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Friday, December 13, 2019


AWB boss 'feared sanctions-busting'

Peter Geary. File photo.

Peter Geary. File photo.

A FORMER executive of the Australian Wheat Board knew the exporter had contracts that delivered millions of dollars to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, despite concerns he would be branded a "sanctions buster" within the United Nations, a trial has heard.
Peter Geary, the exporter's former general manager for trading, knew AWB was making secret payments between 1999 and 2003 under the guise of trucking and service fees paid to a Jordanian transport company that was a front for the Iraqi government, the Supreme Court has heard.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has brought a civil case against Mr Geary and former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge over the $300 million cash in sham payments.
The commission alleges both men breached their duties.
Mr Geary faces 13 allegations of breaches and Mr Flugge four allegations.
Each breach carries a maximum fine of $200,000.
Continuing his opening on Tuesday, Norman O'Bryan, SC, for ASIC, told the court Mr Geary was the manager of AWB's New York office between 1995 and 1998 and had a good knowledge of the UN's rules regarding trade contracts with Iraq.
Mr O'Bryan said Mr Geary knew of the risks of going down the "limited information route" when dealing with the UN and feared being cast as a "sanctions buster". Despite this, he and Mr Flugge knew contracts AWB signed with the Iraqi Grain Board breached UN rules, Mr O'Bryan said, but neither man raised the alarm.
"It's not difficult to draw the inference they knew of the risks they were taking when they decided to breach those sanctions," Mr O'Bryan said.
AWB's contracts received an immediate "haircut" to return them to fair value once a coalition of countries, including Australia, invaded Iraq in 2003 and took control of the country's books.
The court was told of email correspondence among AWB executives that discussed the payments to the transport company, Alia.
One email centred on variations in the trucking fees, another addressed a new method of paying the trucking company and in another, an executive advised a colleague to consider dragging a "very large suitcase" into Iraq, which Mr O'Bryan described as an "explicit or semi-humorous" instruction.
Lawyers for Mr Flugge and Mr Geary are yet to respond.
The trial continues before Justice Ross Robson.
with AAP

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


CO safety threshold 'altered'

A firefighter who patrolled Morwell's streets testing for carbon monoxide during the Hazelwood mine fire has revealed the 'safe' CO threshold was altered by authorities during the event.
A report from 'Firefighter L', a leading firefighter in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade of 12 years, outlined instructions given to his team in what they could and could not say to residents during the fire.
Initially, the firefighter and his team worked with the time weighted average of 30 parts per million as a trigger point for alerting the community that carbon monoxide levels were dangerous and protective equipment must be used to stay in the environment.
Soon after, the firefighter was informed that 70ppm would be the new trigger point for warning the community.
The Department of Health officials had called for the change, according to the firefighter's statement.
"Concern had been expressed about this new figure as it exceeded levels in which firefighters were required to wear breathing apparatus and yet the health department were allowing the public to be exposed to those levels," the statement read.
In addition to this change, the firefighter also reported he and his team were told on 25 February not to give any recommendations to residents, including whether or not they should relocate.
"We were told to say that 'we were Hazmat technicians doing air monitoring in the township', that is all," the statement read.
Firefighter L stated the team chose to loosely advise the public based on their readings to fulfil their duty to protect life and property.
"So when the levels got dangerous we advised the public that perhaps it was not the best environment for them to be in and suggested that if possible they should try and remove themselves from the environment," the statement read.
United Firefighters Union president Peter Marshall has called on the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry board to promise protection for career firefighters, who he said had been threatened with punitive action if they spoke up.
"We want the Premier to guarantee the firefighters are able to speak out on public safety issues without the threat of dismissal or other punitive action," Mr Marshall said.
"They were gagged down in Morwell from telling the community anything and they've also been gagged from submitting to the inquiry."
Mr Marshall said beyond 50ppm, firefighters were required to wear breathing apparatus and if levels reached 75ppm, they were evacuated.
"There was no information provided to the community on these figures, there's no rationale from raising it from 30 to 70," he said.
"Serious questions need to be asked and answered as to why the firefighters' concerns were not acted upon and why they were silenced from informing the community."
Following the statement's release, Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer called for the resignation of Chief Health Officer Rosemary Lester and Health Minister David Davis.
"We're angry, annoyed and frustrated; our community should not have been treated like this," Ms Farmer said.
The Express contacted MFB but received no response at the time of print, while the CFA issued a statement saying "the appropriate forum for these allegations to be put and tested is the Commission of Inquiry".
The Victorian Department of Health was also contacted and issued a statement saying "these are matters that should be put before the board of inquiry, that's the appropriate place for it to be further examined".

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Stockpiling 96 million tonnes of coal

A mysterious change has been made in the Australian Government's forecasts of thermal coal production.

In March each year the "Resources and Energy Quarterly" includes 6 year forecasts of thermal coal production and thermal coal exports. The difference between these two numbers might represent domestic consumption - which is likely to mean thermal coal burned in Australia's coal-fired power stations.

BUT... In the March 2019 edition, the amount of thermal coal produced but not exported suddenly jumped 33% above what has been shown in previous years.

This is a very large increase: up by 16 million tonnes a year from 48 million tonnes to 64 million tonnes a year.
  • Where is all this extra thermal coal to go - 96 million tonnes in total over 6 years? 
  • Is it to be stockpiled to avoid mines being moth-balled because production is far greater than what customers are ordering? 
  • Is this a ruse being played out while the coal industry and Australian Government struggles to get the Adani coal mine out of the starting blocks?

Friday, August 30, 2019

Consumer right to repair vs unrepairable by design

A panel-mounted fuse holder on the rear of a microwave oven would make a "right to repair" a useful thing for consumers to have. 

Setting a microwave oven light into a recess that is accessible without the need to remove the entire protective metal case would not pose any challenge to most industrial design students.

A replacement light bulb for a microwave oven costs about $3 to $5 on eBay.

To install one in most microwave ovens is hazardous to the intrepid "do-it-yourself" enthusiast and prohibitively expensive when done by an authorised repairer.

The replacement of the fast-blow fuse in a microwave poses a further financial question mark, that influences the "repair or throw away" choice that needs to be made.

Though the replacement part costs around $1.25, replacing it may reveal that some serious problem persists - which will only become apparent if the new fuse blows as soon as the microwave oven is turned on.

Paying an authorised repairer to replace the fuse with the possibility of then finding that some other fault makes it cheaper to simply buy a new microwave oven might shift the balance in favour of just throwing the appliance away and buying a new one...

Some minor changes to microwave oven construction could make the replacement of a fuse and light build a two-minute task that could accomplished by any consumer - and without the need to own a screw driver.

The right to repair a product isn't that much help when products are designed in a way that buying a new appliance is more economic that having them repaired.

Microwave ovens destined for scrap

A panel-mounted fuse holder on the rear of a microwave oven would make a "right to repair" a useful thing for consumers to have.
Panel mounted replaceable fuse holders
Panel mounted replaceable fuse holders
Setting a microwave oven light into a recess that is accessible without the need to remove the entire protective metal case would not pose any challenge to most industrial design students.

The issue of designing appliances to be "fixable" - in a way that is both financially and practically viable for consumers - needs to be considered.

Just the "right" to repair appliances alone won't help reduce waste ending up in land fill as much as can be achieved.

See 'Right to repair' laws for fixable electronics pushed forward after agreement at consumer affairs meeting by Tom Lowrey

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Microbial corrosion of coal seam gas wells

In March 2019 EIN Presswire published an article on corrosion in Queensland's coal seam gas wells...

It had been at this link

Corrosion in coal seam gas wells seems systemic in Queensland

The now-deleted article included -

Xpandable Patches to extend the life of corroded CSG wells in Queensland, Australia

Charles Albouy,

  • Full-covered Xpandable Patches successfully isolated bacterial corrosion in coal seam gas wells;
  • Microbiologically-influenced corrosion seems to be systemic in the region, and other operators might encounter similar issues in their CSG wells.

Saltel Industries was approached in 2016 by one of Australia’s leading natural gas producers, to tailor a solution for their unusual problem: in some of their CSG wells in Queensland, the 7in production casing must cope with severe and localized external corrosion, developing at shallow depth. These corrosion cases are suspected to be caused by bacteria growing under specific pressure and temperature environments. ...

The corrosion damage can occur at very shallow depths (e.g., as little as a few metres below the wellhead), and corrosion damage can leave less than 80% of the casing metal thickness. In this situation, traditional patch setting methods that require high-pulling or explosive alternatives are complicated and risky for the casing and involve serious HSE downhole hazards. ...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Five degrees of watergate separation

If you do a Google search on a name involved in the Angus Taylor / Barnaby Joyce / Watergate mire you may stumble upon the fact the Australian Government recently deleted its lobbyists registrer entry for the lobbying firm "The Fifth Estate".

Google search on name "Ian Wiskin" in Watergate mire

404 - page not found error - for Ian Wiskin at lobbyist "The Fifth Estate"
The cached copy of the Australian Government lobbyist entry for "The Fifth Estate"

After following a few search paths from the deleted lobbyist registrer entry you come full circle - back to a firm "MHPremium Farms" owned and founded by Sir Michael Hintze AM, where Angus Taylor's brother Richard Taylor is a director, and where former "The Fifth Estate" consultant Tim Mort now works as an analyst.

Tim Mort moves recently from "The Fifth estate" to MHPremium Farms

MHPremium Farms with Watergate connections Michael Hintze and Richard Taylor

Why the Australian Government deleted the lobbyists register entry of "The Fifth Estate" quite recently - it was cached by Google's search entry on 14 May 2019 with content last updated on 21 January 2019 - is not known.

The NSW and Queensland Governments still have current entries for "The Fifth Estate" on their lobbyist registers.

NSW Government Lobbyist Registry - listing The Fifth Estate

NSW Government Lobbyist Registry - listing The Fifth Estate - clients

NSW Government Lobbyist Registry - listing The Fifth Estate - employees

NSW Government Lobbyist Registry - listing The Fifth Estate - employees

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Eastern Australia Agriculture - the early years

Angus Taylor founded Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Ltd ABN 96 126 388 163, registered 1 October 2007 to be wholly-owned by another company, Eastern Australian Irrigation (Caymans) that was registered on 6 December 2007.
ABN search result for Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Ltd registered 1 October 2007

Cayman Islands company registration search report for Eastern Australian Irrigation Limited

Three months later a British investment fund prepared its annual report stating it owned a share of Angus Taylor's Eastern Australian Irrigation (Caymans) company valued at £2,296,000 by its directors.

A news report shortly after ("Thirsty foreigners soak up scarce water rights", SMH, 4 September 2010) said that "the British investment fund Ecoļ¬n owns 20 per cent of Eastern Australia Irrigation, a company with extensive land and water holdings in south-eastern Queensland."

More recently Michael West reported "Barnaby Joyce, Angus Taylor, Australia and the Caribbean", 21 April 2019:
This British fund had a 9.6 per cent stake [in its "Interim Financial Results Announcement" to 31 March 2017] in the Caymans entity set up by Angus Taylor, Eastern Australia Irrigation (EAI). We know from statutory filings with the London Stock Exchange that EF told its shareholders in January last year that it had realised a return of 2.4 million British pounds from its investment in EAI.

It may be usual to assume that the process of founding Eastern Australia Agriculture and Eastern Australian Irrigation (Caymans) was undertaken by Angus Taylor in Australia as an independent project and then shortly after an investment fund in England was persuaded to acquire a 20 percent share valued at 2.296 million British pounds.

Perhaps in this case other arrangements were made. For example, upon Ecofin recognising the potential of investments in Australia's water resources market it might have begun looking for someone to create an investment vehicle in which it could acquire an interest.

In this scenario, any fees for the work would probably be paid on completion - that is, as soon as the investment vehicle had been established in the Cayman Islands.

The co-founder of Ecofin, Dr. David Lloyd Owen, writing in "Pinsent Masons Water Yearbook 2008 - 2009" described a positive outlook for investments in the Australian water market in the chapter "Australia" in "Part 2: Country Analysis".

One missing piece of information is the question over when and how Angus Taylor's companies he founded at the end of 2007 had been able to acquire any assets within just 3 months - by 31 March 2008.

Ronni Salt on Twitter provided this insight on 10 April 2019:
In 2007/8, our rising star Mr X [Angus Taylor] knew a good business opportunity when he saw it.

He knew farming water & its buybacks were going to be very lucrative [just as the co-founder of Ecofin, Dr. David Lloyd Owen had done at the same time].

So when he saw 2 huge farms for sale in southern QLD with millions of $$ of water rights on them, Mr X looked into them.
Company E [Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Ltd] bought those 2 huge irrigation farms - “Clyde” for $27 million, “Kia Ora” for $61 million.

The British fund "Ecofin Water & Power Opportunities plc", Company Number 4134479 in annual "Reports and Accounts" for the years ending 31 March 2008 and onwards include in its Portfolio Listings one or other of the companies founded by Angus Taylor.

For example it was listed for the first time - in the 31 March 2008 report - as "Eastern Australia Agriculture (Cayman)" as an investment in Australia with a "fair value" estimated by directors as £2.296 million.

Its estimated value changed in each successive annual report -
31 March 2009
31 March 2010
31 March 2011
31 March 2012
30 September 2013
30 September 2014
30 September 2015
£3.142 million
£3.533 million
£6.190 million
£6.515 million
£8.260 million
£6.106 million
£5.244 million

Throughout this period Eastern Australia Agriculture made repeated attempts to sell its 2 Queensland properties with their water infrastructure and licences, and also to sell water and / or water licences to the Australian Government.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Clean nuclear energy with a simple electricity output stage

University of New South Wales researchers led by Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora have made important breakthroughs recently in developing clean nuclear energy technology.
When a proton (a Hydrogen nucleus) fuses with a Boron-11 nucleus it produces 3 alpha particles (Helium nuclei).
That's it. No radioactive fuels. No radioactive waste.
Hydrogen Boron-11 fusion
Hydrogen Boron-11 fusion

And another result: For each 11 grams of Boron-11 (one mole) converted to Helium, the energy produced is around 230 megawatt-hours.

At the level of individual nuclei, the mass of the three Helium nuclei produced is about 17 electron masses less than the mass of the Hydrogen nuclei (a proton) and the Boron-11 nuclei that undergo fusion to create them. It is this "missing" mass that appears as energy. Specifically this energy is kinetic energy imparted to the Helium nuclei.

Laser-boron fusion now ‘leading contender’ for energy
"The fuels and waste are safe, the reactor won't need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf," says Warren McKenzie, managing director of HB11, which owns the patents to the new technology.

When coal is used to fuel a high-efficiency low-emission "HELE" ultra-supercritical coal-fired power station, carbon dioxide emissions are 900 kilograms per megawatt-hour. The amount of carbon in the coal needed for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated is 900 x (12 / 44) kilograms. That is coal containing 245 kilograms of carbon is burned for each megawatt-hour.

To generate 230 megawatt-hours of electricity in a "HELE" coal-fired power plant coal containing over 56 tonnes of carbon would need to be burned. It would be converted into almost 210 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

That's right. 
56 TONNES of carbon vs 11 GRAMS of Boron-11 for the same electrical energy output.

Coal power plants have another serious handicap. The energy produced when coal is burned is heat energy. Extremely high pressure boilers and turbines are required to spin large generators to convert the heat energy into electricity.

With proton-Boron-11 fusion, the energy produced is in the form of fast-moving positively charged Helium nuclei. This kinetic energy of charged particles can be converted directly into electricity. There is no need for steam boilers, turbines and generators.
While the nuclear reactor is being developed, the technology to create electricity from fast-moving charged particles can be done in parallel. For instance, the ion propulsion test facility at the Australian National University could produce streams of ionised gases to use in developing the electricity production technology.
Professor Christine Charles is Head of the Space Plasma, Power and Propulsion laboratory at the Australian National University.
Professor Christine Charles is internationally recognised for her research on ion acceleration in expanding magnetised plasmas and its applications to a new generation of space engines and advanced material processing.

Update - 5 July 2019 

Progress in research in seemingly unrelated fields may lead to sudden advances, solving tasks that are steps to manufacture small commercial laser-driven fusion electricity power modules.

From this article "Self-Torque: Physicists Discover New Property of Light" on 1 July 2019 for instance -
In 1992, it was realized that light can also possess orbital angular momentum (OAM) when the spatial shape of the beam of light rotates — or twists — around its own axis.
In order to realize an entirely new property of light, manifested as a time-varying OAM along the light pulse, JILA physicist Kevin Dorney, University of Salamanca’s Dr. Laura Rego and their colleagues exploited the quantum physics inherent to the high harmonic generation (HHG) process.

“To create that high harmonic generation with light, an intense, femtosecond laser pulse is upshifted to high frequencies of the driving laser by essentially creating a nanoscale radiating antenna from an atom that is in the process of being ionized,” they explained.

“When properly phase-matched, bright, coherent laser-like beams can be generated that span from the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) to the soft X-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Friday, March 15, 2019

Coal lobbyists paid as adviser to Coalition Govt

Brendan Pearson - coal lobbyist and paid Coalition Government senior advisor
Brendan Pearson - coal lobbyist and paid Coalition Government senior advisor

Minerals Council eyes Tania Constable as CEO

The Minerals Council of Australia may hire the head of a carbon capture and storage group as its next chief executive after major member BHP forced out the previous chief for being too coal friendly.

It is understood that Tania Constable, a former treasury official with more than 20 years experience in government industry and resources jobs, is a leading candidate for the job. An announcement is due within two weeks.

The appointment has been more than six months in the making after the nation's top resources lobby group unexpectedly parted ways with former CEO Brendan Pearson after BHP threatened to review its membership.

Tania Constable, CEO Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, is understood to be a favourite to take charge at the Minerals Council of Australia. Sean Davey
A spokesman for the MCA said the recruitment process is at "an advanced stage of completion" and that an announcement would be made once the process is finalised. "The MCA will not comment on rumour or speculation regarding candidates for the role."

Mr Pearson, who last week joined the office of Trade Minister Steven Ciobo as a senior trade advisor after helping Finance Minister Mathias Cormann negotiate with Senate crossbenchers on company tax cuts, was seen as being too supportive of coal interests.

The rumoured shift to Ms Constable, who would take over from acting MCA chief executive David Byers, suggests the council is continuing the shift away from the combative approach of Mr Pearson's predecessor Mitch Hooke, who spearheaded the politically tumultuous campaign against Labor's ill-fated mining tax in 2010.

Mr Pearson took over from Mr Hooke in January 2014, just as the Minerals Council absorbed the former stand-alone Uranium Association and Coal Council on the understanding it would continue to fight for coal and nuclear power in Australia.

His departure was seen as evidence of the growing impact of the global anti-coal lobby, which is putting pressure on big producers such as BHP to withdraw from the industry.

BHP said last week that it has severed ties with the World Coal Association over differences on how to combat climate change.

The resources giant – which earns around one fifth of its revenue from coal but is moving towards zero emissions from its businesses after 2050 – said it saw little benefit from staying on as a member.

The company was particularly unimpressed with remarks by WCA chief executive Benjamin Sporton in the Financial Review last September where he backed the Turnbull government's dumping of a clean energy target.

Ms Constable would come to the Minerals Council after a lengthy career as a policymaker across resources, energy and natural gas.

She was named as chief executive of CO2CRC (or the Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies) in late 2014 by its chairman, former Labor resources minister Martin Ferguson.

CO2CRC describes its mission as developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a "socially, technically and commercially viable option for net zero emissions" and references research saying it won't be possible to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees without CCS.

The MCA is a strong supporter of CCS and its website highlights that more than $300 million has been spent on projects to demonstrate the viability of CO2 capture and storage.

Prior to that post, Ms Constable was chief adviser for Treasury's personal and retirement income division, a job with a heavy tax policy focus. She was also a senior Industry Department official for more than four years where she advised the minister on oil and gas regulation, exploration and other mining activities.

She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2014 for her work in the creation of Australia's liquefied natural gas and other energy industries.

It is understood the search for the CEO's position is being tightly managed by the MCA board.

Jacob writes about American politics, economics and business from our Washington bureau. He earlier was the Canberra-based economics correspondent and has held reporting jobs in Sydney, Zurich and Brisbane across more than two decades. Connect with Jacob on Twitter. Email Jacob at

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Successful transition from old to new technology

The transition from leaded to unleaded transport fuels begun in 1981 with a target end-date of 2002 is a good example of how the adoption of a long-term policy simplifies the making of investment decisions of stakeholders for new plant and equipment.

From a paper by Troy Whitford, Fuel Mandates have a History of Success and a Lesson for Bio Fuels Implementation. Australian Policy and History, April 2010.
"In 1981, Australian state and federal transport ministers met to address pollution problems. Driving the shift towards unleaded petrol were vast environmental and health concerns.

During the 1980s, automobile associations were critical of the introduction of unleaded fuel. The RACV opposed the implementation believing it was too costly. The oil industry was cynical, too, arguing the introduction of unleaded fuel did not follow from a technological breakthrough but rather a decision by ministers. Without doubt, the position taken by oil companies, automobile associations and other stakeholders regarding unleaded fuel changed over time.

Despite opposition to unleaded fuel, the Transportation Council adopted a program to mandate unleaded petrol by 1985. The implementation policy for unleaded fuel was undertaken in stages. Initially, regulations were made calling for all new motor vehicles made after January 1986 (manufactured within Australia or imported) to meet the new fuel requirements. The policy then called for a complete phase out of unleaded fuel by 2002. Prior to the national mandate, states had led the way on unleaded fuel of which NSW took the lead. The decision to mandate was essential for implementing unleaded fuel. It forced car manufacturers, oil producers and consumers to make the transition."
Both renewable and fossil fuel investments for generating and distributing electricity can be utilised at close to full capacity to provide electricity for recharging electric battery powered vehicles.

Both of these investments can also be used to manufacture hydrogen for fuel-cell powered electric vehicles.

Vehicle manufacturers at present face considerable uncertainty in predicting which of the emerging clean fuel transport systems will win out in the long run.

Fuel cell electric vehicle with battery for short trips
Fuel cell electric vehicle with battery for short trips

Adopting a policy for the introduction of electric vehicles would reduce that uncertainy. Allowance can still be made for competing technologies that are quickly evolving. Fuel cells for instance that produce electric power from, say, hydrogen, are not that dissimilar from batteries that store and recharge electrolyte in situ. Vehicles using either, or both, of these energy supply systems are powered by electric motors regardless of which these two evolving technologies provides the electricity. One version of electric vehicles might use a battery for short trips and activate a hydrogen fuel cell on longer trips after the battery charge is depleted.

This plan would encourage continuing expansion and technological advances in renewable energy without the need to immediately write off substantial capital invested in fossil fuel power plants.