Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Big ships, Carmichael and environmental processes

A week ago I had just got home. This morning's post is a simple wander.

To begin with, what do you think of this cruise ship? My reaction was negative, I must say. I didn't want to sail on her! I guess because its so big, so garish, so cumbersome.

On reading this story in the New York Times, my first reaction was that the US had become ungovernable. My second reaction was a feeling of relief that I did not live there.

Meantime, the BBC has joined in on the debate over US Democratic Presidential Bernie Sander's praise of Denmark. This is a debate I plan to join!  However, as an opening salvo, were it not for my perception that Australia had become more socially conformist than the Scandinavian countries but without the benefits, I would have argued that I found the Scandinavian pressures towards conformity personally cloying.

The Canadian elections are Monday. In the UK, Mr Cameron's win was unexpected, given the polling. The Canadian polls have been all over the place, showing a three way tie for much of the time. Now the Liberals are in front, the NDP down. Given the UK results, people are asking whether or not the UK experience might be replicated in Canada, giving Conservative leader Stephen Harper an unexpected electoral victory.

In Canada as in the UK, a first past the post system operates in the lower house. This makes the geographic distribution of party support very important. The NDP has moved from front runner to third because of the sudden decline in its support in Quebec.I won't weep tears of blood if Mr Harper loses. He is to much like Tony Abbott for my liking. Interestingly, Australian electoral strategist Lynton Crosby  is reported to have ditched Mr Harper.

Yesterday's announcement that Queensland's Carmichael coal mine had received environmental approval is likely to generate another round of legal challenges, It's been interesting watching this one, for it draws out the confusions that abound in this area, the way that those involved in the dispute mix together whatever will support their case at a point.

Mine promoter Ardani may or may not be in financial trouble, the mine may or may not be uneconomic. My feeling is that both are problematic.However, these are commercial questions. I suspect that regardless of commercial uncertainties, Ardani has to push ahead through the approval phases despite the cost to the company. Otherwise, it has no asset and will have to crystalise all costs as losses. Hardly an attractive prospect. In the meantime, those opposed to the mine use the commercial uncertainties to attack the projected benefits used to justify the project.

In the end, arguments here can only be resolved here through practice. If the project is uneconomic, it will fall over. However, to those who want it blocked full stop, this is simply an unacceptable risk. This leads to my next point.

Many of those opposed are opposed to any coal project on what we might call global grounds, the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere. This is a perfectly legitimate position, but  it also leads to attacks on projects that actually have little to do with the project itself, that will take and press any point that might defeat or at least delay the project. We can debate the end of coal mining as a major issue, but when this global view is in play one should beware of the project specific arguments used.

Beyond these arguments, we have a variety of more specific and local arguments of varying degrees of validity that are used by and play into debates triggered by the major protagonists. Most of us have no chance of understanding these beyond recognising that all are at risk of special pleading.

 The Carmichael case raises a variety of issues that I have tried to address previously about the nature of decision processes, the questions of what things require decisions, how those decisions are made. For the moment, I note that Carmichael is an example of the rise of what is called issues politics, the replacement of decisions guided by general principles with an issue by issue approach.

Finally, and just for reference purposes and later discussion, I thought that you might find this Australian story on the sadness of true believers interesting.

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Sue said...

Would you care to enlarge on the Scandinavian pressures for conformity that you found cloying?

Anonymous said...

Totally off-topic as usual, but I was taken by the shock/horror of this SMH article about a police blitz on jaywalking in Sydney.

So (and mainly because it contained the inevitable quote from Harold Scruby of the Pedestrian Council demanding the fine be raised from $71 to $200) I went a-searching for the stats, and I found the most amazing Road Safety statistics site: from which I can see that in 2013 (the latest year contained in the interactive) 1 person was killed in the Sydney LGA area, and some 234 injured.

So that means this current 'crackdown' of 8,000 fines and 16,000 cautions in Sydney CBD was caused by some old guy (aged 70+) getting flattened - and Mr Scruby reacts by insisting his very own constituency be subjected to further fines?

World's gorn quite mad.

ps agree that cruise ship looks the absolute pits; stuff of nightmares to be trapped on it.

Evan said...

I think the discussion of Ardani's mine (and much else) is in a 'legal' format - diverse arguments being used to build a case. This is political argument I think.

As to it's being case by case - the bureaucrat's standard argument coming back to bite them. I find this appealing.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sue. I had especially the Swedes in mind, but its more than that. I need to think through, for the way things are going NSW getting to be worse than Sweden without Sweden's advantages! Or S's weather! There's a plus.

Thought of you several times on this trip in context of our trip. Revisiting some of the same places. Will try to write piece linked to those memories.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd and thanks. It is far from clear to me just which constituency Mr Scruby represents - see The stats do not appear to support the arguments of the police rep.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Evan. Sorry for the delayed response. I agree on the legal format on Ardani - applies both sides! The marshaling of evidence to support a particular position, as opposed to building a position from evidence.

2 tanners said...

I'm really torn about the Ardani mine. In principle, I think it should simply be allowed to go ahead, subject to normal legal processes and stand or fail on its own merits.

In practice, however, shedloads of Federal and State funds have been poured into this and all manner of quite untrue arguments deployed to support it. That has actually wedged the governments to Ardani's benefit. So now, if Ardani backs out, it will look to seek compensation from those who have already invested taxpayer dollars for no return, or worse, governments will feel obliged to throw good money after bad to prove they were right (or at least not wrong).

I guess in the market, I'd tell Ardani to do whatever they want, including folding their tents and sneaking off, but in the political economy of the now, that seems much higher risk to the taxpayer dollar.

2 tanners said...

The new poll putting Turnbull ahead of Shorten is interesting. Shorten can no longer seek the "At least I'm not Tony Abbott" vote. Labor's lockstep in policy with the Coalition was a key part of that platform. Now the value of that stance has been entirely lost and becomes a liability.

Possibly at last we will see a genuine contest of ideas, forced on Labor against its own will.

If we do, someone give me a call. I'm a little busy at the aerodrome, refuelling the pigs.

Jim Belshaw said...

Snorted with laughter, Bob, but your point well made. On Ardani,what government funds have already been poured into the project? Curious. Don't know.

2tanners said...

Pleased to provide modest amusement.

On funds, nor do I. They were promised some funding both by Qld under Newman and Fed under Abbott and neither leader's replacement has walked away. Both Governments under new leadership/management have renewed their (verbal) support for the project. If Adani is digging in, it obviously expects something in return, although as another commentator pointed out elsewhere, while it retains the appearance of commitment, its balance sheets retain Carmichael as an asset, not as a disastrous writedown.

I doubt it is as simple as that, though.

Anonymous said...

tanners, how does "shedloads of Federal and State funds have been poured into this" gel with your last comment "On funds, nor do I. They were promised some funding both by Qld under Newman and Fed under Abbott and neither leader's replacement has walked away." ??

I have sort of lapsed into taking your comments in good faith, on face value - but maybe I should reassess?

Jim, I hope some of your Canadian readers might poke their noses in re their elections. Seems the Conervatives were rolled by their 'Liberals' and I wonder about that. I checked the policy comparisons for the two, and was left wondering by the following two items:

Taxation - Conservatives:

If re-elected, the Conservative Party says it will further lower the small-business tax rate from 11 per cent to 9 per cent over the next four years. Mr. Harper has also promised so-called “tax lock” legislation prohibiting increases to federal personal and business income taxes, sales taxes and “discretionary payroll taxes” such as CPP and EI.

Taxation - Liberals:

The Liberals would introduce a new tax rate of 33 per cent on income of more than $200,000. That would help fund a tax cut on income between $44,701 and $89,401, where the rate would drop to 20.5 per cent from 22 per cent.

Public Finances - Conservatives:

The Conservative government recorded a $1.9-billion surplus for the 2014-15 fiscal year and are promising to balance the budget every year for the next four years.

Public Finances - Liberals:

The Liberals say they will run three years of deficits that would help pay for infrastructure spending, but promise that the size of the annual deficits will not exceed $10-billion. The party says it will balance the books in 2019.


Results v promises. 'twas ever thus.


Jim Belshaw said...

So far, kvd, it would appear that Ardani were promised certain assistance, but not clear if any immediate cash went in.

On Canada, both the Liberal and NDP parties are centre left, the Conservatives close to the Abbott Liberals. I thought that the Liberals would probably win, but the size of the victory came as a surprise. One pleasing result was the defeat of Chris Alexander who was the minister of citizenship and immigration who tried to introduce the migration and muslim cards, something Harper had been hammering on about.

2 tanners said...


A large number of promises were made, but also I read media reports that certain land resumptions (for rail lines) had already been activated and were on schedule. The land resumptions are not affected by the court action, just whether things can be built or done there. Land resumptions are hideously expensive, but not quantifiable until the final figure is struck, usually several years down the track. Hence my comment. They haven't paid this money, but having acquired the land (I must admit I took the report in good faith and maybe should have caveated it) our dollars will go into buying an asset that may have no value. The reports are unclear about the Carmichael site itself - Newman's government was moving to compulsory acquisition, but it's unclear to me what the situation is now.

Apologies for the confusion.