22 February 2012

Coal Seam Gas And The Rise Of China

This is an edited and (slightly) expanded version of a speech given by a nationalist at a meeting held on February 19 to assist the organization of protest at Coal Seam Gas mining on the Darling Downs. Australia First Party supports all community and farmers’ groups which resist coal seam gas mining.

Australia’s  coal seam gas (CSG) question is not in isolation to other patters of mining and other land investment. Quite the contrary – although it is a special case. I am concerned about mining generally and its impact on our Aussie farmlands and the faked up water-restriction policies of the big parties that will destroy Aussie agriculture. But it seems to me that CSG brings all these things into sharper focus.

This meeting is concerned with general resistance to CSG. I would place some things within a larger political-economy picture in order that activists and their friends who are fighting CSG mining can make determinations as to the enemy in this struggle, where the blow should fall and so on.

I am going to talk abut China, or Chinese imperialism, the dependence of Australian business upon Chinese money. We can call it what we will, but the CSG question has a Chinese component. It is a serious political question because it involves the activities of a rising superpower hungry for energy to sustain its global reach and surging economy.

The Money Trail

Consider that ORIGIN Energy and ConocoPhillips have agreed to sell $70 billion worth coal-seam gas to Sinopec through a (currently) non-binding deal that would see the state-owned Chinese oil company boost its stake in Gladstone's biggest proposed liquefied natural gas plant to 25 per cent.

The gas deal, if it becomes binding, will support a $US6bn ($5.9bn) second LNG production train for the Australia Pacific LNG joint venture, which has started construction on a $US14bn first train

Coal seam gas extraction is obviously set to become a huge industry in Queensland, where massive contracts are being written to supply gas to China and Japan after 2014. Liquid natural gas companies have already put in about $5billion of investment in coal seam gas extraction and its processing into LNG for export. Moreover, the Queensland government will eventually reap about $1billion a year in royalties. That little kick-along plus the pseudo growth of some infrastructure and some paid employment counts to them as a real bonanza. Look out though if the Chinese companies don’t import contract labour (as is happening now in Gladstone). That might make the lies about the boom a little harder to sell

Plans are proceeding for a new export-oriented coal-seam gas area on the Queensland-South Australia border, with processing plants at South Australia's Port Bonython.

Gold Coast based Icon Energy has a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese gas company Shantou SinoEnergy to buy 40 million tonnes of liquid natural gas (LNG) converted from coal- seam gas (CSG), over 20 years.

Icon, along with South Australia-based Beach Energy, is drilling for CSG in the Nappamerri trough of the Cooper Basin.

While the Queensland CSG project is the most advanced at the moment, a similar opportunity is being pursued in the Gunnedah Basin in NSW with processing at Newcastle. There are some delays. The Gunnedah project would have poisoned the water of that town and the Liverpool Plains. The strutting mayor was all for it and took a $1,000,000 bribe for a local health centre – which at least got built even as the project has hit snags. The word is that the Chinese haven’t given up.

As LNG booms go, east coast Australia’s is shaping up as an export platform just like Western Australia.

China may increase subsidies for coal-seam gas production amid a plan to increase output ninefold by 2015, US company Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said. recently

The world’s biggest energy user may unveil a proposal to extract natural gas from coal areas, possibly with an output target of 9 billion cubic meters by 2015 from about 1 billion cubic meters a year currently, Bernstein, said. The U.S. currently produces more than 50 billion cubic meters of coal- seam gas. Clearly, China intends to catch up.

The money trail tells you this is high-powered grab for resources regardless of the threat to Australia’s environment and her farms.

Even mining magnate and National Party funds-man Clive Palmer has said the technology is unproven and could have a devastating environmental impact.

Might it be that Clive Palmer fears public outcry generally and has covered himself and his other mining operations, by saying a leading Chinese firm had raised issues with him about the Australian industry, saying extraction techniques they abandoned 20 years ago are still being used here.

“Coal seam gas technology currently used in Australia is lethal and will kill Australians, poison our water table and destroy the land,” Palmer said. That was a valuable admission.

But isn’t China doing in Africa and Asia right now things that threaten livelihoods, the environment, people? Why would Australia be any different?

Selling The Land Itself

Chinese private and state-owned companies are increasingly acting on opportunities to acquire Australian agricultural land, with some $500 million of intended investment planned, according to a recent report by the Australian Financial Review.

The planned investments range from dairy farming, ultra-fine wool production, animal husbandry and frozen vegetables.

The findings come from a document, titled The China Food Security Study, that outlined Chinese overseas agricultural investment interests.

In Sydney before Christmas representatives from private and state-owned Chinese companies met with Austrade representatives, corporate advisors and industry heads, to cover investments in rural Australia that would encompass more than 100,000 hectares of farmland.

The federal government is due to receive a review of foreign investment in rural land, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, the AFR reported.

Commissioned more than a year ago in response to concerns about the impact of foreign investment, the first phase of the study showed that 99 per cent of Australian agricultural businesses are owned by Australians, while 5.8 per cent of agricultural land was foreign owned.

But this will change rapidly as state-owned Chinese companies want to buy more than 100,000ha to produce everything from wool to milk. They overall push to control primary production also shows in their purchase of sugar companies and now - cattle stations.

Even a system politician can tell some truth.

Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan said Australia had slack regulations.

"The concept of sovereignty has changed."

"Now a country can use a chequebook, where it traditionally used armies, navy and air force, to take over another country's sovereign assets."

Senator Heffernan said other countries had tightened investment rules in response to looming food and water shortages.

But Australians, especially politicians focused only on "tomorrow's headlines not the country's future", were "asleep at the wheel".

"This is not xenophobia or Hansonism ... the slackness of our regulators puts Australia's long-term prospects at peril," Senator Heffernan said.

No: it is economic protectionism and more Australians can see that this is the only policy that makes sense. No Australian would reject some trade, and trade in resources too, if that trade furthered our own genuine growth. Rather, Australia as a resources-quarry, the position our country has occupied for over 60 years (when the multinationals were exempted from income tax) is to be hardened into out and out theft of our national wealth. Our national wealth in resources is vital to our future as a country. It must be protected.

National Farmers' Federation policy general manager Charlie McElhone was concerned state-owned entities may look to secure food supplies from Australia in a closed supply loop, distorting local markets. How true.

The Chinese-controlled mining giant Shenhua Watermark Coal continues its sweeping purchase of the coal-laden farms that make up an area 500km northwest of Sydney.

In Breeza, a small Liverpool Plains town near Gunnedah, there has been resistance to the temptation to sell to Shenhua, which, has so far, bought 43 properties in the area over the past two years.

The land of other States is being bought up for mining too. We are now at banana republic status. We just sell our national mineral wealth – and ironically import bananas.

People’s Resistance

Resistance must take on an anti imperial character. What about Australian wealth for all Australians and not just the foreign mining giants and their local collaborators? Will anyone stand up to a superpower? How ironic: Chinese military and political theory tells you – you can! Of course, the Chinese are not the only bloodsuckers in the game; however, they are the most obtrusive and the most sensitive. They are fighting a global struggle with the predators of Washington / New York and others for resources and Australia is one big pie of which they now seek a “share”.

Farmers in southeast Queensland have vowed to lock their gates to keep coal and gas explorers at bay. Last year, representatives of eight farmers' and residents' organisations joined the Friends of the Earth and others outside the Queensland parliament to launch the Lock the Gate campaign. They are opposed to miners' plans for up to 40,000 coal seam gas (CSG) wells and massive new coal mines on the rich agricultural lands of the Darling Downs. The farmers say that in the short term, mining companies, protected by state legislation, have extraordinary rights to enter land for exploration and mining, disrupting farm operations. Sadly that is true. Thankfully, everywhere there is massive resistance.

Hopes of a moratorium by Queensland opponents of coal seam gas mining are misplaced. The NSW government is now full steam ahead and so it will be in Queensland so the State isn’t left behind. Those who sell off our national wealth are always keen never to be behind the crook in the State next door. The local collaborators with Chinese imperialism can’t wait to show themselves as craven traitors.

For once I agree with activist Drew Hutton:

“When our leaders fail us, ordinary people have to become heroes. Landowners have refused entry by coal and coal seam gas companies to their properties in places like Felton, Gowrie Junction, the Scenic Rim and Kingaroy and many regions in New South Wales have done the same.

This is an issue that will divide the country. It is necessary to divide people or a new politics cannot be waged. One can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs – as the Russian proverb goes. Some Australians will line up to take a few crumbs off the table whilst others stand up as resistance fighters. In this division, there will be fire. Out of that comes the movement.

Hutton concluded:

“This division will not be along traditional party-political lines; it will have, on one side, those who love this country – its landscape and landforms, its beaches and billabongs – and, on the other, those who see it as the source of a quick buck.”

Leaving Australia a blackened hole in the ground, polluted, poisonous, with a population huddled along the coasts living in increasing environmental degradation, is not a future we want!

The struggle against the new emperors in Peking will test us all. A couple of years back Clive Palmer said that any opposition to Chinese investment was racism and with that false moralism those like him promote the Chinese economic invasion. Only fools fall for that propaganda. Chinese money now drives parties and business so that trade with them is no longer fair nor restrained. To protect their exploitation, the Chinese look for stooges with false arguments.  But more people resist. More ordinary Australians suffer.

A movement of national independence is building and Chinese imperialism is a fair target! The movement for national independence begins with a perceived wrong being addressed in struggle. It will grow until the Australian people expel from our country those who would plunder it and divide it and take control of our national wealth themselves!
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