MAC: Mines and Communities

Carrying coals to Newcastle: a port in a storm

Published by MAC on 2014-05-10
Source: Statement, The Australian

According to the Australian environmental action group, Rising Tide Newcastle, there are 34 coal mine proposals currently before the New South Wales Planning Department, most of which would produce coal for export through a fourth terminal at Newcastle (T4).

Newcastle is the largest coal export port in the world, and its expansion will add 66 million tonnes per year export capacity if allowed to go ahead. 

BHP Billiton is among those planning to utilise the port; the company is also the world's biggest exporter of coking coal.

Following another citizen protest against the port in early May 2014, John Mackenzie of the Hunter Community Environment Centre explains (below) why the port proposal has incited so much opposition.

Meanwhile, one supporter of the project, Nathan Tinkler (owner of the eponymous Tinkler Group and one of Australia's leading mining entrepreneurs) faces charges of trying to corruptly influence politicians in favour of the project.

Update: On 2 May, the Mining Journal announced that the New South Wales government had sold a 99-year lease on Newcastle Port to a consortium consisting of Hastings Funds Management and China Merchants Group, for US$1.62 billion.

Terminal 4 unites in community opposition

John MacKenzie

Hunter Community Environment Centre

7 May 2014

No amount of planning can make an infrastructure proposal with unacceptable impacts acceptable. And planning that merely lauds the positive aspects of a proposal, and does nothing to minimise, offset or compensate for the burden of its impacts, is more spin than substance.

PWCS (Port Waratah Coal Services) would no doubt prefer if the assessment of the impacts of their proposed coal terminal were limited to those inside its perimeter chain link fence. But the reality is that its negative impacts extend far beyond the port, will be experienced and endured by communities throughout the Hunter, and for generations.

It is little wonder that opposition to the proposal for a fourth coal terminal has forged an unprecedented alliance between resident, environmental, and community groups across our region.

At its core, the overarching community objection to T4 is one of principle: no infrastructure project should burden so many, in exchange for the private benefit of so few. The catalogue of T4′s public burden is diverse and wide-ranging.

T4 will add more particle pollution to our air. Particulate pollution in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley frequently breaches World Health Organisation recommended levels. The community already lives with levels of pollution in the air that are injurious to our health, even without the additional burden of the fourth terminal.

Despite the repeated insistence of NSW Health and the residents of the impacted suburbs, PWCS have stubbornly refused to conduct a health impact assessment that would properly assess the risks of T4, particularly to vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with chronic disease. A health assessment is not negotiable for a project of
this magnitude.

The health impacts of coal mining and haulage are well documented. People living in coal-affected communities are more likely to suffer heart, lung and kidney cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and birth defects. There is a direct link between long-term exposure to particle pollution and hospital admissions, emergency department attendance, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure
and premature death.

The proposed terminal and its uncovered coal piles would displace several hundred hectares of wetland that comprise the Hunter Estuary, widely regarded as the single most significant site for migratory shorebirds in New South Wales, among the top ten in Australia, and internationally recognised via its listing under the Ramsar Convention in 1984.

The estuary is among the last remaining vestiges of habitat anywhere in the world for the 112 species of waterbirds and 45 species of migratory birds listed as endangered under international agreements.

The coal demand envisaged by T4 would mean blasting out at least eight large new or expanded open-cut coalmines in the Hunter Valley, Gunnedah Basin and beyond. This means more controversial new mines like those being pushed at Maules Creek, Denman, Gloucester and Wallarah, and more expansions like the one threatening to ruin Bulga.

These mines come at a cost - destroyed remnant bushland, devoured agricultural land, depleted, salinated and acidified aquifers, and dislocated communities. Mining expansion on this scale would tip the precarious balance of industry co-existence in the Hunter Valley
definitively and irreversibly in favour of mining.

T4 is a global warming accelerator. Burning the coal shipped through T4 would produce more than 175 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution each year - throwing fuel on the climate change fire and, undermining efforts to cut emissions in Australia and elsewhere around the world. To give some perspective on the climate cost of T4, it would create more annual CO2 emissions than Pakistan, a country of 193 million people.

The claims by PWCS of endless economic benefit accruing to the city of Newcastle should be viewed with scepticism. The method used by PWCS to determine the economic impact of T4, known as Input-Output Analysis, has been widely discredited due to its inherent bias in over-estimating project benefits. So much so, in fact, that the Australian Bureau of
Statistics rejected this technique in 2001, stating that "[its] inherent shortcomings make [it] inappropriate for economic impact analysis".

This is a project whose benefits were overstated from its inception and which was dreamed up at the height of a coal boom that has long since given way to an oversupplied market. China, the primary envisaged destination for the extra coal T4 would ship, is simultaneously capping its coal use and reducing its reliance on imported coal. Globally, the
market for coal is expected to remain depressed indefinitely, with some analysts predicting it will in fact never recover. In this context, the proposal to increase Newcastle's capacity to 280 Mtpa seems delusional and reckless`.

T4 is not wanted by the Newcastle community. Recently, the Coal Dust Free Streets project, a collaboration between the Hunter Community Environment Centre and residents groups, interviewed twelve hundred residents in the coal affected communities of Stockton, Mayfield, Islington and Tighes. The results speak for themselves: more than 90% of those surveyed agree that the coal wagons and stockpiles should be covered. Only 20% of those polled support T4.

PWCS could have at least put forward a proposal for a new terminal utilising world's best practice in environmental and community health protection, included covered stockpiles and wagon technology.

The use of outdated technology, hardly suited to the port of a modern city and much less the world's already largest coal port, demonstrates the wilful disregard that PWCS have for the health and wellbeing of the community in which they operate.

The decision to approve T4 must weigh the value of its predicted benefits against the public cost. The massive public costs of the project, in terms of the provision of public health, the remediation and restoration of damaged environments, the costs associated with mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and the opportunity of costs of increasing coal dependence, cannot be justified, given that the benefits of T4 will be
limited, flowing all but exclusively to the overseas owners of the major coal companies.

Tinkler disguised $20,000 gift as $20

The Australian

5 May 2014

The Nathan Tinkler group of companies paid $20,000 to the National Party when it found out that one of its ministers would have responsibility for ports, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has heard.

The ICAC also heard evidence that the Tinkler companies may have made an illegal donation to yet another Liberal MP, member for Newcastle Tim Owen. Tinkler company Buildev wanted to build a coal loader at Newcastle. Buildev executive Darren Williams admitted that an email from him suggesting a $20 donation to the Nationals was actually for $20,000.

The ICAC has heard that Mr Williams emailed an executive at a Tinkler company, Patinack Farms, which ran a horse stud and was therefore not a prohibited donor, in order to make payments to Eightbyfive, a company which ICAC alleges was a sham to disguise donations from developers, which are banned under election funding laws

"Mate need $20 in here to help these guys Nats will be running Ports. Do you know anyone who can help?", the email read.

Mr Williams also admitted that Buildev had paid for a leaflet which attacked the sitting Labor member for Newcastle Jodi McKay, who opposed their plans for a coal loader and supported instead a container terminal, and who refused an offer from Mr Tinkler to bankroll her campaign.

He said he had partly authored the leaflet which accused Ms McKay of supporting thousands of trucks travelling through the electorate.

In one email, when Mr Williams finds out that Ms McKay is going to make a public statement about the terminal, he tells a fellow executive at Buildev: "We need to get tim and John a sheet if [of] info as they are going to challenge her involvement."

He agreed that the reference to "tim and John" was to Tim Owens, her Liberal challenger, and John Tate, an independent candidate for the seat and at the time the mayor of Newcastle.

The ICAC was shown an email from Mr Williams to the Tinkler companies' lawyer, who was trying to compile a list of their donations. Mr Williams tell the lawyer: "I think this was for Tim Owen but I can't recall."

ICAC was shown text messages which Mr Williams sent to Mike Gallacher, who resigned as the Minister for Police last Friday, and former Minister for Energy Chris Hartcher, a week after the Coalition came to power in 2011.

In it Mr Williams expresses concern that the new Treasurer (now Premier) Mike Baird would approve the rival container terminal proposal. Mr Williams said he had known Mr Gallacher for 10 years and agreed had a friendly relationship with him.

Counsel assisting the ICAC Geoffrey Watson SC said such access was the pay-off for illicit payments made through Eightbyfive.

Counsel for Mr Gallacher Arthur Moses SC said that after becoming a minister he did not response to representations from Buildev and had delegated them to portfolios ministers or local MPs. Within months of coming to office he had also transferred responsibility for the Hunter Development Corporation to the Minister for Planning Mr Hazzard.

Mr Williams was also questioned about emails and text messages which Mr Watson suggested there was an attempt to fool ICAC and protect Mr Tinkler.

In one email informing him about the ICAC investigation Mr Tinkler wrote: "Oh mate u r f***ing kidding me...another one of [Buildev executive] sharpey's lobbyist mates I am no doubt going to have to wear the headlines before and I don't even no their names nor have ever met."

But a text message from a Patinack Farm executive Troy Palmer told Mr Williams: "NT message was to protect him if any s**t goes down." Mr Watson suggested that Mr Williams had made up a story to try to fool ICAC.

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