Wednesday, 26 June 2019

News Corp, Morrison Government & mining lobby groups in concerted attack on environmental lawyers

The Attack.....

The Australian, 22 June 2019:

A taxpayer-funded network of environmental lawyers has been handed more than $2.5 million by state governments, helping the group to clog up courts and launch dozens of cases against gas and mining projects, including Adani’s Carmichael mine.
Environmental Defenders ­Offices in NSW and Queensland were awarded more than $1m from the Berejiklian government and almost $400,000 from the Palaszczuk government in 2017-18….

Resources Minister Matt Canavan yesterday called on the states to deprive the green lawyers’ groups of any more taxpayer funds.

“These EDOs are not defending the public interest but pursuing a political agenda,” he said.

“As such, they should not be receiving taxpayer support to ­destroy people’s jobs.”….

Leading business groups ­accused the EDOs of engaging in “vexatious litigation” which is ­delaying projects for years, damaging job-creation efforts and hindering the flow of ­royalties to states and territories.

“Frivolous and vexatious legal challenges to environmental ­approvals delay projects and threaten jobs in regional Australia,” Minerals Council chief executive Tania Constable said.

An Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association spokesman said the EDOs’ advocacy on climate change was out of step with their apparent role as a community legal centre for environmental cases.

“We have for some time questioned the role of the EDO and its public funding,” he said.

The Response.....

NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO NSW), 22 June 2019:

EDOs stand firm against attacks

We are a community legal centre of expert lawyers, proudly and unapologetically helping the NSW community to use the law to protect wildlife, people and our planet.

Environmental laws should not be for the few. They affect us all. Yet once again we are forced to defend the community's access to justice against attacks by a fossil fuel lobby aggrieved by the power our work provides to communities who seek to challenge the lawfulness and merit of their major projects.

EDO NSW's litigation work on behalf of our clients plays an important role, ensuring that people have access to justice and are able to exercise their rights under Australian law. People have a right to use the law to protect their family, homes and environment. To be clear, as public interest community legal centres, EDOs do not litigate on our own behalf, but represent clients (community groups, Aboriginal groups and individuals) who may otherwise be unable to have access to the justice system.

It’s disappointing to see, yet again, the Minerals Council and Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association demonstrating their lack of understanding of, and respect for, the rule of law. At their heart, these claims are an attack on our democracy and  we should all be very concerned.

The fossil fuel lobby has a track record of making the unsubstantiated claim that EDOs engage in vexatious litigation, and frankly it’s getting tired. Despite being over-utilised, this claim remains a troubling proposition. EDO NSW lawyers, who include some of the best in our field, take our professional responsibilities extremely seriously. Our 30 year track record is evidence of that. Not once in our history have our clients’ cases been found to be ‘frivolous or vexatious’.

Underpinning most of our litigation work is a question about whether the law has been complied with. That decision-makers apply the law is a fundamental feature of our democracy. Ensuring the law is complied with should be uncontroversial.

In other instances, our work interrogates whether approving a project is – considering all the circumstances – the correct or preferable decision. These are not simple questions. The answer lies in the weighting of a range of different factors. Our important work ensures that evidence proffered in support of a project is thoroughly tested. 

In a number of instances, including in the recent case concerning the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine, the economic benefits of the mine put forward by the mining company were found to be overstated, based on the evidence put forward by both the Government’s expert and our client’s.  Equally the economic negatives of that project - including social impacts and impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage - were found to have been understated by the mining company.

Litigation is a small component of the work this office does on behalf of clients. When we do so, it is only after application of our casework guidelines and detailed analysis from senior legal experts to ensure there are merits in bringing a case.
EDO NSW also provides the community with free legal advice and education - work that does see us receive some State government grants. Our office operates a daily advice line providing free advice on matters of environmental and planning law.

The NSW Government has provided EDO NSW with funding for decades, irrespective of which party is in Government. This demonstrates a bipartisan understanding of our role and corresponding support for the provision of access to justice in this space - that is, allowing members of the community to understand and seek advice about NSW environmental and planning laws. 

Our work relates to ensuring that laws are applied correctly, and ensuring that evidence put forward by project proponents is tested in an appropriate and independent forum. Any changes to the law that erode community opportunities to participate in environmental decision-making would be very concerning. This could easily be seen as a blatant attempt to further prioritise the rights of coal mining companies over the rights of communities, including farmers, eco-tourism operators and others.

David Morris
CEO - Solicitor

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The Daily Examiner celebrates 160 years

Admittedly, this bloke hasn't always seen eye to eye with the Clarence Valley's local daily newspaper, The Daily Examiner. Some its efforts have caused more than a raised eyebrow.

However, chalking up 160 years of continuous coverage since it was first published as The Clarence and Richmond Examiner on June 21, 1859 is no mean feat. Last Friday the paper celebrated the occasion.

Congratulations DEX.

Credit: Image of The Daily Examiner's page 1 on Friday, June 21, 2019 (

Governments must not allow private, profit-seeking parties such as Facebook put the entire global financial system at risk

Wikipedia, 22 June 2019:

A cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses strong cryptography to secure financial transactions, control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets. Cryptocurrencies use decentralized control as opposed to centralized digital currency and central banking systems……

As the popularity of and demand for online currencies has increased since the inception of bitcoin in 2009, so have concerns that such an unregulated person to person global economy that cryptocurrencies offer may become a threat to society. 

Concerns abound that altcoins may become tools for anonymous web criminals.
Cryptocurrency networks display a lack of regulation that has been criticized as enabling criminals who seek to evade taxes and launder money.

The Guardian, 22 June 2019:

Facebook is developing Libra from a base in Switzerland, in partnership with 27 other corporations – including Mastercard, Paypal, Uber and Vodafone – collectively known as the Libra Association.

Financial Review, 21 June 2019:

Facebook has just unveiled its latest bid for world domination: Libra, a cryptocurrency designed to function as private money anywhere on the planet. In preparing the venture, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been in negotiations with central banks, regulators, and 27 partner companies, each of which will contribute at least $US10 million. For fear of raising safety concerns, Facebook has avoided working directly with any commercial banks.

Zuckerberg seems to understand that technological innovation alone will not ensure Libra’s success. He also needs a commitment from governments to enforce the web of contractual relations underpinning the currency, and to endorse the use of their own currencies as collateral. Should Libra ever face a run, central banks would be obliged to provide liquidity.

The question is whether governments understand the risks to financial stability that such a system would entail. The idea of a private, frictionless payment system with 2.6 billion active users may sound attractive. But as every banker and monetary policymaker knows, payment systems require a level of liquidity backstopping that no private entity can provide.

Unlike states, private parties must operate within their means, and cannot unilaterally impose financial obligations on others as needed. That means they cannot rescue themselves; they must be bailed out by states, or be permitted to fail. Moreover, even when it comes to states, currency pegs offer only an illusion of safety. Plenty of countries have had to break such pegs, always while insisting that “this time is different”.

What sets Facebook apart from other issuers of “private money” is its size, global reach, and willingness to “move fast and break things.” It is easy to imagine a scenario in which rescuing Libra could require more liquidity than any one state could provide. Recall Ireland after the 2008 financial crisis. When the government announced that it would assume the private banking sector’s liabilities, the country plunged into a sovereign debt crisis. Next to a behemoth like Facebook, many nation-states could end up looking a lot like Ireland.

Facebook is barreling ahead as if Libra was just another private enterprise. But like many other financial intermediaries before it, the company is promising something that it cannot possibly deliver on its own: the protection of the currency’s value. 

Libra, we are told, will be pegged to a basket of currencies (fiat money issued by governments), and convertible on demand and at any cost. But this guarantee rests on an illusion, because neither Facebook nor any other private party involved will have access to unlimited stores of the pegged currencies…..

Read the full article here.

Will the Clarence Valley see an upgrade of Grafton Base Hospital within the next three years or will it take a decade to commence?

Grafton Base Hospital is a 50-99 bed public health facility which offers health services to an est. 51,647 resident population in the Clarence Valley on the NSW North Coast and an additional annual tourist population which can reach or exceed 1 million visitors.

In the first quarter of 2019 ambulance arrivals at Grafton Hospital were up 11.5 per cent, emergency department presentations rose by 3 per cent, emergency presentations climbed by 4.2 per cent, hospital admissions increased by 14.9 per cent with acute admissions totalling 3,127 patients and the elective surgery waiting times continued to grow.

In that same quarter during the NSW state election campaign the Nationals MP for Clarence on behalf of the Berejiklian Coalition Government promised voters in the Clarence Electorate a much needed $263.8-million overhaul of Grafton Hospital.

At the time doubts were raised about the genuineness of this promise as it contained little detail.

Those doubts are now resurfacing……

The Daily Examiner, 21 June 2019, p.3:

A major hospital upgrade looks to be a while off as the Clarence Valley joins the long queue of regions promised big projects at the New South Wales election.

The $263million commitment to the Grafton Base Hospital redevelopment was made in the final weeks of the campaign in March and is just one of many major infrastructure promises outlined in the 2019-20 Budget Papers.

However, there there was no specific line item in the 2019-20 Budget and Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis was quick to point out it would take time.

“It’s not a line item as such as we are still in the very early planning stages but there is a commitment for works to commence during this term of government,” he said.
“In the meantime, consultation needs to occur between the LHD, clinicians and the community to ensure the redeveloped hospital is able to provide for the community into the future.”

Mr Gulaptis said he had received assurances from Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Treasurer Dominic Perrotet and Deputy Premier John Barilaro that all election commitments would be honoured and provided a letter from Health Minister Brad Hazzard responding to representations he made after winning the election.

In the letter, Mr Hazzard said the project was one of many promised but work would still start before the end of the current term of parliament.

“In the period prior to the March election, the NSW Government announced a significant number of upgrades to hospital and health facilities across the state,” he said.

“This requires a prioritisation of when projects will commence over the next four years and will occur in alignment with the annual budget process.

“Once funding is made available through the budget process, Health Infrastructure will work with the local health district and clinical staff to progress the project through the planning stages.”......