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A Fancy Hypocrisy: China, Australia and Coal Mania

Fear them for their technology; fear them for their ideology and their authoritarianism. But embrace interference and involvement in the economy if it involves coal. This is the fancy hypocrisy of Australian politics, one driven to lunacy and inconsistency by that dark and dirty love.

The contrast between fear of Huawei, on the one hand, and an eager opening for a Chinese state-owned enterprise barging its way into the Australian market suggests that those in Canberra have finally twisted themselves into knots. The latter is particularly striking – the China Energy Engineering Cooperation (CEEC), the designated monster behind what promises to be 2000 megawatt of coal generation in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney. Two plants billed as users of efficient coal-fired technology will supposedly take root in the “failed industrial zone” and give it life. The cost would be in the order of $8 billion and generate over $17 billion worth of carbon liabilities.

Australia’s dinosaur political class is delighted at the latest foray into environmental spoliation. “This is exactly what the market needs,” chuffed Coalition backbencher Craig Kelly. Furthermore, to show that the conservative wing of politics is happy to forfeit any laissez-faire credentials regarding the economy when needed, Kelly is keen for generous taxpayers’ support. “If the Government needs to underwrite it, if it needs a little help, then that’s what we should be doing.”

Gone from the conversational babble was China’s February announcement through the Dalian Port authorities restricting Australian coal imports. “The goals are to better safeguard the legal rights and interests of Chinese importers and to protect the environment,” explained Geng Shuang of the Chinese foreign ministry. The point is worth reiterating, since similar bans were not applied to the coal from other states. The indefinite ban was the bitter icing on that particular issue, confirming prolonged clearing times for Australian coal since the start of February.

The announcement of the mining venture had its predictable reaction in the environmental movement in Australia. The Greens federal member for Melbourne was aghast, and as is his wont, got into the realms of hyperbole. Protests would ensue; mass disaffection would take to the streets. These latest coal plans, according to Adam Bandt, “will make the Franklin Dam campaign look like a Sunday picnic.” What of, he said, any acknowledgment of the recent climate shocks gripping the continent? “We just had our hottest summer on record. If Labor and Liberal [parties] give this project the tick of approval then you will see civil disobedience in Australia on a scale never seen before.”

Interference by China in Australian matters is enchanting printing presses and stalking the corridors of power in Canberra. Like other obsessions, it is clear that this one is inconsistent and variable, manifesting in various forms like an inconsistent fever. James Laurenceson’s Do the Claims Stack Up, Australia Talks China, concludes that “in each case, the evidence base [on interference] is shown to be divorced from the claims found in headlines, news reports and opinion pieces, revealing just how widespread has become the discourse of the China Threat, China Angst and China Panic”. When it comes to coal, the threat transforms; China Blessing, or China Grovelling come to the fore. (The Yellow Peril becomes the Yellow Salvation.)

The divorce in terms of reality is also evident in the finance side of things; the mining projects being proposed have yet to find the necessary capital, a point that is proving increasingly difficult for any such concerns. Kaisun Holdings, the other company involved in the enterprise and also noted for being a “Belt and Road” company, is still on the hunt for “potential investors”. As with the Indian mining giant Adani, such companies will have to convince those who finance them that coal is good in an increasingly hostile environment. No money, no project; the equation is uncomplicated. On paper, Kaisun has a market capitalisation of $33 million. The Australian joint-venture partner has a mere $25,000 on paper.

The Australian Financial Review has also pointed out that the scheme, inspired by Parramatta’s Frank Cavasinni, is being “driven by a small businessman from Western Sydney with no experience in the energy industry.” Ignorance can be golden, but not in certain areas of economic planning. Such a plant has already received reproach from EnergyAustralia’s executive Mark Collette, who claims that the plant will not provide the flexible capacity in the grid required as users move to the use of low-cost wind and solar power. “Coal as an investment works best as baseload but the market signal is calling for something different, which is flexible capacity.”

Australian politicians, when it comes to mining, prove fickle. Their views are changeable, climactically variable and their principles are always up for purchase. They are in office to be bought by the commodities industry, but the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is firm: there are no plans in the pipeline to approve any coal-fired power stations. “We are the most resilient state when it comes to our own energy needs.” But given that the Australian federal government lacks a coherent, sustainable energy policy, coal lovers feel they are still in with a chance.

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  1. Keith

    New huge coal fired power stations being built in Australia are a big concern.
    For Australia to back such enterprises smacks of an anti-free market approach.
    Already the energy sector in Australia is stuffed through privatisation creating a monopoly for foreign corporations.

    The proposal has not come at a good time for the NSW Berejiklian government, about to go to an election.

  2. Alcibiades

    Another great read.

    Gladys Berejiklian, is firm: there are no plans in the pipeline to approve any coal-fired power stations.

    Yeah, right … firm. Should Gladys & Co. retain power … post election circumstances could of course always change.

    Australian policy makers are schizoid. Torn between the economy being critically dependent on China for importing what we dig up, economically beholden.

    Yet, simultaneously a political & military vassal beholden to the US, unable to ween itself off the myth of the security of the so called ANZUS Treaty, and the addictive drug that is membership of the Five-Eyes alliance.

    The US was dismissive of entreaties during ‘Confrontation’ & even more so re Timor-Leste.

    We waste untold billions upon billions on next to useless US ‘Defence’ hardware, which is little more than a figleaf for ‘tribute’ to Empire. $50BN plus on prototype conversion of nuclear to diesel northern hemisphere French submarines, to ‘suck up’, when we cannot even man (crew) half of our current Collins fleet.

    All whilst we run ‘whispering’ & overt propaganda campaigns against our largest trading partner ?

    Sooner or later, somethings gotta give …

    In any case, I’ll just leave this here :

    Norway deals a blow to an oil Industry that’s quickly losing friends

    … While the divestment by Norway’s $US1 trillion ($1.4 trillion) fund doesn’t include Big Oil, instead rooting out $US7.5 billion of companies that focus purely on exploration and extraction, the impact of the announcement rippled through the sector. Shares of all oil companies initially plunged on the news, suggesting the move sets the industry up for greater disruption.

    Now is the time for smart investors around the world to follow their lead and make decisions driven by the reality of the energy transition.”
    Carbon Tracker’s Mark Campanale

  3. Uta Hannemann


    I looked up what is meant by ‘Belt and Road’.

    “. . . . the Australian federal government lacks a coherent, sustainable energy policy, coal lovers feel they are still in with a chance.”

    What does the federal government opposition say? Do they unequivocally state that no new coal fired power stations are needed?

  4. Jack Cade

    The Huawei situation is absurd, in a country bristling with US spyware. If we’d had the balls to make up our own minds, well and good. But we are craven. First response is always ‘what will Uncle Sam say?

  5. Alcibiades

    Uta Hennemann

    What does the federal government opposition say? Do they unequivocally state that no new coal fired power stations are needed?

    Why should they ?

    Any elected government under our system can regretfully quite literally do as they please, regardless of little ‘Honest’ Johny Howards malleable definition of ‘core & non core’ promises.

    In any case, what would doing so realistically achieve in the current febrile partisan charged ‘Claytons’ election campaign, other than unnecessarily alarm and lose vital votes in a coupla of coal-friendly/industry dependent critical marginals ?

    Objectively, ain’t no tactical upside to such a declaration.

  6. Andreas Bimba

    I suppose when the political leadership is corrupt to the core almost any crazy decision is possible?

    More coal fired power stations make no sense on environmental grounds, economically, for providing on demand power or for providing employment. Better alternatives exist but that doesn’t mean the crazy coal loving right wing of the LNP and even some in the ALP won’t support giving billions of dollars to a China based corporation so they can proceed.

    Does this industrial zone even have access to a large body of water for the cooling water? Cooling towers provide the initial cooling needed by the steam condensers but usually a large body of water is used to get the cooling water down to ambient temperatures?

    This looks like a dirty political stunt designed to make those who oppose the building of more coal fired power to appear to be anti-jobs from the perspective of many in those electorates desperately in need of more jobs – who are in reality unemployed due to neoliberal economic mismanagement.

  7. Josephus

    NB Labor intends to permit various gas fracking start ups in the Northern Territory if elected. Not surprising, given the State Labor approval of Adani’s Carmichael, which Shorten agrees is ok if officials agree with Adani that it is environmentally harmless. Damn, the experts say it is a disaster waiting to happen, and the farmers and the first people agree?
    Labor wants to win the election I suppose. Some believe that he is a smidgen more principled than the COALition.

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