Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Blogger's block

Blogger's block

Bloggers blog with varying frequency: some may produce several short sharp bursts a day; others create infrequent measured treatises seemingly unconstrained by format or deadline.

I'd like to think I blog when I have something to say – recounting a road trip; outraging about an environmental violation; pontificating about grammar; calling politicians to account; or commenting on mores in my adopted country – rather than writing because of an intention I once had to produce five or six posts a month.

I constantly battle time. Editing photographs; fact-finding; tempering passionate beliefs into measured reporting; editing and reworking. All these gobble up time that could be spent lobbying the state or federal government; researching for my volunteer organisations; even studying hundreds of must-read articles and documents I have previously filed away until there was time.

Do I still have things to say?

A week or so ago I moved house (yes, again, for the fourth time in six and a half years). And then, unsurprisingly, I succumbed to a horrible long-lasting coughing bug that's doing the rounds. But for weeks I should have been writing about California's Joshua Tree National Park; drafting a letter to Queensland's Environment Minister Steven Miles on behalf of The Bimblebox Alliance; researching mangrove die-back in the Gulf for Protect the Bush Alliance; and reporting on two rallies in Brisbane, yet another visit to the Land Court, and a presentation by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) about the abject failure of mining companies to clean up their mess.

Once there's a backlog, how do you prioritize topics, especially when there are stacks of removal boxes waiting to be filled, and then emptied? And where do you find the wherewithal to keep banging on about the same topics when, inevitably some days, you feel precious little progress is being made?

The first of the rallies was in support of the Palaszczuk Government's legislation – an election commitment – to amend the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Act of 2013 which 'relaxed' vegetation laws that had been successfully reducing land clearing before Campbell Newman and the LNP came along. In 2014 alone, nearly 300,000 hectares were cleared, mainly to create yet more pasture. Queensland's poor land clearing record had been re-established.

The problem for Labor in passing their legislation was that, since the two Katter Party MPs had declared they would be voting against, the government was dependent on three remaining Independents to get the bill through. Unfortunately Billy Gordon also voted against. Many environmental organisations as well as Government ministers (Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, watched by assorted Cabinet ministers, preaches to the converted at the rally, top) had worked hard to bring the legislation to Parliament, so there was deep disappointment when it failed at the last hurdle.

On the day of the rally (and the vote), I spoke to Rob Pyne, who confirmed his commitment to support the bill. I phoned Peter Wellington's office: as Speaker, he might be called upon for a casting vote. A lady listened, and assured me she'd taken notes and would pass them on, as I made the case for leaving trees be. I rang Bill Gordon's office and left the same message, but in vain. His reasons for voting against were complicated, he explained to others. Some have speculated that the prospect of jobs for young Indigenous men in high-value agriculture had more than a little to do with it, but one of those who pleaded for his support on the day assures me Gordon's vote was nothing more than revenge on Labor for not taking him back into the fold. How disappointing.

Barely ten days later some of us were back at Speaker's Corner 'For the Love of Queensland'. This gathering was organised by Lock the Gate to celebrate everything Queenslanders love about their country, and to express concern about food-producing land, water resources and ecosystems at risk from unsafe coal and gas mining. Speakers included Peter Wellington, Rob Pyne and ex-Senator Glen Lazarus, as well as residents of the Western Downs whose lives have been blighted by the actions of unscrupulous mining companies.

Talking of which, I attended an EDO LawJam entitled 'Cleaning up after miners walk away: are you OK with footing the bill?' The speakers were Tim Buckley, Director of Energy Finance Studies (Australasia) at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis; Lock the Gate's Mine Rehabilitation Reform Campaign Co-ordinator, Rick Humphries; and Dr Peter Erskine, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation at UQ's Sustainable Mineral Institute. 

If you're angry at the prospect of Santos developing 6100 new coal seam gas wells in the Surat Basin of South-Central Queensland that will, over 30 years, extract 219 billion litres of water, then you'll be furious when I tell you there are 50,000 abandoned mines across Australia, 15,000 of them in Queensland. Of those 15,000, not a single one has been 'relinquished', which I think refers to the surrender of the mining lease following adequate rehabilitation. According to Rick Humphries, in Queensland there is a coal industry financial assurance deficit of $3.2 billion. So who will fund a statewide clean-up?

Whether it's compelling miners to clear up their mess at the end of the extraction process, or, 30 years beforehand, enforcing sufficiently robust environmental conditions attached to an Environmental Authority (EA) before the excavators move in, it is highly questionable whether legislation drafted last century is up to the job today. The absence of a legislative framework that considers emissions reduction obligations, habitat loss and biodiversity extinction, comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, adequate hydrogeological modelling, practical offset management planning preceding mining, and so on, provides grist to the mill for environmental protectors and those defending threatened farmland, communities and areas of high conservation value.

A couple of days ago I attended the Land Court, where the Aldershot and District Against Mine (AADAM) community action group are trying to prevent the Colton Mine from going ahead two kilometres from their homes near Maryborough. Counsel for Colton glibly declared that conditions attached to its EA embraced the precautionary principle; and its expert witnesses unanimously agreed that thousands of litres of waste mine water discharged into the beautiful Mary River – which flows into the Great Sandy Marine Park and the Great Sandy Dugong Sanctuary – would not present a threat to aquatic ecosystems. He pointed out that the duty of the Court was to consider factual evidence, not 'concerns'.

I have concerns till they're coming out of my ears. That the recently re-elected Turnbull government (how did that happen?) is proposing to cut funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and Labor is not opposing the idea – because they accept donations from the fossil fuel industry, too.

That August was the hottest August on record, as was July. And that neither Australia nor the UK have ratified the Paris climate treaty yet.

That, if it weren't bad enough that Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party has four representatives in the Senate, one of them is a climate change denier with a loud mouth. And it is still possible that Donald Trump could become the next President of the United States.

The blogger's block seems to have been eased. Where to from here? Back to California… perhaps.


Peaceful easy feelings

Peaceful easy feelings

If you go down to the woods...

If you go down to the woods...