Leader columnist and Maules Creek farmer Phil Laird will be one of the rural types protesting in Sydney tomorrow as farmers take on the government over the its draft strategic land use policy and the mining and resources exploration encroachment on agricultral lands. Here’s his opinion on a topic of dissent and discontent.
I HAD to laugh when reading a comment from coal seam gas proponent and state government MLC Scot Macdonald regarding the “greater good” for NSW.
Unfortunately, it is not funny, if this thinking is guiding the contentious mining and land use policy of the O’Farrell government.
The myth of the “greater good” usually comes with negatives and is often used to justify a range of unwelcome outcomes, including wars and torture.
Individuals and their economic interests, amenity and health are reduced to “things” to be used and traded off against other “things”, such as individual wealth and political power.
What is conveniently lost is the nature and distribution of the supposed good. It is often argued that a monetary benefit to one person, when compared to the unmeasured cost to the environment and the community, must be for the greater good. Anyone with a different view is a NIMBY or a Green.
This conflict is at the heart of the social licence that is missing in mining policy in NSW. Policy framed on the notion of the greater good will have, and is having, an impact on individual welfare and the common good across the state and future generations.
For the current generation, the draft mining and land use policy itself presents a stark example.
Minimum air-quality standards in larger towns such as Narrabri and Gunnedah have been defined, while the smaller towns, villages and localities have no such protection.
Rural landholders and smaller communities can be subject to dust emissions and the associated health impacts in excess of these standards, presumably for the greater good.
Even stranger is the situation where export markets for coal seam gas opened up through the developing port at Gladstone will drive up domestic gas prices, for the benefit of large multinational companies – so much so that proponents of coal seam gas in NSW are arguing for even more development, to offset the coming price pain.
Our future generations will question this mismanagement of our energy security and the extraction of our non-renewable assets at giveaway prices.
They will rightly regard as insufficient minimal royalties, such as 8.2 per cent, or $13.94 for open-cut coking coal valued at $170 a tonne, or a five-year royalty holiday for coal seam gas.
History will judge unfavourably the newly declared conservationists of the conservative ilk, such as Tony Abbott, who are happy to water down our environmental protections, abolish a mining tax to pay for our non-renewable resources and eliminate a market mechanism to help minimise the impacts of climate change.
Instead of a powerful sovereign fund for our nation with a thriving renewable-energy industry, what coming generations may have to console themselves with is a doomsday scenario – a decimated environment, contaminated water supplies, aged coal infrastructure adjacent to depleted mine sites, with prolonged drought and even higher electricity prices, all facilitated for the greater good.
This is not the in keeping with egalitarian spirit of the Anzacs and it is unlikely that those who sacrificed themselves for our nation would look favourably on the loss of our resources to sovereign fund-owned corporations for a relative pittance.
The billions in profits repatriated to foreign companies are a cost to our national economy and, as such, act against our long-term best interests. What all this illustrates is that there is no one looking after the common good.
Planning departments are focused on incremental projects that are proponent-driven, rather than carefully managing our resources for future generations.
There is a rush to get the minerals and energy out, to satisfy the greed of certain individuals and the electoral cycles of others.
The argument of the greater good is a convenient device used in the absence of proper planning, to mask the negative impacts to some while seriously benefiting others.
In the end, everyone’s interest can be circumvented for the greater good, even to the extent that there is only one bloated person left standing with all the good.
If governments will not or cannot act, it is up to the community to protect the interests of existing and future generations.
We must come together to protect our environmental assets, farmland, water supplies and climate.
The NSW Farmers’ Association, CWA and environmental and other community groups are rallying in Sydney at Parliament House tomorrow at noon for the common good. It would be worthwhile for you to be there.