Friday, December 31, 2010

The mineral scramble that led to some rare alliances

Ian MacKinnon December 30, 2010

SOUTH KOREA has struck a deal with Burma to develop its natural resources in the latest bid by industrialised nations to secure new sources of rare earth metals to beat China's near-monopoly.
The minerals are vital for numerous high-tech products, including smartphones, hybrid car batteries, computer discs and guided missiles.
Most countries have had supplies squeezed as China, the producer of 97 per cent of the world's rare earth elements, restricted exports this year.
China said this week it would cut exports by a further 11 per cent in the first few months of next year.
That South Korea should be doing business with a pariah state such as Burma is a measure of the panic export restrictions have created among big producers of electronic goods. In September Beijing halted supplies to Japan, which takes 60 per cent of its rare earth exports, after a diplomatic spat over the arrest of a fishing boat captain in disputed Japanese waters.
Concern that stockpiles of rare earth minerals could run out by March prompted Tokyo to explore a deal with Vietnam to mine the metals. Beijing denied any official ban on exports to Japan, but figures show it cut export quotas by 72 per cent in the second half of the year. Prices increased sharply.
This spurred the US to reopen rare earth mines. A Californian mine, closed in 2002 due to environmental concerns and low prices, has recently reopened but will take two years to reach full production.
Chen Jiazuo, a metals research analyst at Beijing Antaike Information Development Company, said the export cuts were ''in line with government officials' comments that we need to protect the environment and resources. Controlling domestic production capacity, output and exports will continue to be the theme.''
Curbing exports may further exacerbate tensions with the US, which last week said it may file a complaint at the World Trade Organisation over restraints on supplies of the minerals.
Rare earth minerals are 17 chemically similar elements, including neodymium, cerium and lanthanum. Neodymium oxide, used in BlackBerrys, costs $US88.50 a kilogram - more than four times its price in 2009. Telegraph, London

Fury in China over online death photo

Xiyun Yang and Edward Wong December 30, 2010
BEIJING: The photograph is so graphic that it appears cartoonish at first glance. A man lies on a road with his eyes closed, blood streaming from his half-open mouth, his torso completely crushed under the large tyre of a red truck. One arm reaches out from beneath the tyre. His shoulder is a bloody pile of flesh. His head is no longer attached to the flattened spinal cord.
The man in the photograph, Qian Yunhui, 53, has become the latest internet sensation in China, as thousands of people viewing the image online since the weekend have accused government officials of killing Mr Qian to silence his six-year campaign to protect fellow villagers in a land dispute. Illegal land seizures by officials are common in China, but the horrific photographs of Mr Qian's death on Saturday ignited widespread fury.
It is the latest in a string of cases in which anger against the government has been fanned by the lightning-fast spread of information online. Officials in the city of Yueqing, which supervises Mr Qian's home village, insist that the photographs show an unfortunate traffic accident. Mr Qian's family, some Chinese reporters and residents of Zhaiqiao Village cite the photographs as proof of foul play and a sloppy cover-up.
It is unclear who took the photographs, but they first appeared on Sunday afternoon on Tianya, a popular online forum.
Chinese internet users were drawn to the fact that the land dispute involving Mr Qian is a common narrative in China.
In 2004 the city government approved the construction of a power plant in Zhaiqiao Village. The company building the plant got virtually all the arable land in the village, and the villagers received no compensation, according to a blog post that was written four months ago under Mr Qian's name.
Mr Qian travelled to Beijing to file a petition with the central authorities. City officials said Mr Qian had been arrested, found guilty of criminal conduct and imprisoned at least twice. Mr Qian continued his crusade after being released from prison. The New York Times

More on NSW Energy

Keneally retreats on power inquiry

Sean Nicholls STATE POLITICAL EDITOR January 1, 2011

KRISTINA KENEALLY has bowed to criticism of her repeated claim that an inquiry into the controversial $5.3 billion power sale is illegal and will try to expedite the legal advice her department is seeking from the Crown Solicitor.
Two days after declaring she ''cannot direct the Crown Solicitor [Ian Knight] as to when he will be providing the advice,'' the Premier suddenly reversed her position.
''I understand the Crown Solicitor is on leave until the 10th of January. However, we're seeking to see if we can get his advice any earlier than that,'' she told a news conference.
Ms Keneally had previously insisted she would have to wait for Mr Knight to return from leave, meaning his advice would be delivered within a week of the inquiry's starting date of January 17.
Since she prorogued, or shut, Parliament on December 22, the Premier has relied on advice that Mr Knight provided in 1994 to claim the inquiry was illegal because it was set up after the closure.
But the Herald revealed yesterday that on the day Ms Keneally first called the inquiry illegal, December 23, her department was so unsure of the claim that it wrote to Mr Knight seeking ''urgent advice''. Despite not having received that advice, Ms Keneally has continued to claim the inquiry is illegal.
She has said it cannot call witnesses and that they would not be covered by parliamentary privilege, potentially exposing them to legal action if they were to disclose information that is commercial-in-confidence.
But these are the matters about which the Department of Premier and Cabinet is seeking Mr Knight's advice.
The Premier's claim has prompted the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, to accuse her of trying to intimidate witnesses, who would include the eight directors of state-owned power companies who resigned in protest on the night of the sale. At the news conference yesterday, Ms Keneally said the department had asked for the updated advice on December 23 ''because journalists had further questions'' about her claim.
The parliamentary inquiry is set down for January 17 and 18 and to report by January 31, less than two months before the election on March 26.
Ms Keneally is under growing pressure, including from within her party, over the government's handling of the power sale, which the Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, rushed through just before midnight on December 14.
At the last minute Mr Roozendaal was forced to appoint members of his own sales team to the boards of the state-owned power companies involved in the sale, Delta Electricity and Eraring Energy, after the directors resigned.
Ms Keneally is accused of proroguing Parliament two months early to try to dodge the inquiry, an accusation she strongly denies.
Mr O'Farrell said yesterday that Ms Keneally was ''running out of excuses'' for blocking the inquiry.
''Ms Keneally has an opportunity to stop trying to hide the truth, and she should finally admit today that the only alternative she now has is to allow the parliamentary power inquiry to do its job,'' he said.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Public kept in dark as banker joins power board at last minute

Public kept in dark as banker joins power board at last minute
Sean Nicholls December 30, 2010
THE Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, quietly appointed a former senior executive at Macquarie Bank, Michael Lilley, to the board of the state-owned power company Delta Electricity within hours of the infamous ''midnight sale'' of NSW power assets.
But Mr Roozendaal has made no mention of appointing Mr Lilley, despite announcing the names of two other directors he was forced to hurriedly appoint late at night to the Delta board after four directors quit in protest at the sale.
Mr Lilley, whose expertise is in public private partnerships, worked for Macquarie as its head of government business. This involved persuading governments to include Macquarie in deals such as the privatisation of public assets. It is understood he left about six months ago.
A spokesman for Mr Roozendaal confirmed that Mr Lilley was appointed on the afternoon of December 15, the day after the $5.3 billion sale was forced through just before midnight. But it was not mentioned, the spokesman said, because ''the appointment process was not complete'' by the time the Treasurer held his 9.30am press conference at which he announced the new directors.
He said Mr Lilley had no role in the sale and the appointment was ''part of the normal process of filling board vacancies''. However, two board vacancies on the other state-owned power company involved in the sale, Eraring Energy, remain unfilled after the resignation of four of its directors on the same evening the Delta directors did so.
The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said Mr Lilley's ''sec- ret appointment'' illustrated the need for greater scrutiny of the power sale. ''The fact [the Premier] Kristina Keneally and Eric Roozendaal have kept this secret appointment from the public for nearly a fortnight only adds to the public's concerns that this sell-off is bad for NSW,'' he said.
''The failure of the Keneally Labor government to declare this appointment only increases the need for the parliamentary power inquiry to proceed and report back to the people of NSW before the election.'' Ms Keneally argued that advice from the Crown Solicitor from 1994 showed an inquiry into the power sale, planned for January 17 and 18, would be illegal because it was established after she prorogued Parliament last week.
Following criticism by the Greens MP David Shoebridge that the advice was outdated, Ms Keneally yesterday revealed her department has written to the Crown Solicitor, Ian Knight, seeking confirmation that it remained his view.
Mr Knight is on leave until January 10, but the Department of Premier and Cabinet had requested he report ''as soon as practically possible'', she said. She could not say if that would be before the inquiry began. The Premier also revealed that the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, had begun ''inquiries to Treasury'' into the power sale. But she could not say if the inquiries were for a special report on the sale.