How Alice missed the Big One, spin continues


p2111-Dave-TollnerBy ERWIN CHLANDA
The new fracking “regime will deliver the robust environmental approval and assessment process the community wants,” say Mines Minister Dave Tollner (at left) and Chief Minister Adam Giles.
“In adopting the regulatory regime recommended by Dr Hawke, the community can have greater confidence that environmental assessments are highly rigorous,” says Minister for the Environment Gary Higgins.
And Mr Giles pushed that other button as well, saying he’s “building a social licence” for fracking and onshore oil and gas administration, announcing “a raft of additional measures to ensure [the government’s] environmental approval process is comprehensive and transparent”.
If that is so, why has his government been keeping under wraps Alan Hawke’s “Review of the Northern Territory Environmental Assessment and Approval Processes” since May 1 this year, releasing it only yesterday, one day after the announcement of the successful pipeline tender, and giving the 51 page document to Darwin journalists for just one hour before the scheduled opportunity to ask Dr Hawke questions, while making no arrangements at all for Alice Springs media to question him.
The flood of statements yesterday are full of the kind of spin that has become the hallmark of the Giles Government.
Says Peter Styles, Minister for Business: “[Tuesday’s] announcement was effectively the on switch for a wave of opportunity across the Northern Territory.
“The NEGI will create more than 900 jobs, 600 of which are for locals and will result in $112 million in contracts for local businesses.
“The ability to generate local jobs and business opportunities was a major part of the selection process for this project.”
Note it “will create”. This is a deceptively modified lift from the Jemena pitch, which in fact says: “67% of expected contracts could be competitively tendered to Northern Territory (including Mt Isa region) businesses, worth $112m.
“During planning, construction and commissioning, up to 563 out of 900 direct jobs could be filled from the Northern Territory (including Mount Isa region).”
That’s a clear “maybe” – not to mention the need to get over the hurdle of the “prequalification requirements, namely demonstrated experience in similar work scopes, Australian / local good references, cost competitiveness, robust HSEQ systems and processes, ability to negotiate commercial terms and conditions”.
The “robust” process Dr Hawke had called for in his first report remains firmly in the government’s hands, judging by the 21 recommendations taking up nearly 3000 words.
Regulating the mining of the Territory’s more than 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, potentially enough to power Australia for more than 200 years (Mines and Energy Minister David Tollner’s estimate), is the job of the Minister for the Environment, “in consultation” with the Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA).
The EPA consists of a chairperson and four members appointed by the Administrator of the Northern Territory and the Chair of the NT Planning Commission.
So, how did Alice Springs miss out on the Big One? Given the effort of Tennant Creek involving the whole community, the corresponding effort in Alice Springs was paltry – to put it politely.
Alice Springs has the Economic Development Committee (EDC). It is chaired by a public servant, Scott Lovett, from the Department of the Chief Minister.
Two assumptions would be reasonable: This committee has a strong presence from the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce, and secondly, it would have gone hell for leather for the Alice to Moomba pipeline to be built, a $1b project.
Wrong on both counts: The council has no presence in the EDC (Mayor Damien Ryan was a member last year) and neither does the Chamber.
Well, maybe. Its president, Neil McLeod, says he is on the EDC.
Does he represent the Chamber there? He’s not sure. “Maybe they asked me because I am its president.”
p2296-pipeline-compressionWhat Mr McLeod is sure of is that the EDC did nothing substantial to push the pipeline to be in its neck of the woods – unlike tiny Tennant and its Tennant Creek Mount Isa Alliance.

Tennant's Christmases are coming all at once

For Mr McLeod the pipeline was just a matter of the government tendering process to take its course.
Chamber CEO Kay Eade says the pipeline would have had a long-term beneficial impact on Alice’s economy, a benefit now being enjoyed by Tennant Creek whose people “are really passionate about their town,” as Ms Eade puts it.
They had earlier shown similar proactive attitudes with the Palm Valley to Darwin pipeline as well as the Alice to Darwin railway.
Ms Eade encourages Alice businesses to register their interest and get the biggest possible slice of the action.
As for the Council, Mayor Ryan says he is “disappointed” that Alice didn’t get the pipeline, but he suggests with the new air service in place, Alice residents may land some fly-in, fly-out jobs in Tennant Creek.
As the biggest town close to their operation “we are pretty well placed”.
Mayor Ryan says the council did all it could to get the pipeline, but that consisted in the main of having meetings with three of the four companies interested in building the Alice to Moomba version. These three had approached the council.
Mayor Ryan says: “The Council has plenty of meetings with the Chief Minister and I have nothing else to add.”
This precluded further examination with Mayor Ryan of what the Council could have been doing: The NT Government controls the onshore gas. The Mines Minister issues the exploration and production permits.
If there is a demand for gas of a magnitude the government would have us believe, could Adam Giles not have made the Alice to Moomba pipeline a condition for access to the resource? After all, Alice is his supposed home town.
What’s the financial loss for Alice Springs from not getting the project? “I don’t have a ready reckoner to work out these figures,” says Mayor Ryan.
If the Hawke recommendations are adopted, miners will have a “single front door through the system”, there will be a “strengthened audit and compliance role for the NT EPA”, and the Minister will give miners and the community certainty by publishing policies and procedures.
The second Hawke report seems to be full of ambiguities. Terms such as reinforce, regular, responsible decision makers, relevant, significant impact, clear, are found throughout the recommendations and provide generous latitude for interpretation.
“Independent evaluation.” By whom? Not specified.
“On request of the Minister, provide advice …” Where does the public stand if the Minister doesn’t request it?
“Discretionary decision of the Environment Minister.” It’s no secret the current government is hell-bent  on increasing mining activities.
“Simplify EIA guidelines to focus on risk assessment and adaptive management responses rather than comprehensive descriptions of the environment.” Assessment by whom? Adaptive to what?
“Reward good practice [by miners] based on ‘earned trust’ so that proponents who produce high-quality documentation and management plans and build community trust are rewarded with a lighter assessment touch while those with poor documentation or practice are subjected to greater prescription.” Is that referring to a word count or does it depend on the actual meaning and relevance of what is documented?
“Consideration should be given to using peer review to outsource preparation of the adequacy scorecard.” Who are the peers? And will the consideration be given?
(We made at least a dozen contacts yesterday by phone and email to obtain comment from Dr Hawke – no joy. He is welcome now to provide responses in the comment box below this report.)
The Territory Government says it will now “embark on a major consultation exercise, starting this week until September next year. This consultation will involve stakeholder briefings and workshops around the Territory”.
Clearly the existing exploration and production activities will continue in the meantime.
Says Mr Tollner: “The NT Government will grant a limited number of exploration permits every year to assist with gathering further baseline data about our oil and gas resource.”
The government has also decided that mining and petroleum activities will now become the subject of the Water Act.
“The impacts of mining and petroleum activities on water resources have always been managed and closely regulated by the Department of Mines and Energy.
“However the Water Act, which regulates the allocation, use and management of water resources across all industries in the Northern Territory, does not apply to oil and gas activities.
“Today the Government has announced its intention to remove the exemption in the Water Act relating to oil and gas activities. This will further strengthen the management and protection of the Territory’s water resources,” says Mr Giles said.
Meanwhile the Lock the Gate anti-fracking alliance presented evidence that – it suggests – shows that Dr Hawke has a conflict of interest: ActewAGL Distribution is owned in equal shares by Jemena Limited (the winner of the pipeline contract) and Icon Water, on whose board Dr Hawke sits.
Dr Hawke, in an emailed statement, replied (in part) as follows: “I am a director of Icon Water which provides water and sewerage services to the ACT and surrounding district.
“Icon Water is wholly owned by the ACT Government, its voting shareholders being the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister.
“Icon Water is a 50% owner of a separate company called Actew/AGL in a joint venture with AGL and Jemena.
“Actew/AGL delivers electricity and gas services. I am not on the board of Actew/AGL (the Chairman and Deputy Chair of Icon Water fulfil those obligations) and I have nothing to do with the running of Actew/AGL or any interaction with Jemena.”
PHOTOS: Pipeline construction (at top) • Sketch of a gas compression station similar to the one to be built at Warrego.


  1. Don’t give up on the pipeline yet, Alice – perhaps there will be a “review” about the decision announced very soon (like, tomorrow).

  2. One good thing for Alice and all Territorians to come out of this announcement is that mining and petroleum activities will now come under the Water Act. Hopefully this will strengthen the protection, and hence the future, of our water resources.
    As to why Alice didn’t get the nod, ask yourself why would it? Unlike Tennant, where I imagine the whole community and its Council enthusiastically got behind the proposal, here in Alice we have a culture of nitpicking whinging and a Council that has been in place too long.
    Any attempt to build something here is met with vociferous objections from big fish in a little pond who seem determined to keep Alice and its environs a theme-parked economic backwater.
    Their vision, like their buildings, struggle to see over the trees in the river. Watch this negativity crank into gear if a nuclear waste facility starts to gain traction.
    And our Council? They, especially the executive, have been there so long they have come to think they hold their positions by right.
    Everyone is always invited to attend Council to raise matters of interest, but if those matters don’t mesh with the prevailing opinions held in City Hall, they are met with politely arrogant dismissal or outright bullying.
    In many ways Alice has changed for the better over the last 15 years, but now it’s time for a big thank you and a big broom.

  3. The decision for NEGI to take the Northern route had nothing to do with lobbying.
    Jenema offered to fund and build it, by contrast the Southern route required Federal funding.
    The Feds declined to offer Northern Development funds, so there was really only one funded route on the table.
    The Northern route has the least potential and will deliver gas more expensively to the East coast.
    The ASX reaction to the choice has been to crunch Central Petroleum’s share price by 11%.
    It isn’t a good choice but there was no alternative – unless Giles tipped in $300m.

  4. I’m really disappointed with your comment Hal. The fact that we have lots of interesting characters who are prepared to envisage Alice Springs as more than just a modern frontier to be conquered and sold off to the highest bidder is what makes us such a great town!
    Reality check. A town doesn’t have to swallow the mining industry, fossil fuel or nuke propaganda to be a thriving modern regional town!
    Plenty of solid research around that says this mining project ain’t gonna be that great for whoever gets it anyway. Depends what industry you’re in I suppose.
    But you watch this town go downhill if the progressive community get pushed out by rednecks, nutjobs and hoons!
    A backwater! It is only if we allow the town’s debate to be dominated by insular, parochial CLP aligned mates that we will become a backwater. Talk about a culture of handouts and entitlements!
    Yes, Alice has its problems but with a bit of visionary thinking it is also true to say we also hold the key to the nation’s future in our hands.

  5. @ Julia Andrews, Posted November 19, 2015 at 8:12 pm: Sorry to disappoint you, and now I have to compound it.
    Alice will continue to go downhill not if the progressive (reactive?) community gets pushed out by “rednecks, nutjobs and hoons”, but if we continue to have those self-anointed progressives stand like a rock in our road.
    There was always going to be a pipeline. Now Tennant has it, not Alice.
    There will be a national nuclear waste facility. Australia has an obligation to look after its own waste, but will the storage facility come here, or go elsewhere?
    And as for my recent suggestion to use the feral camel population to create an industry, provide urgently needed remote employment and do the world, as opposed to a relatively tiny corner of outback Australia, a favour? Forget it.
    The “progressives” reckon bugger that. Let’s just shoot ’em and litter our environs with the carcasses of rotting camels.
    You say we hold the key to the nation’s future in our hands. I question if we hold the key to our own future in our hands.

  6. With people within the chamber of commerce that can be so negative and hypocritical with businesses in Alice Springs, and a council that just keeps putting up speed bumps for when you try and start a business, of course it would have always had a negative vision.
    Steve Shearer always wanted my business to fail, as I was in opposition across the road from him.
    And he is on the C of C board.
    Yes, no money was needed from the government if Tennant won the contract with Jemena, but with a full backing from, I’m sure, the whole town of TC, and a fractured alignment of toffs who think they wield power in Alice Springs, I know where I would have bet my money.

  7. Well I wasn’t expecting that response Hal, but OK, good that you’ve clarified your position for us.
    Progressives as self anointed rocks in the road? Seriously! Look at who holds the real power in this town! I really don’t know how you can say it is the progressives who are holding up the show. By progressives who do you mean exactly? Doctors, nurses, teachers, carers, people in the services industry etc etc – or just people who like evidence based decision making?
    Yes, a gas pipeline has always been on the cards, but spin it anyway you want, how is it the Alice’s progressive community’s fault that we didn’t get it? Sounds it was like a Gilezy captains call in the end due to money – as Ralph says “there was no alternative”.
    Bit the like the port deal eh Hal? Buy hey do you reckon that there is any sector of the Alice Springs economy that might be a bit pissed by Gilezy’s port decision? You know like 3000 people?
    You might even call it the “Really Big One”. But you know, let’s just blame the progressives for being rocks in the road. It’s easier.
    Also, yes there needs to be long term nuke storage, but if it means opening the door to being the worlds nuclear tip, forget it.
    For the record there is nothing wrong with your camel plan in my opinion. Certainly no reason why that can’t be pursued at the same time as other initiatives if the financials stack up.

  8. @ Julia Andrews, Posted November 20, 2015 at 2:54 pm: To address one point of your reply, what does Port Darwin have to do with a pipeline in Alice? For the record, I fail to see any problem with the lease of the Port to a Chinese firm with “alleged links to the People’s Liberation Army”.
    Please don’t tell me you are dragging up that old canard “yellow peril”.
    As PM Turnbull told President Obama, the leasing process went through the proper channels. He specifically said the process was vetted by Australia’s Department of Defense, and they gave the lease an all clear.
    As an aside, any PM who can tell POTUS he needs to take out a subscription to the NT News is halfway to getting my vote.
    To address another, yes, there are many progressive people in Alice. I suggest many among them would have welcomed a pipeline for the commercial activity it would have generated. Given it was always going to go somewhere, we missed a chance by not doing more to secure it here.
    And it’s the same with the nuclear waste facility. Already I’m reading scare tactics about atom bombs and nuclear fallout. Seriously? Atom bombs and nuclear fallout?
    I agree there is a concern that we may become the repository for the would’s nuclear waste, but our much loved Pine Gap has already painted a bull’s eye on us, and no one seems worried about that.

  9. Malcolm Turnbull was simply asked by the leader of the United States if we Australians give a stuff about ANZUS.
    It is a pretty valid question.
    The Chinese are doing pretty nicely in Australia and good on them. But that doesn’t mean we should sell out as fast as we can cos we can make a bit of cash. It’s not Yellow Peril Hal. There is such a thing as the great dance of geopolitics. The NT could actually do alright for itself if it was interested in such things rather than just blaming things on the other side of politics all the time. It gets us nowhere.
    PS: Next time Malcolm should tell POTUS to read Alice Springs News Online!

  10. Anyone who looked at the options with commonsense would see that the route chosen is the right one. There is a major road to access the pipe line instead of having to build new roads etc.

  11. @ Julia Andrews, Posted November 20, 2015 at 6:59 pm.
    You make two very good points here. There is such as thing as the great dance of geopolitics, and on that dance floor it’s a slowly dawning realisation here downunder that Australia is an English speaking Asian nation.
    We need to embrace that geopolitical reality, a reality within which China is both paying the piper and calling the tune.
    And I wholeheartedly agree that POTUS would be well advised to start reading the Alice Springs News Online.
    Also, and because you seemed to give it a degree of qualified support, I feel it worth one more attempt to explain my idea for the feral camels.
    To start with, I acknowledge that the idea falls about midway on that line between Buckley’s and None.
    But that doesn’t make it impossible, just improbable. To drain the sandhills responsibly would be the work of a decade, possibly longer.
    And the figures will never stack up if the only reference is economic profit and loss. There are simply too many of the critters walking around out there, and the meat they would yield could never be consumed in Australia, or at least not without putting our existing meat providers under industry-wrecking strain.
    That’s why the funding would have to come from DFAT, or whichever Federal department handles foreign aid. There are literally millions of displaced people in today’s world, and the existing aid agencies are struggling to feed them. They would be the targeted recipients.
    The main benefits here on the ground, as I see them, would include meaningful employment for many in our most marginalised and remote communities, a chance for those same to participate in a project that would contribute to a greater good but from within their own sphere of being, and the eradication of a feral pest causing unchecked damage to our pristine sandhills.
    Pie in the sky? Sure, but think about it. Progressive picnics could then enjoy not just camel burgers but also camel pies.

  12. @ Hall: I totally agree with you Hal, the council, needs a good broom sweep. As for this town being prosperous: You take the welfare out and this town and government handouts, this town would be nothing. Let’s face it, it survives on Federal money and service to the Indigenous. We have no industry. The town feels and looks dirty. This town is controlled by a minority.
    Talking to a lot of German tourists, they are amazed how there are so many people sitting around doing nothing and filthy. The pipeline would only have benefited a few. Tennant Creek needed a bit of a lift.

  13. Honestly at times I am completely gobsmacked reading the comments section, I mean what the hell do some expect?
    Putting enormous effort into a never ending whinge, objecting at length to everything put before them like a collective bunch of neurotic midlife crisis, lashing at everything good or bad, with complete disregard for the outcome!
    Taking the lash to Council for what they see as an unfavourable outcome while accepting no responsibility whatsoever for the very negative perception created by their own comments!
    Many businesses and individuals see the enormous potential of our area but they are put off by the constant tirade of negativity towards projects of any kind.
    Imperiously taking aim at Council for losing the pipeline project. Yet the very first questions I fielded from two separate pipeline bids were about the negative attitudes of our citizenry towards the projects! Yes, they gained those perceptions from your comments! So time to step up and take a little responsibility yourselves!
    If you’ve got doubts about a project ask a sensible constructive question or voice a concern, after that have the decency to both acknowledge and to be open to a constructive answer!
    As for council while of course we were very supportive of the concept there wasn’t much of a role we could play, given that it was a competitive tender process being run by the NT Government with zero input from council.
    If of course we had of had some role, I suspect the outcome may have been different, no conflict of interest of course. (Yes, sarcasm.)
    I too was very disappointed by the pipeline decision, while of course being somewhat conflicted by feelings of goodwill to the people of Tennant, nice to see them get a break, however by far and away the better projects in my opinion were the southern options, the difficulty apparently, was funding those options.
    I’m not sure what council could have done about that, short of committing a huge portion of its entire yearly budget of $40m for the next 100 years. However I am absolutely certain that the South Australian Government could have done something about that funding shortfall if they were as committed as they say they were, or perhaps in typical SA fashion they were only interested in something that didn’t require any input from them!
    As for cleaning out council Hal, LOL!
    So you stepping up, are you? I suspect many of the regular commentators here hiding behind anonymity afraid to come out of the shadows, couldn’t conjure up a single vote between them!
    They wouldn’t even vote for each other! LOL! I’m completely biased of course but the present council is made up of a very good selection of long term very committed locals who in the most part work very constructively at managing our community.
    The voters of the Alice have just added two new and exceptional members to that list and should be congratulated on their choice; it completes a group that will work energetically and in the main without controversy.
    I know that’s not very exciting for those that get off on controversy and cannibalizing their own community. However I suspect that in time history will show that it was very good for the Alice.

  14. Re Brown: Nice deflection. However being the town’s One and Only everyone can see you are just all “huff and no puff”. It’s not a broom we need, it’s a bulldozer.

  15. @ Time’s up: I totally agree. I am in my late 70s now, I have never seen such a dysfunctional council in all my life. Maybe Steve Brown needs to walk around the streets of Alice Springs and see the poor infrastructure.
    I have spoken to the local Indigenous people who have said that the Todd River is a disgrace and needs the cleaning out, but council will not listen.
    They take no notice of us Indigenous people.

  16. Fred, guess who makes most of the mess in the river, so it is a bit rough to then complain. It maybe better to not create the mess and then they would not have to complain.

  17. @ John: I was not talking about human rubbish, but the build up of sand, trees, saplings etc which need to be removed so that the river can run free when it does flow. That’s is why you have flooding. You call this a river, where I come from we call this a drain. Every two years our council maintains our river.

  18. Fred the Philistine (Posted November 23, 2015 at 6:48 pm), I am intrigued. Your backstory is beginning to sound almost as weird as Janet’s. An eighth generation Aboriginal Australian of Palestinian origins, who grew up in a place where the local council “maintains” a river biannually. I want to know more. Where is this river?


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