Image for Divide & Conquer In Tasmania

Pic: of Brett Whiteley MP, notable Christian

Picture: Rob Walls,

The Tone. Smokin’ Joe. Lies, daughters, dancing and winking eyes. There’s been rage aplenty and recriminations as many across Australia copped a raw one from the budget. The media quickly apportioned blame. First up was the Tone Government for their lying ways. Liberal HQ then brainstormed and the focus was to be you. A little guilt for the lazy Australians who should be thankful they’re not living in the third world. Then came a little seasoning with Labor’s debt and finally, a subtle hint about those brave souls (your local LNP member) who’d be doing their all to eradicate it.

Favoured sycophants received the message and Rupert’s Castle Greyskull fired up the presses. Twitterers, facebookers and forumers grabbed links from whichever media reflected their bias. Those links were stuffed into their muskets and shot at their sworn enemies - their fellow members of the middle and lower class.

No one worth their salt argued on social media about tough decisions, debt or hardships. For them the budget was ticked off in advance. They’d gone to the source for their shakedown - Ya know, Antonio and Joey, ya gots yaself a nice government here. It’s pretty. It’s shiny. I’d hate to see anything happen to it.

BHP Billiton chief executive Andrew Mackenzie was among several mining executives who directly lobbied the federal ­government against cutting the ­industry’s rebate for diesel excise at last week’s federal budget.

Sources said Mr Mackenzie wrote to Treasurer Joe Hockey before the May 13 budget outlining concerns at any cut to the rebate. He met separately with Mr Hockey and other senior ministers, including deputy Liberal leader and senior Western Australian minister Julie Bishop.

“It was serious enough for the ­mining sector to believe it was happening,’’ the source said.

It was decided, however, that to touch the rebate would have been like “opening the Russian front’‘, sparking a war with the miners along the lines of the one that so wounded the Rudd government when it introduced the mining tax in 2010.

While the budget occupied most Australian’s minds, keeping them in an ever-present state of conflict with neighbours, co-workers and family members, a cruel hoax that had followed a similar path of division and recrimination appeared to be entering its final stage in Australia’s poorest electorate.

Late last week rumours surfaced that Tasmania’s newest iron ore miner, Shree Minerals was intending to halt production in June. Coincidentally just as iron ore slips under $100 a tonne.  A rough start to its life as producer, given it only shipped its first ore in January, the same month the Tasmanian state government agreed to defer Shree’s royalty payments. An ominous sign taxpayers wouldn’t see a cent of return from a mine that had already been used to exploit their poverty and fear.

Over the past two years there has been an increasing level of angst and agitation in Tasmania’s North-West. Depending on who you listen to, a wilderness area known as the Tarkine holds untold mineral riches and has the potential to create long term jobs and wealth for an impoverished and desperate community. Alternatively, the Tarkine is a pristine wilderness with untold eco-tourism potential and a safe haven for disease free Tasmanian Devils.

Despite the debate, the pro-mining side continued to ignore an unlanced boil. The only mining companies turning their attention to the area were piddling juniors. Worse, few (none) of those supporting proposed new mines ever questioned the feasibility of tiny operations in remote areas of Tasmania. The economic white knights would be trucking ore to port over substandard roads at the tail-end of a mining boom when commodity prices were expected to fall. Shree’s costs were apparently only $81 per tonne, but recently some realities became apparent, as John Lawrence pointed out ( HERE ) from Shree’s March 2014 quarterly:

Iron ore grades are lower than expected
Transportation to the Burnie port is slower than forecast
Iron ore price fell sharply during the quarter
The $AUD appreciated during the quarter
Ocean freight rates are higher

Shree finally clearing land and digging ore at Nelson Bay had been preceded by ongoing legal challenges from local environmental group, Save the Tarkine. STT was led by Scott Jordan, one of the more unlikely looking environmentalists you’d ever see. Physically comprising a hefty body with shaved head and goatee, Jordan looks more a cross between local plumber and Ming The Merciless, than environmental warrior. He was also the lightning rod for much of the pro mining crowds’ anger.

Pro mining Facebook groups became a festering embarrassment to the movement. Jordan’s children were dragged into the mire with a suggestion they should be shot, lest they turn out like their parents. There was ongoing monitoring of Jordan’s whereabouts, his home address and pictures of his house were posted on social media. And in a ridiculously small minded display, revenge seeking parents talked of sabotaging a practical placement Jordan’s wife was undertaking at a local primary school.

With Save The Tarkine inspiring such loathing within the local community, it must have been pure co-incidence politicians and aspiring politicians were so often on hand to interpret the whole mess and “support” the long suffering people of the North-West. Of course, their offering of hope was nothing more than loaded rhetoric to fuel, and take advantage of, that loathing. A known associate of the new Liberal member for Bass seemingly had a full time job posting bile across Facebook groups.

Multiple pro-mining rallies were held throughout the region. Burnie, Tullah & Smithton were all included, while there was a convoy of support that drove past Shree’s mine site. The rallies, the first two organised by the AWU, started off on a low note. Pigman Howes, before arriving in Tasmania as main speaker at the Burnie rally, declared a heritage listing for the Tarkine would ensure existing mines at Rosebery and Savage River would be shut down. It was complete horseshit.

With the die cast by Pigman, the ante was upped by the Tasmanian state Liberals who sniffed vulnerable seats in Braddon with state and federal elections nearing. New terms soon entered the Tasmanian vocabulary. “Enough is enough”, “anti-everything greens”, “so called Tarkine”, “anti-development groups” and “green terrorist” were parroted by cloaked agitators with Liberal links, wannabe Liberal politicians and sitting Liberal members. In the absence of any real policy, having a scapegoat for all the ills of North-West Tasmania was the next best option to communicate with the distressed.

Again, the one crucial element missing was any talk about the long term viability of these proposed mines. It was peddled as gospel that Shree and Venture would provide long term job opportunities and offer prosperity for the region.

One Liberal candidate, Joan Rylah, catapulted herself into state parliament on the back of her “Unlock Tasmania” group. Termed as “an independent non-party-political group of everyday people”, it was more a bullshit organisation Rylah could appoint herself the head of, and subsequently use that bullshit position to insert herself into the media debate. When hippies chained themselves to equipment at a timber veneer mill owned by serial socialise the losses forestry company, Ta-Ann, Rylah quickly organised a return fire protest on the main street of Smithton. And there Rylah was, marching front and centre of the Unlock Tasmania protest, as the camera shutters clicked.

Rylah was one of those peddling the myth of prosperity. And Shree’s mine would be a godsend, as her own site ( HERE ) said:

Upon environmental approval - the immediate go-ahead for the Shree Minerals proposal. 120 jobs & 30 year life.

Yet as analyst, Tom Ellison pointed out ( TT HERE ).

Shree Minerals is unique in at least one respect – it is the first minerals exploration company (to my knowledge) that has started mining ore prior to completing a definitive feasibility study.  No doubt the risks were mitigated somewhat by veiled hints of a 30-year mine life which resulted in implied Government support, although the information as released to the ASX suggested the available ore will run out in 15 months.

As the news filtered out that Shree would be on go slow, so too did news that Venture would be seeking costs against Save The Tarkine from a failed federal court challenge. However the real story was another piece of grandstanding by the new federal Liberal member for Braddon, Brett Whiteley. Whiteley, who looks like your standard Liberal politician from central casting, a glazed ham dressed in a suit, pulled out the bic to pen a laughably infantile request to the Environment Minister for the destruction of Save The Tarkine. 

“At a time when taxpayers are being called on to share the load and reduce our debt and deficit, the government needs to examine carefully the value of every dollar it spends.

“I therefore insist the Commonwealth demand to the court that every last cent incurred by the taxpayer as a result of this frivolous and vexatious action be returned.”

Yet none of those careful examinations of every dollar extends to corporate pork in Whiteley’s electorate. Back in February, his beaming smile was on hand for a photo opportunity when the federal government kicked in $3.5 million so Huon Aquaculture could upgrade a factory in Braddon.

But there’s rarely a question in the local media about any of these inconsistencies. The Advocate had thrived on the conflict between pro mining supporters and environmentalists, but there was zero analysis of any project. Merely reports on the most inflammatory (and often irrelevant) actions of Save The Tarkine combined with cheerleading of the proposed projects. At no point was anyone offered a counterpoint to the prevailing argument that “we need jobs and these mines will fix everything.” No discussion of the possible future iron ore price and the glut ahead, nor the interesting suggestion by Shree its costs were $81 a tonne and it could have a 30 year mine life when its direct shipping ore would be gone in under 2 years.

Similarly, while The Advocate’s Sean Ford takes pride in being the man to report on what the local miners are up to, especially if it’s positive, there’s little mention of risks or clangers. Local Tasmanian miner, Grange Resources held back shipments of iron ore pellets last quarter, telling shareholders buyers had been opportunistic and they wanted to sell for value not volume. At last count, that move had cost Grange at least $4 million. You read about the hold back of the shipments in The Advocate, but not the outcome. Nor will you read UBS analysis that Grange starts losing money when the iron ore price hits $87 - don’t spook the horses.

The Advocate appears to see any mining story as a placebo to the moribund local economy and state of mind. Again this week they pulled out another “Chance of” story ( HERE ), where a company was “considering” a new mine. Posted on The Advocate’s Facebook page, it had readers tagging their friends in the comments, hinting there was a potential job for them. Little did anyone remember, it was just a rehash of a story ( HERE ) from 18 months ago.

Like politicians exploiting the fears of voters, as I’ve pointed out before ( HERE ), the local media has exploited the same people in transparent attempts to resuscitate the confidence fairy and save its own backside. If you’re a regular reader of Tasmanian papers, particularly The Advocate, the tone is apparent. So many stories reek of desperation. Are reporters looking for actual stories or just serving up what could be considered ongoing pep-talks? Remember, if people opened their wallets, the advertising sales rep might be able to prise some ad bucks from local retailers. You can turn page after page of Monday and Tuesday editions of The Advocate and not lay an eye on a single ad.

If it wasn’t apparent before they were elected, the Liberals have few solutions for Tasmania, whose prospects continue to look dim. Whiteley’s crowning glory is a work for the dole program being rolled out in Braddon. This was after Brett Whiteley and his Tasmanian colleagues fronted endless TV ads spruiking 1 million new jobs during Tony Abbot’s reign. Little surprise that putting unemployed youth to work in church charity shops and having them restoring churches appeals to Whiteley’s notable Christian side. The reason unemployment is high still isn’t addressed, but

“Placing jobseekers in Work for the Dole activities will give them the opportunity to gain the experience and skills they need to help them find permanent work.”

With Australia’s lowest level of educational achievement, malevolent forces know Braddon’s population is susceptible to cheap manipulation. If that doesn’t make them vulnerable enough, economic malaise has left them angry, confused and scared for the future. After endless betrayal, false prophets continue to emerge and remind them who their Judas should be. With little inclination or ability to get past emotive slogans “greenies fucked the joint” is a common conclusion. The long running saga of the never economic pulp mill was evidence of that.

If these mines and proposed mines turn into mirages, which they inevitably will, it’s only a matter of time before the recriminations start. While a local warming to Scott Jordan and Save The Tarkine is unlikely, his ultimately ineffective challenges to these mines should be remembered as a positive. That opposition flushed out the weasels prepared to play the public for fools. Those opportunist politicians will either be conspicuously absent as this mess plays out, or alternatively, they’ll be making grandiose excuses and pointing fingers.

When it all becomes clear, you’d like to hope there’s a pitchfork with a glazed ham on the end of it.

From The Idiot Tax Blog here

*The Idiot Tax blog describes itself: Break the shackles of material and media enslavement. Grow a pair (or stiffen up those titties) Insulate your mind and recognise your money is the most powerful weapon you’ll ever have - if you stop wasting it. The Idiot Tax creator is known to the Editor.

• There is a permanent dinkus to The Idiot Tax blog in TT’s left-col Favoured Blogs ...

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• Nicole Anderson, in Comments: Great writing Idiot Tax Blog. The depth of deception in Braddon continues to grow as OS companies “play the public for fools”. Its staggering! You are quite correct about the media’s role, however I ask the question: what exactly must a regional newspaper do to affect positive/constructive attitudes in its area so lacking in literacy and entrenched in prejudice against the greenies? Especially when the greenies were actually correct in the first instance? Catch 22 I think.