be some assurances in the air about the future prospects for Marathon.

Some sort of intelligent insider guesswork?

There would need to have been, because in addition to all of the hassles surrounding the indefinite ban on further drilling of exploration holes at Mt Gee, there is also the delicate issue of SA Green’s MP Mark Parnell’s soon-to-be-introduced Bill to outlaw any mining in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Did Rann give any indications to Schacht about how his government would vote on this Bill? And assuming the Bill is defeated (and that’s by no means certain), were there any discussions about how the government might make a lifting of the ban on the exploration license palatable to a generally hostile public?

In their details of the share offer, Marathon says the “Board is confident that the suspension will be lifted”.

And further, “Whilst there is a risk this new bill could be passed, the Marathon Board believes the risk to be small…”

So, if the Bill is defeated, will we hear Miner Mike Rann quoting his PIRSA inspectors to say that Marathon has successfully remediated the areas at which it had illegally buried wastes; and adding self-righteously that it has learned from its mistakes, that it is genuinely working with all stakeholders, including the Sanctuary owners and the local Adnyamathanha people and that it has committed itself to undertaking all further exploratory drilling in an ecologically sensitive manner, to world’s best practice standards; and that as a consequence, it has been decided to lift the ban on further exploratory drilling whilst closely monitoring and supervising what remains of its exploration activities; that, depending on its behaving in an acceptable manner during this time, there would be no obstacles to it submitting an Environmental Impact Statement and an application to commence mining; and that the State can only benefit from the promised returns from one of Australia’s largest undeveloped uranium deposits and blah blah blah…..

Even as I write it, I can hear the irritating sound of the Premier’s voice delivering the lines….

It’s a pity Rann is so arrogant and out of touch, and so besotted with the corporate world, and so determined to recredentialise the Labor Party as “pro-business, pro-mining, pro-growth” to the exclusion of everything else, for I fear that I might be right.

Never have I longed to be so wrong about something.