If you haven’t already seen it, this innovative collaboration between Crikey, academics and writers, is running an investigation of coal seam gas mining, in the run-up to the Queensland election. The aim is to provide “a new model of analytical and interactive journalism which will hold the debate accountable to fact”.

As is so often the case with new media innovation, the project is running on a limited budget and a lot of goodwill. Those with a concern for public health, rural health, and independent debate may like to consider making a donation towards its costs.

Dr Mark Bahnisch, Director of FAQ Research, a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, and a Postgraduate Research Fellow in the Centre for Medical Education Research and Scholarship at The University of Queensland’s School of Medicine, explains more about the project below.


Please consider supporting a public health investigation and new media innovation

Mark Bahnisch writes:

Over the last few decades, public health as a discipline and a practice has taken great strides in Australia and elsewhere. The systemic, social and environmental causes of lack of wellbeing are better known, and better responded to. But that is not to say all is rosy.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2010, researchers Niels Munksgaard, Mark Taylor and Alana Mackay argued that “while the causal link between smelter lead emissions and increased risk of adverse health effects has been convincingly documented and responded to elsewhere”, the issue of remediating fugitive lead emissions in Mount Isa had consistently been frustrated by delays and questions over evidence.

Associate Professor Taylor, of Macquarie University, observed that:

[The] problem is exacerbated by the reluctance of stakeholders, including Xstrata Mount Isa Mines Ltd, the owners of MIM along with the Queensland Government’s environmental and health authorities to acknowledge and respond effectively to the source of the problem.

Many would argue that a similar pattern occurs around the vexed question of the public health impacts of Coal Seam Gas extraction on rural and residential land.

Writing for the FAQ Research/Crikey special investigation, Coal Seam Gas: Behind the Seams, Emeritus Professor David Shearman and Dr Marion Carey, on behalf of Doctors for the Environment Australia, set out a number of claims by the coal mining industry which they argue do not stack up against fact.

In the final week of this media project, I will be examining the evidential and policy issues surrounding the controversies over Coal Seam Gas and public health.

In particular, I will look at the precautionary principle and the problems inherent in collecting evidence regarding deleterious impacts of mining activity after the fact.

These questions around public health are among very many which are complex, often distorted in media debates about Coal Seam Gas, and obscured through political and PR spin. The aim of our media and research project is to pull this debate back towards the evidence and truth. We have been publishing research articles, as well as a range of other dynamic and visual media.

In so doing, we have been immensely enriched by a field trip to the Western Downs. Nothing beats talking to those directly impacted, and seeing with your own eyes, particularly since governance and distance are key axes around which the debate revolves.

However, this project does not come without cost, and indeed one of the issues surrounding the impact of CSG extraction is the paucity of funding for independent research (though this may change). The project is supported on a largely in kind basis by Crikey, and a core principle is not to accept funding from corporate, political or activist sources.

We hope Croakey readers might consider supporting our work financially.

We also hope to extend the project further, and continue to represent under-represented voices in the debate, and to engage in ongoing research around the important issues of the community, social and health impacts of Coal Seam Gas, and their ramifications for the future of our nation. Donations can be made here.

• Dr Mark Bahnisch is Director of FAQ Research. He is also a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, and a Postgraduate Research Fellow in the Centre for Medical Education Research and Scholarship at The University of Queensland’s School of Medicine. His expertise includes research methods, health policy and health systems.


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