Who’s the demon?

At the risk of being called naïve or an apologist, I feel compelled to challenge the demonisation of big business.

While it is something that has been troubling me for a while, my concerns have become crystalised by the anti-mining mutterings of my esteemed colleagues on Twitter.

In recent days, the more we non-economists hear about the misnamed Resource Super Profit Tax, the more sensible it seems.  But it has taken serious journalists such as Peter Martin and George Megalogenis to take the time to translate this arcane but practical arrangement into plain English.

We should not have been subjected to the shrill objections and counter-claims of the mining industry and Government.  Any government worth its salt on the issues management front could have turned this resource and risk sharing arrangement into a good news story by bringing the mining industry into the tent and getting them on side before the RSPT announcement was made.

Is this me being naïve?  Or did the Government want the mining industry to be seen to be taking a hit swiftly after it dodged an earlier bullet with the abandonment of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme?

Did the Government consciously demonise the mining industry in an attempt to regain a few brownie points from the electorate?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the title for the new scheme.  The moniker given to the Resource Super Profit Tax smacks of the same hyperbole applied to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.   The RSPT is no more a real tax than CO2 is real pollution.  But these labels provide a mechanism for the government to simultaneously suggest there is a serious problem and that it is addressing this problem with a new acronym, I mean, program.

Aside from this, is the demonisation of the Australian mining industry justified?

Yes there have been sins in the past.  And there are still some out-riders who think they can still get away with it dodgy practices.  But it is no more logical to burden all miners with the sins of the few, than it is to do the same with teachers, car drivers, or internet users.

Mining companies work on 20 and 30 year timeframes.  They understand better than most of us the bounty and the limitations of the earth.  Even so, it took them a while to realise that the natural environment is not limitless in its capacity to rebound from the stresses of mineral extraction.  It took them even longer to understand how their operations impact on people and societies.  But they did come to understand these factors and they took action to change.

Around 10 years ago, led by Australian mining company CEOs, the global industry took the unprecedented step of commissioning an international NGO called the International Institute for Environment and Development (www.iied.org) to run the world’s biggest community attitudes survey.  The survey was to find out what communities, governments, environmentalists and other activists in both the developing and developed worlds thought about the mining industry and what they wanted to change about how the industry went about its business.

Some mining companies walked away from this process because they found it too confronting.  To my knowledge, none of those companies operate or have a presence in Australia.  Some NGOs walked away too because they thought it was a greenwashing exercise.  But after two years of the community talking and the mining industry listening, some real outcomes emerged.  Perhaps these were less ambitious than some would have liked.  But they were a start.  A new mining entity was established at the global level to continue the discussion with NGOs and to deliver the undertakings.

My point is that mining companies know better than most that they have to be “good corporate citizens” in order to keep their social license to operate.

It is these companies who have built roads and communities alongside their operations in rural and remote Australia.  They have built infrastructure for water and electricity generation.  They have education and employment programs for their local people.  They have invested in these communities with their shareholders’ funds because governments would not.  And as a result they have a relationship with their communities that politicians and other companies could only ever dream of.

While some critics of mining are prepared to acknowledge this investment, they call it the resource curse – communities and economies made dependent on mining revenue that are left stranded when the operation ceases.  This may well occur if a mine is closed before its time due to emergency or insolvency.  But most major operations include the cost of withdrawal from the community in their initial project costings.  This withdrawal includes building capacity within the community to ensure that it can continue to thrive once the mining project has concluded.  If you want a real example of that strategy, then look no further than the thriving ex-mining town of Newcastle.

I’ll have other things to say about the anti-corporate, anti-capitalist bandwagon.  But for today, I’ll finish by saying this: when a politician points at someone and says they are bad and need to be dealt with, first ask yourself why the politician wants you to believe him …….

Nirvana revisited

There’s not many things I enjoy more than a passionate discussion.  Maybe a Cherry Ripe straight out of the fridge.  Or the smell of kitten’s paws.  But that’s about it.

Some people have to jump from great heights or hurtle along the road to feel like they’re really living.  My thrill comes from the jousting of thoughts and words.

My passion for debate was kindled at university.  I’d been led to believe at high school that academic success was to replicate what I had been taught.  This edict was turned on its head at university when a philosophy lecturer told me that any answer was right, as long as you could argue it convincingly.

So begun my inquisitive and outspoken approach to most things.

My degree in English literature and psychology led to a career in public relations.  Soon enough, the political world beckoned.

It was my Nirvana to be working and socialising with so many talented wordsmiths, advocates and strategists.  Fourteen hour days were barely a nuisance when they culminated in a philosophical debate with colleagues and opponents in the early hours at a seedy bar.

Those days are long behind me.  It is nearly 20 years since I was a partisan participant in the gladiatorial arena that we politely call politics.  Looking back on those days, I truly believe it is the debates and discussions, rather than the election campaigns and victories that are the addictive element of political life.  We pine for the battle of minds and words with respected friends and adversaries long after we’ve moved on to the “real” world.  Like any addiction, this desire only ever lies dormant.   It can never be excised or cured.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blog.  I realise that it doesn’t actually need a purpose, but for me it is like a secret door to a place I thought I would never visit again.

These days I’m what you might call a “lapsed” political junkie.  There was a time when I would listen to three radio programs and read six newspapers before I was prepared to start planning for the day ahead.   I would read the editorials and the views of the esteemed columnists in each major newspaper before concluding whether yesterday had been a good or a bad day.

Once I ceased to work as a political operative, it occurred to me that I had lapsed back to my high school way of thinking.  I was just replicating what others were thinking and saying.

From that point I decided to use my own knowledge and experience to analyse what was happening in the political world.  These days, I shun all news and current affairs programs.   I skim three newspapers each morning, and receive two electronic media summaries on daily basis.  I don’t read editorials or opinion pieces.

I trust my own judgment and I form my own views.

This is liberating, but mostly pointless because I don’t have any means to put my views to the test.

That is, I didn’t, until I stumbled upon the Twitterverse.    And what an amazing place it is, with whimsy and silliness at one end, sharp edged philosophical debate in the middle, and porn-spam at the other.

I found very quickly that Twitter is like a university pub writ large – a place for high-brow satire, Pythonesque plays on words, hilarious and short-lived situational jokes, love and lewdness.  It is true that prejudice and bigotry make the occasional appearance but they are quickly bounced out the door.  Most of all, the Twitterverse is a place for respectful but lively exchanges of considered thought.

I am besotted with this world and have quickly followed the lead of other Tweeps to the land of Blog to let the thoughts that I’ve had to prune to 140 characters expand and roam free.

I’m not sure what I will write here, or whether it will be interesting enough for others to read.  It will be like putting my views to a rather rowdy bunch at the uni pub on a Friday night – there might be a couple of nods, or I might be denounced or even totally ignored.  Who knows, but I am going to give it a try.