Wednesday, May 29, 2019

China Stone Leaves the Queensland Working Class Further In Doubt About Their Future

Finn G.                         29 May 2019

The struggle to balance out the issues of employment and the environment has been at the front of mind for progressive movements in Australia since the LNP regained power in the recent federal election. Be it correct or not, Labor was painted to look as though they’d place the environment in front of jobs whereas the LNP was viewed as putting employment ahead of any environmental impact.

Of course, none of these views are correct as neither party has the intention, boldness or ability to make substantial improvements on either front.


The Labor Party cheer squad has been happy to pass the blame for their loss onto the entire state of Queensland, especially those who belong to the working class. This is not unusual, as we know the working class are the first to be blamed when ripples appear in the fabric of bourgeois rule.

It’s ludicrous to scorn those who have the audacity to want secure employment in this age of neoliberalism and austerity, the working person struggling to wade through the swamp of ever increasing costs of living, stagnant wages, and a bloated housing market on the brink of collapse,  cannot be condemned for not putting environmental issues at front of mind.


Adding to the worries of the Queensland proletariat is the recent announcement that the planned China Stone project has been suspended.


The state government approved project was to be a large-scale coal mine with a yield of up to 38 million tonnes per annum located 300 km west of Mackay, employing some 7,300 workers in its construction and operation. (1)


The project which was to be located 30 kilometres from the much talked about Adani mine was tendered by the Chinese firm MacMines Austasia, and would have had a much bigger output than it’s scaled down neighbour.


According to a Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy spokesperson: "MacMines has voluntarily not progressed their five mining lease applications for the China Stone project.” (2)


 China’s Contradictions


 With coal mining and production no longer being as profitable as it was in its heyday, and Chinese banks being less and less enthusiastic (or at least less vocally enthusiastic) about funding coal projects and claiming to look toward more “green financing”, it’s no surprise that this project has been put on the back burner.


Other reasons include the lack of ready infrastructure such as rail lines. The announcement of China Stone’s halted operations coincided with Adani opting to scale back its initial rail plans. The multi-billion dollar corporation was to receive a $900 million government loan to construct a new line, choosing instead to assemble a smaller line that will connect to the existing Aurizon network.


  It’s important to note that regardless of the platitudes dished out by Chinese corporations and the Chinese government, China is responsible for 46% of global coal production and 51% of global demand, and in 2018 approved nearly $6.7 billion worth of new coal mining projects, and production increased 5.2% to 3.55 billion tonnes. (3)

Most of these operations are situated in underdeveloped countries, where running and employment costs are far lower than Australia, countries where the working class are more easily exploited. Add to this the fact that they don’t have environmental safeguards as strict as Australia’s to comply with when digging in the third world, as many of these countries are desperate to build up their economies after being ravaged by the IMF, World Bank or direct aggression from the U.S.A and its subsidiaries.  These areas include parts of South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

It’s clear to see that the words that come out of China may please Western liberals but scratch the surface and you’ll find it no more than lip service.


Where To Next?


 But where does all this leave those who would have been relying on these mines for future employment? Exactly where they’ve been for a long time now, living from pay cheque to pay cheque with the ever-lingering threat of a bleak future hanging over their heads.'


As Ned K. stated in a previous article “It is the poor leadership of successive governments of both Liberal/National Coalition and Labor that have clung to coal mining and provided no alternatives to coal mining communities.” (4)


What’s really hurting the workers of Queensland isn’t resistance to coal, it’s the lack of a planned and diverse economy, an economy that takes into account both social and environmental needs. It’s the preference of the ruling bourgeoisie to offer up the country to foreign multinationals who take what they need and leave nothing behind for the inhabitants of Australia. 


Only an independent and socialist Australia could offer its people a lifetime of employment and fairness, where mines are run responsibly by the people with all environmental concerns addressed transparently and honestly,  with the fruits of the people’s labour power going towards the maintenance and upkeep of society.


(2) Mega mine next to Adani quietly put on hold, thousands of promised jobs in doubt, ABC, 23 May2019.

(3) Coal isn’t Dead. China Proves It, Forbes,  Jan 23, 2019.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Eyre Peninsula: Grain Transport Off the Rails

Nick G.           28 May 2019

Over a century’s worth of history will come to a close on May 31 when transportation of grain by rail ceases on Eyre Peninsula.

The move will require around 30,000 extra B-double truck movements per year along poorly maintained single lane “highways” that converge on the export silos at the deep-water harbor of Pt Lincoln.

The town of Cummins, 67km north of Pt Lincoln is where lines from Kimba (245km from Lincoln) and Wudinna (216km from Lincoln) meet.

"It's a tragedy losing our history, but all those extra trucks on the roads are going to be a nightmare," said Cummins resident Claire Holman.

Her views were echoed by Cummins farmer Michael Treloar: "The speed limit needs to reviewed — you get stuck behind a triple truck carrying 70 tonnes that can only go 100 kilometres an hour, and we technically can go 110, but you need a long stretch to pass that safely and respect the speed limit — I see serious issues there."

Multinationals out of touch with regional communities

Eyre Peninsula communities, like many regional communities across the country, have been sold down the drain by various forms of privatisation. 

In the late 1990s, the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Barley Board were privatised becoming AWB Ltd and ABB Grain Ltd respectively. In 2009, ABB Grain was taken over by Canada’s largest grain handler Viterra which in turn was taken over in 2013 by British-Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining corporation Glencore.  Viterra still operates under its own name.

The narrow-gauge rail line to Cummins was opened in 1907.  It was once the largest employer in the region, with over 600 workers in the 1950s and 1960s. In November 1997, US rail company Genesee & Wyoming (GWA) bought the SA rail freight operations of the Government-owned Australian National and after a bit of mucking around with Wesfarmers, rebranded the operation under its own name. There are now only 35 full-time employees, all of whom will lose their jobs.

In recent years, Viterra has been the only customer/user of the GWA line.  The two could not agree on terms for an extension of their contract.  GWA cited decreased grain volumes on rail together with high maintenance costs, while Viterra cited the need to offer grain growers a more competitive supply chain.  What this simply means is that the dreaded “invisible hand of the market” is going to become highly visible as B-doubles crowd out other road users, and roadside marker pegs carrying black crosses indicate where members of the community and truck drivers have lost their lives.

Rail enthusiast Mark Carter summarised the situation in the rail magazine Catch Point: “All major stakeholders, including the state government are seemingly disinterested in the real impacts of the closure, with the final decisions made in the boardrooms of the USA and Switzerland, far removed from the Eyre Peninsula”.

Regional communities should be making regional decisions, supported by  an independent Australian government run by the real producers of wealth, the working class.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Queensland Workers and a Sustainable Economy Without Coal

Ned K.                           27 May 2019              

Working people in Queensland have copped a lot of abuse, denigration and blame in some press reports on the federal election wash up. Most of this is about their supposed dependence on coal and by implication unwillingness or inability to move away from coal production.

However, this is wrong on several fronts.

Firstly, unemployment levels in Queensland are more to do with the anarchy of a capitalist market economy than whether there is coal mining or no coal mining.

Secondly, the Queensland working class has over many years developed a very diverse economy which demonstrates their capacity to embrace renewable energy projects and new environmentally sustainable industries to make coal mining irrelevant to a sustainable future for their families.

Thirdly, it is the poor leadership of successive governments of both Liberal/National Coalition and Labor that have clung to coal mining and provided no alternatives to coal mining communities.                     

To see what could have already been implemented in Queensland to decrease dependency of whole communities on coal production, it is worth reading the article in the link below from NZ Coal Action Network. It explains a lot about coal’s role in steel making and what is possible and realistic in the short to medium term regarding alternatives to coal production for steel making.

The article says that in 2011, world steel production required 12% of the world’s coal that was mined. So even if the use of coking coal to make steel in Australia continued for a considerable time, the end of production of thermal coal by the closure of coal fired power stations in Australia and the banning of export of thermal coal from Australia would be a huge step forward and possible.

The employment lost from thermal coal mining in Australia (mainly Qld and northern NSW) could be countered by increased employment in the four growth industries in Australia expected in the next decade. These are according to federal government research: health care & social assistance; construction; education and training; and professional, scientific and technical services.

Also, as the Coal Action Network paper in the link below explains, there are already alternative ways of making steel without the use of coking coal which will reduce the pollution levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and create alternative employment. According to government statistics, there were 37,800 people employed in coal mining in 2014 and I suspect the figure is declining due to technology changes such as driverless vehicles and fewer coal mines.

98% of metallurgical coal (coking coal) is exported from Australia. Only 2% used for steel making in Australia!

45% of Queensland’s coal reserves are metallurgical coal. In 2017, 172.2 million tonnes of coking coal was exported, valued at $24.7 billion. (The Morning Bulletin 6/4/18).

In Queensland, where coal mining is a big export earner for governments, there are many alternative industries.

In mining alone, Queensland is a big producer of other minerals such as bauxite, copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold. Mining overall in Queensland though, in 2017-18, is capital intensive and directly employed just 2.5% (61,000 people) of the state’s total workforce of 2,496,133 people.

Agriculture in Queensland is diverse with vegetable, crops, fruit, nuts as well as the more widely known beef and sugar. It employs 63,000 people.

Tourism and education directly employ 137,500 people and provide a holiday destination to many Australians as well as overseas visitors.

Education and training contribute 5.2% to the economy of the state.

Health care and social assistance is the state’s largest employer with 350,000 people and increasing.

Construction employs 239,000 in engineering construction, non-residential and residential and contains the skills to build renewable energy projects to replace the coal industry.

Retail, Financial Services and Professional Services contribute nearly 500, 000 jobs.

Manufacturing, especially food and beverages, is diverse and employs 132,295 people, many of whom have transferrable skills for new renewable energy based and sustainable manufacturing such as public transport vehicles and renewable energy components such as solar panels and wind farms.

In the immediate future, Queensland workers involved in coking coal production for steel for use in Australia should continue working while their demands for alternative employment opportunities in the industries mentioned above, and in alternatives to coal for production of steel, are developed. They should be actively supported to promote their demands for support while alternatives to coal are developed.

This will of necessity mean struggling against the vested interests of imperialist finance capital.

Only in an independent Australia with the state in control of decisive industries can decisions be made  in the interests of the majority of people in the whole country.

Defend the environment, defend culture - it’s the same struggle

Celia S.

The campaigns lead by Indigenous peoples are prolonged and ongoing. Their struggles are about their rights as Indigenous peoples, their rights as custodians of the land. This presents a direct challenge to the free market economy of the capitalist class and their need to feed an ever-expanding profit margin by raping the land and its resources.

Indigenous people are putting their bodies on the line in the struggle against this and it's our responsibility to make sure we know why and to throw our support in alongside them. They are up against a constant tide of distorted news, misinformation and physical abuse at the hands of the capitalist state. This does not change regardless of Liberal or Labor governments. 

One such struggle is the campaign against the removal of culturally significant trees near Ararat in Western Victoria. For over a year there has been a protest to stop a 12.5 kilometre extension to the Western Freeway because it will result in the destruction of three thousand trees of various sizes and ages including several scar trees, birthing trees (that are over 800 years old) and other culturally modified trees. To date, VicRoads has conceded the preservation of two birthing trees by altering the design of the planned extension.  

The concession to the birthing trees is not enough and has saddened and angered Indigenous people in the area. In an article published on 1st Feb 2019 in the Ararat Advertiser, traditional custodian Zallanach Gunaikurnai said “After hearing the news this morning about Major Roads Victoria being given the approval to go through, I feel disappointed to know that government still aren’t recognising who we are as a people and the connection to the country,” and he went on to say “I’m very happy that they’ve recognised the significance of those two trees, but still saddened that they haven’t recognised the landscape they sit upon”.

The protest will continue and the Djab Wurrung Embassy will stay to defend the trees and culture. The Embassy was established at the site of one of the birthing trees along the existing freeway 10 kilometres on the Melbourne side of Ararat, and everyone is encouraged to visit and learn about this issue. Nobody is opposed to the idea of the extension. There have been cheaper alternative routes put forward, but VicRoads has ignored those ideas and is planning to go ahead with the project regardless. 

Zallanach Gunaikurnai was recently arrested for insulting a police officer and driving on an expired licence. He has been in jail for a month after being refused bail. The sentence is unusually harsh but when Indigenous people protest against the State the punishment they receive is retaliatory and unforgiving and this is the lived experience of all Indigenous people. By removing one of the leaders and spokesperson through the arrest of Zellanach, VicRoads may be hoping to diminish the struggle at the Embassy, but it won’t work. It has strengthened the resolve of the protesters and the Djab Wurrung people. They will not be part of the “quiet Australians”.

Prime Minister Morrison would like all Australians to be quiet, so they can introduce whatever laws they like and cut through all protections for the land to give the green light for sensitive projects such as Adani and uranium mining at Yeerlirrie without any dissenting voices. But that won’t happen, the voice of dissent will grow louder because there is a genuine concern for the environment and for the Indigenous peoples, there is the deep connection to country and the need to protect their Mother. (land) 

In the long term, the knowledge to be teased out of all protest is that we must change the economic system. Every political win is short lived, the ruing class will concede some things but their eyes are firmly on the dollar and profit. The government of the day, be it Labor or Liberal, will bow down to the ruling capitalist class and will ultimately sell the ordinary people's hopes and aspirations down the drain.

But every win for us is a nail in their coffin and teaches us the strength we have in numbers. We must continue to fight and stand alongside Indigenous peoples to defend their rights as First Nations Peoples, so that when we are confident and ready to take on the biggest fight of them all, the fight to change the economic system, we will be united against the common enemy. That fight will come when we finally recognise that ordinary people create the wealth of this country and we no longer accept that 99% of that wealth is being stolen by a handful of corporations. We need to recognise that this theft is organised and managed by the Parliament and the State, but we also have to recognise that we have the power to change the course of history.

Defend the Djab Wurrung people’s struggle to protect their Culture and their Mother.