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Tag Archives: Greg Hunt

Putting dodgy politicians under the same scrutiny as dodgy union officials

When the government decided to spend $80 million on the Trade Union Royal Commission, $17 million of which is going to Minter Ellison, Attorney-General George Brandis’ former employer, its purported aim was to ensure that registered organisations are more transparent and accountable.

The Coalition said “there is clear evidence that the money paid by members to some registered organisations is being used for personal gain and inappropriate purposes.”

Considering the number of scandals pertaining to politicians’ entitlements, the hypocrisy of this statement is astounding.

They want “registered organisations and their officials to play by the same rules as companies and their directors” and for “penalties for breaking the rules to be the same as those apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001.” They have also called for “reform of financial disclosure and reporting guidelines so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies.”

“A dodgy company director and a dodgy union official who commit the same crime should suffer the same penalties. The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations, mainly workers and small businesses, deserve better. They are entitled to the same protections as shareholders of companies.”

But what of dodgy politicians?

Surely the people who hold the highest positions in the land running government business should be similarly accountable to us, the shareholders?

ASIC describes the general duties imposed by the Corporations Act on directors and officers of companies as:

  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties with the care and diligence that a reasonable person would have which includes taking steps to ensure you are properly informed about the financial position of the company and ensuring the company doesn’t trade if it is insolvent
  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose
  • the duty not to improperly use your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company, and
  • the duty not to improperly use information obtained through your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company.

Whether politicians exercise their powers and duties with care and diligence is open to debate and whether their decisions are in our best interests is similarly questionable, but when it comes to the last two requirements regarding gaining advantage, there is considerable concern.

andrew and ginaGina Rinehart wanted the carbon and mining taxes gone. Done.  She wanted special approval to use extra 457 visa workers.  Done.  She wants a special economic zone in the north and government funded infrastructure to facilitate development.  Underway.  She wants company tax reduced.  Coming.  But she doesn’t want anyone to know how much tax she pays in case someone decides to kidnap her.  Done.

And then all of a sudden, not long before the free trade agreement was signed with China, Gina, and several other rich Liberal Party donors, decided to invest in dairy and beef cattle farms – the two big winners from the ChAFTA.

When Kevin Andrews, as Social Services Minister, got rid of gambling reform laws, was he considering the best interests of the people?

When George Christensen launched an attack in parliament on the National Health and Medical Research Council which he accused of demonising the sugar industry through their new food guidelines, did it have anything to do with his family being sugar cane farmers?

When David Leyonjhelm attacks smoking regulations, is he looking out for our welfare or is it because he receives large donations from the tobacco industry?

And what of the ultimate irony of Clive Palmer’s party having the deciding vote on repealing the carbon tax when he had a high court challenge underway and an unpaid bill of $6.8 million?

Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, sanctioned the bugging of another nation’s parliamentary offices to gain commercial advantage for a company who then employed him when he left politics.  There are countless examples of similar conflicts of interest and ‘reward for service’.

ICAC has shown us that many politicians use their position for personal gain and advantage for their friends and donors. The rejection of a federal ICAC by both major parties would suggest that they do not want the same scrutiny that their state counterparts and the unions are getting.

Regarding false statements, the ACCC states that:

“It is illegal for a business to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. This includes advertisements or statements in any media (print, radio, television, social media and online) or on product packaging, and any statement made by a person representing your business.

When assessing whether conduct is likely to mislead or deceive, consider whether the overall impression created by the conduct is false or inaccurate.

Comparative advertising may be used to promote the superiority of your products or services over competitors as long as it is accurate.

Claims that give the impression that a product, or one of its attributes, has some kind of added benefit when compared to similar products and services can be made as long as the claims are not misleading and can be substantiated.”

If you apply that code to, say, climate change, our government, abetted by the Murdoch media, the IPA, and a few other vested interests, are guilty of the most heinous example of false advertising in history.

A recent study by the CSIRO showed that barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural.

“To a substantial degree, when asked, a significant fraction of the public say what they think their preferred party says.”

Obviously, the standards that apply to businesses to be truthful with their shareholders and customers are totally ignored by our government.

When climate campaigners recently took the Dutch government to court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change and ordered the government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years.

The precedent has been set and I, for one, find the idea of Greg Hunt defending his statements about Direct Action against carbon pricing in a court of law, presumably with reference to Wikipedia, absolutely delicious.

 

Malcolm’s test

In six weeks’ time, we will see if Malcolm Turnbull is a leader of substance or a snake oil salesman.

You have to admire his courage in deciding to personally attend the climate change talks in Paris but if he tries to push the Greg Hunt propaganda, he will get called out on it.  Some 150 of the 200 or so countries attending have submitted their plans to move to a low carbon future and I doubt they will take kindly to spin.

Both the IMF and the World Bank, along with a growing number of world leaders, are calling for a price on carbon but Malcolm promised the Nationals and the right of his party that he wouldn’t do that.

As recently as July, we had two Western Australian Liberal MPs calling for an inquiry into the evidence of human influence on climate change.

“I’m open to being convinced but the data and the evidence that I’ve seen [on climate change] thus far certainly I don’t find compelling,” said Dennis Jensen.  “You get the appeal to consensus when the data and the evidence is weak and it’s an appeal to authority rather than examining the data and the evidence.”

Dr Jensen said he was not alone within the party, and that there were “at least” 10 MPs who shared his view that the Government should not sign up to emissions cuts without a parliamentary inquiry.

We have Cory Bernardi whose argument runs along the lines of “Well, the Earth’s climate changes all the time, always has, always will and this happened well before we came along burning fossil fuels. Oh and by the way the world stopped warming since 1998 and I just saw an article the other day saying Chlorofluorocarbons were the real culprit of warming not CO2.”

Senator Fierravanti-Wells reminds us that CO2 is plant food which I assume means she thinks increased levels will be good for agriculture.

And then there’s George Christensen who, when addressing the Heartland Institute last year, said “The weather and climate in Australia has not changed in the last century but a new religious interpretation has arisen since then.  When we are in a flood, they tell us ‘too much rain is a sign, more hurricanes is a sign, fewer hurricanes is a sign, the sky is blue – it’s a sign, gravity – it’s a sign’.”

The most strident critic of carbon pricing and the man who worked tirelessly to bring it down, Barnaby Joyce, is being touted as our next leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said this month that the El Nino was now on course to challenge the 1997-98 event as the strongest on record, and was not expected to peak until late this year.

September was not only the seventh month so far this year to set a new record for heat, it was also the most anomalously hot month in 135 years of data, NOAA said and predictions are that 2015 will easily eclipse heat records in previous years.

Malcolm is going to have to explain why we are approving huge new coal mines and, with China and India both looking to cut coal imports, it is unlikely the ‘lift them out of poverty’ excuse will wash on the international stage.

Will he defend the Direct Action Plan that he previously described as “bullshit” and prohibitively expensive?

In an interview with the Guardian, Turnbull said “If something isn’t working as well as you want, chuck it out. I’m not afraid of people saying, it’s a backdown, or a backflip, an agile government is prepared to abandon policies that don’t work.”

We shall see.

 

Climate change, greed and lies – raising the dead in the Galilee

By Mike Mizzi

This week saw the approval, again, of the Adani coal project in the Galilee Basin: an open cut monstrosity that deems turning one of Queensland’s most bio-diverse regions into a great big coal hole as sound economic policy.

It is difficult remaining objective about a subject like this. In fact the amount of angst and downright anger the Australian people are beginning to have with extractive energy. We have seen a Chinchilla farmer, George Bender, a community activist and well-loved member of the local community commit suicide as Origin Energy dried up his wells and made his life on the land unbearable. Needless to say, locals are furious and so they should be. A man has killed himself in despair over the greed filled desire by Origin Energy to tap eighteen gas wells on his property. I buy power off Origin, but as of today they have lost my custom.

But let’s get back to Adani’s mega coal mine. The Greens have been vociferous against this mine, while having won a court case to stop it they were confident the government would abide by the umpire’s decision, but not if you are Greg Hunt, the Minister for the Environment.

The Climate Council’s latest report on the Galilee, titled Galilee Basin-Unburnable Coal calculates that if all of the Galilee Basin coal was burned, an estimated 705 million tonnes of CO2 would be released each year – more than 1.3 times Australia’s current annual emissions.

The other key findings of the report include:

Tackling climate change effectively means that existing coal mines will need to be retired before they are exploited fully and new mines cannot be built.

  • Burning coal for electricity is one of the key drivers of climate change.
  • 195 countries have agreed to limit temperature rise to no more than 2°C. This puts a cap on how much coal the world can burn. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, only 12% of the world’s coal reserves can be burned.
  • Moving away from fossil fuels means that new energy sources, like solar and wind, must come online rapidly.
  • Any new coal mine is fundamentally at odds with protecting Australia from the impacts of climate change.

The Galilee Basin coal could emit more than Australia’s entire emissions each year.

  • More than 90% of known, extractable coal in Australia’s existing coal reserves must stay in the ground. Therefore, there is no justification for opening new coal mines – the most pressing challenge Australia faces is how to phase out existing coal mines well before their reserves are exhausted.
  • If all of the Galilee Basin coal was burned, it is estimated that 705 million tonnes of CO2 would be released each year – more than 1.3 times Australia’s current annual emissions.

Potential export markets for Galilee coal are rapidly dwindling as the world moves away from coal toward renewable energy.

  • China’s coal use dropped by 3% in 2014 and is projected to fall a further 2.5% in 2015. In March, China announced that it will cut coal consumption by 80 million tonnes by 2017 and by a total of 160 million tonnes between 2014 and 2020.
  • Global investment in new renewable capacity is now greater than investment in fossil fuels, and the gap is expected to widen as investment in renewables surges ahead.
  • Potential export markets for Galilee Basin are dwindling fast. Only India remains a possibility and it is wavering in its commitment to importing coal.

There are increasing signs from global investors that they consider Galilee coal too risky of an investment.

  • A total of 11 international banks have now publicly announced that they will not be involved with any projects in the Basin.
  • HSBC, one of the world’s largest investment banks, has cited plummeting cost of renewable energy and the reduced coal demand from China as having significant consequences for Australia’s coal investments and increasing the risk of stranded assets
  • The $890 billion Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, the largest pension fund in the world, recently announced it would reduce its exposure to fossil fuel risk by divesting more of its coal-related holdings, sending a strong message to the financial sector.

Despite all these facts Greg Hunt seems to think that he can create economic and ecological miracles in the Galilee. Perhaps he knows how to make the dead rise, too.

 

Construction of new urban infrastructure could exhaust the world’s carbon budget within 5 years

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to a report by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the infrastructure that is already in place around the world effectively accounts for 80% of the 1000 Gigatonnes of carbon (based on 2012 measurements) required to stay on a maximum 2°C average warming trajectory. The problem is that if current infrastructure trends continue, the world’s entire budget could effectively be locked away within 5 years.

The SEI analysis added to a recent assessment by the UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and C40 cities. As part of the assessment, two scenarios were presented-a reference scenario in which global urban greenhouse gas emissions may evolve if incremental changes are made. The second scenario examined how emissions could be reduced if Governments take bold actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The annual and cumulative long term emission implications (called “committed emissions”) of new investments in infrastructure and equipment under both scenarios were calculated.

The analysis specifically focused on the role that the construction of new urban infrastructure has in future infrastructure related Carbon dioxide emissions. They attributed approximately 30% of the 45 Gigatonnes of Carbon dioxide expected from all infrastructure annually to urban infrastructure.

The construction of new buildings and transport systems provides an opportunity to rethink urban areas and deploy the most efficient designs and appropriate materials and technologies. Building low carbon infrastructure now can facilitate the development of skilled labour forces that will be essential to roll out progressively lower carbon infrastructure in future, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas in developing and emerging economies such in the South and East Asian regions.

In the longer term, savings in energy costs in the order of US$500 billion per year could be realised by implementing design principles, appropriate materials and technologies. Choosing such initiatives now can also realise savings that would instead be expenditure required for retrofits to keep up with more stringent climate requirements. This is especially significant when the cost of retrofitting building to the same energy performance standard as newly constructed buildings is approximately 5 times higher (US$50 per tonne of Carbon dioxide compared to less than US$10 per tonne of Carbon dioxide).

Urban areas are being presented with a unique opportunity to choose a greener urban infrastructure path, and those in Government can implement appropriate policies to support such infrastructure as well as public transport. Such initiatives are not only necessary to reduce emissions and meet increasingly stringent climate requirements, they will also ensure that urban areas are more liveable.

It is quite clear from the SEI analysis that Jamie Briggs, Australia’s Minister for Cities and the Built Environment has his work cut out for him. On October 11 Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt (Senior Minister Responsible for Cities) outlined the Government’s infrastructure plan for Victoria to the year 2200, which includes two road, two rail and one port project, with the goal being to ease pressure resulting from an anticipated booming population as part of the Government’s vision to transform Melbourne. Minister Hunt’s vision consists of an upgrade of the Monash Freeway at a cost of $200 million, a Metro rail project consisting of two 9km tunnels and 5 new stations at a cost of $11-15 billion, an 18km East West Link road and tunnel (linking the Western Ring Road with the Eastern Freeway) at a cost of $6-8 billion (Stage 1), a link to connect the Eastern Freeway and East Link with Metropolitan Ring Road ($6 billion), undergrounding Melbourne’s metropolitan train lines (cost unknown) and relocating the container Port to Hastings and Geelong (cost also unknown).

The SEI is rightfully concerned with the South and East Asian region given the number of existing and emerging megacities in the region and the sheer numbers of people relocating from regional and country areas into those megacities. I would be interested to see what the outcomes would be if a similar project was conducted in Australia. Given recent reports of the costs associated with traffic congestion in Sydney and the seemingly endless discussion of the transport needs of Perth going into the future, infrastructure is clearly a significant issue here as well. The point of difference is that many cities and countries have moved beyond the discussion of infrastructure for its own sake and are confronting the reality that carbon emissions are an inevitable accompaniment to construction and therefore designs, materials and technologies have to be chosen with this reality in mind. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if such an issue was tabled in Australia? Maybe some of the skilled Australian scientists that have had to leave to pursue international opportunities in the cleantech sector due to the sheer lack of prospects may be tempted to return . . . but then we know the fundamental problem with that at present don’t we?

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Australia’s $234 billion climate gamble

By Dr Anthony Horton

As of last year, China and the US were first and third on the list of Australia’s trading partners. Australian trade with China was worth $152.53 billion-a total that has grown by 12.2% on average over the last 5 years. Australia’s trade with the US was worth $60.43 billion as of 2014, having grown 4% on average over the last 5 years.

In March this year, China raised a number of concerns regarding Australia’s Intended Nationally Determined Commitment (INDC) for greenhouse gas emissions in the lead up to the Paris Climate Summit in December. In particular, they queried whether replacing the planned Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) with the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) will yield the reductions that were likely under those two. The US also queried whether the ERF will primarily replace the ETS or whether other Policies and Measures will be considered.

I discussed a number of issues regarding the ERF (the Flagship of the Australian Government Direct Action plan) and the first Auction in April this year in an earlier blog. The second Auction will be held on 4 and 5 November, which is approximately three and a half weeks prior to the Paris Summit. It is possible that news of the second Auction results will spread as widely and quickly as for the first, including to representatives of other nations attending the Summit. The representatives may be keen to quiz the Australian party on the results, particularly if the results are questioned as extensively in social media as the results of the first Auction were. This will be very interesting to watch indeed.

In the time since the first Auction, it is fair to say that a lot has transpired politically in an international and domestic context that highlights and brings into focus Australia’s stance on emissions reductions. In an international context, China and the US have progressed a deal on emissions reductions reached last November with discussions earlier this month, as a result of which many cities including Atlanta, Houston, New York, Beijing, Guangzhou and Zhenjiang have pledged new actions. A number of other nations have announced their INDCs in the lead up to Paris.

Last Friday (US time) Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a nationwide cap and trade emissions program as part of efforts to tackle climate change. Cap and trade programs cap the total emissions and sources including power stations and factories purchase and sell credits. In terms of the US, although plans for a nationwide cap and trade program were defeated in 2009, California and other north-eastern states have implemented emissions trading schemes.

Domestically, the Government has changed leadership resulting in the installation of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. Last week, in response to the announcement of China’s cap and trade program, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced that the Government will stay the course regarding the ERF which is reported to be “the best, most effective scheme in the world”.

According to the Government, further reductions could be considered in 2017/18 as part of discussions on Australia’s 2030 target policy framework.

Given that China and the US (amongst others) have raised concerns with Australia’s commitment for Paris and have signed agreements to peak and reduce emissions respectively, I would be very surprised if they (and other nations attending the Paris Summit) would be prepared to give Australia until 2017/18 to consider further emissions reductions. I think it more likely that the US and China lead the charge in maintaining pressure on Australia to do more in the global challenge that is climate change.

Given the recent announcements by the Australian Government with respect to the state of the domestic economy and the discussions as to the exact nature of the problem, I struggle to fathom why they believe they can maintain one particular strategy and direction with respect to emissions reduction when an increasing number of countries are going in another.

If trade with China and the US continues on their current respective trajectories, by 2017, the combined figure is at approximately $233.7 billion (at a minimum)-$170.84 billion from China and $62.85 billion from the US. I don’t know if many Australians would be prepared to allow their Government to gamble such a figure on any matter-least of all emissions reduction specifically but climate change more generally, especially given the global nature of today’s economy. This is effectively what they are doing by continuing to ignore the rising tide of emissions trading.

This article was originally published on The Climate Change Guy.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

 

Winning back trust

When Greg Hunt appointed Gregory Andrews to be our first ‘Threatened Species Commissioner’ in July last year, few people other than Chris Graham at New Matilda paid any attention.

Andrews has a very dubious past. On June 21, 2006 he appeared on a Lateline story, entitled ‘Sexual slavery reported in Indigenous community’. He was incorrectly described as a “former youth worker” and his identity was hidden.

At the time, Andrews was an Assistant Secretary in the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, and was advising then Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, on violence in Central Australian Aboriginal communities. Andrews told Lateline Aboriginal men were trading petrol for sex with young girls, and that children were being held against their will and traded between communities as “sex slaves”.

Andrews cried during the interview, saying he had made numerous reports to police but had withdrawn them in fear for his safety.

This was revealed to be a lie. No such reports were made and a lengthy police investigation found “no evidence whatsoever” to support Andrews’ claims.

Andrews also had to apologise for misleading a 2006 federal Senate Inquiry in Petrol Sniffing in remote Aboriginal communities. Andrews told parliament that he lived in Mutitjulu for nine months, when in fact he lived 20 kilometres away, at the five star Ayers Rock tourist resort. He also told Senators: “Young people were hanging themselves off the church steeple on Sunday and their mothers were having to cut them down.” Police confirmed at the time that no child has ever hung themselves from the Mutitjulu church, nor has a mother ever had to cut her child down.

The woman who blew the whistle on Andrews’ lies, Tjanara Goreng Goreng, was later convicted of leaking government information, sacked and bankrupted. Andrews was a key witness in the case.

Greg Hunt was aware of all this when he appointed Andrews who was, at the time, managing implementation of biodiversity conservation programmes, including management and evaluation of National Landcare Programme and 20 Million Trees initiatives.

One reason for this story resurfacing is the image of Andrews’ old boss and architect of the Northern Territory Intervention, Mal Brough, walking alongside Malcolm Turnbull during the leadership spill, an image which sent a chill down the spines of Aboriginal Australians.

Speculation is rife as to what role Brough will play in Turnbull’s new cabinet. One rumour was that he wanted health. Chris Graham conjectures that Brough may be interested in the environment portfolio. Mining giant Adani has employed David Moore, Brough’s ex-chief of staff, as one of its key lobbyists. Or perhaps defence, being an ex-military man.

We will know soon enough if Brough is to be promoted. It seems a judge finding that he abused the judicial process for the “purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper”, and the disgraceful debacle where Julia Gillard was described in very unflattering sexist terms on a menu at a Brough fundraiser, have done nothing to hinder his political resurrection.

If the government wants to win back the trust of the people, promoting liars and cheats is not a good way to start.

 

And so the lies and madness continue . . .

At the Clean Energy Week Conference in July 2013, South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham made the following pledge:

“The Coalition remains committed to the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target. It is a position we have re-stated on multiple occasions and following the last review conducted by the Climate Change Authority.

It has been interesting to note the claims being made about what the Coalition will or won’t do. All of it is simply conjecture. The Coalition supports the current system, including the 41,000 giga-watt hours target.

We know and appreciate that the industry wants certainty and I assure you that any review will be conducted in an open and transparent way, guided by experts, with all parties encouraged to make submissions. There are no hidden agendas in this process, just a determination to ensure the Renewable Energy Target is operating as effectively as it can.

There is no doubt that renewable energy will play an important and growing role in delivering the future energy needs of Australia.

Modelling demonstrates that the RET is the primary driver of change in electricity generation in the period to 2020. The investment decisions which have driven the investment in wind farms and solar were made irrespective of the Carbon Tax and started well before it. Those investment decisions will continue if the Carbon Tax is removed.

The RET will be a key driver of change under the Coalition, complementing our direct action initiatives.

We also know there is a role for research and development and so have given our support to the role of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

A significant part of our Direct Action Plan is support for solar power.

Despite the constant changes to policy settings over recent years around small scale schemes, one million roofs across Australia now have a solar system installed. It is an important milestone and an indication of the Australian community’s support for solar.

While Australia has now hit the one million mark, we still believe there is opportunity to cautiously support the market as it expands in a sustainable way.  This includes providing a greater focus on solar hot water, which was hit hard by the Government last year suddenly scrapping its rebate scheme, and encouraging greater uptake among low income households.

The Coalition has a strong track record on the environment and in its support for renewable energy through the Renewable Energy Target. What we want to be able to deliver, if elected, is a policy that provides sustainability and a long-term future for the industry, without constant chopping and changing.

We want the clean energy industries to have a strong future and I close today by assuring you that we believe our policy settings can help you to achieve that strong future and we look forward to working with you to achieve that shared goal. I wish you all a very successful Clean Energy Week.”

In November 2013, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced to the Clean Energy Council industry gathering that the Coalition was committed to its $500 million “one million solar roofs” program.

Mr Hunt described the flagship solar program – which provided $500 rebates for installing one million rooftop solar energy systems over the next 10 years – as a “shining beacon” of the Abbott government’s Direct Action climate policy.

He added a further $50 million each would be given to the solar towns and solar schools programs.

“Each of these three new programs is being prepared for implementation and will commence in the 2014-15 financial year,” he said.

As the budget drew closer, Mr Hunt continued to assure industry figures that the solar policies would proceed.

As has become the habit, all but $2 million of Hunt’s $600 million in promised policies was abandoned.

The 2014-15 budget allocated no money for solar roofs and nothing for solar schools. Just $2.1 million was given to the solar towns policy despite Mr Hunt promising $50 million in November.

“The budget speech delivered by the Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed that the government would move to abolish the primary renewable energy agency, the $3.1 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), cut the planned “one million solar roofs program, and cast doubt on the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET).

ARENA will have the funds to support 181 projects, worth about $1 billion, that have already been contracted since its creation in 2012, but will get just $15 million over each of the next two years for new projects.”

Similarly the coalition promised to maintain Landcare funding but instead $484 million was cut from Landcare and the Caring for Our Country programs.

WWF-Australia National Manager Climate Change Kellie Caught said, “The government could reduce debt, invest in renewables and tackle climate change if it kept the carbon price and cut the $3 billion to $5 billion a year in fossil fuel subsides.”

“The big end of town’s diesel fuel subsidies cost every taxpayer around $300 a year,” Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said. “While other motorists continue to pay 32c a litre now and more each year on fuel, companies like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton pay no tax on the diesel they use. And because the fuel excise will increase every year, big corporations will get an increased subsidy every year.”

John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Council, said “Whilst the government defends billions of dollars of fuel subsidies for wealthy miners, it has abolished our world-leading solar research.”

In July, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann wrote to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) directing it to change its investment mandate, banning new funding for wind projects.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “It is our policy to abolish the CEFC, because we think that if the projects stack up economically, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be supported in the usual way. While the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies, certainly not existing wind farms.”

The Climate Council provides some evidence based research

Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, particularly in wind and solar (Geoscience Australia and ABARE 2010).

In fact, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO 2013) Australia has more than enough renewable energy resources to power all our electricity needs. AEMO (2013) modeled scenarios for providing 100 percent of Australia’s electricity from renewable energy, and found potential renewable generation to be about 500 times greater than demand in the National Electricity Market (NEM).

However despite having world-class renewable energy resources, particularly in wind and solar, Australia has a low share of renewable electricity generation – seventh lowest among 28 member countries of the International Energy Agency (Australian Energy Regulator 2012). According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, uncertainty over the RE T in Australia has resulted in a 70% slump in investment in renewable energy over the past year (The Guardian 2014).

As well as providing low or no emissions energy, renewables attract investment and create jobs, particularly in regional Australia. Twenty one thousand people are already employed in the renewable energy industry in Australia (Clean Energy Council 2014a) and modelling by the Climate Institute (2011) estimated that nearly 32,000 renewable energy jobs (including over 6,800 new permanent jobs) could be created in Australia by 2030 with strong and consistent climate policies.

Farmers and landowners in regional areas who lease their land for wind turbines also benefit through annual lease payments which provide a reliable, alternative source of income and help to “drought-proof” farms (Chapman 2013). Around $16.4 million is paid annually in lease payments for hosting wind turbines (Epuron 2014; Clean Energy Council 2014a).

Solar and wind provide clean energy and consequently also have additional benefits of reducing the pollution from other energy sources. Coal, the dominant fuel for electricity in Australia produces pollutants that damage human health through mining, transportation, combustion and the disposal of waste (Epstein et al 2011). In Australia, it is estimated that the adverse impacts from pollutants produced from coal-fired electricity generation costs A$ 2.6 billion annually (ATSE 2009).

Instead of taking heed of this mountain of evidence, the Coalition, urged on by cross bench Senators, prefers to listen to Sarah Laurie who heads the anti-wind-farm Waubra Foundation.

She claims that wind turbines can make people’s lips vibrate “as from a distance of 10km away” and that turbines can “perceptibly rock stationary cars even further than a kilometre away from the nearest wind turbine.”

Last December, Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal refused her standing as an expert witness in a case, arguing that she had no training in research, but was seeking to provide expert interpretation of research. They also noted that as an unregistered doctor, she was not allowed to diagnose health problems, but that this was precisely what much of her proposed evidence involved her doing. The judgment states that Laurie has agreed to stop calling herself Dr Laurie.

That did not stop our government accepting her “expert testimony” to the Senate Committee on Wind Turbines who quote her extensively in their findings.

2.8       Dr Sarah Laurie told the committee:

The human cost of the failure to protect people from excessive noise pollution, especially at night, is terrible. I have personally helped to prevent a number of suicides of people who were utterly desperate because of the consequences of excessive noise pollution and who reached out for help…[3]

From my experience there is a subset of people who are terribly impacted very early on. Those people are the ones who tend to present with acute vestibular disorder type of symptoms—dizziness and motion sickness, which can be accompanied by extreme anxiety. Those people often just cannot last very long, and they move if they can.[4]

However when Professor Simon Chapman AO, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, gave his evidence the committee were damning.

2.21     The committee highlights the fact that Professor Chapman is not a qualified, registered nor experienced medical practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist, acoustician, audiologist, physicist or engineer. Accordingly:

  • he has not medically assessed a single person suffering adverse health impacts from wind turbines;
  • his research work has been mainly—and perhaps solely—from an academic perspective without field studies;
  • his views have been heavily criticised by several independent medical and acoustic experts in the international community; and
  • many of his assertions do not withstand fact check analyses.

 

2.22     Professor Chapman has made several claims which are contrary to the evidence gathered by this committee. First, he argues that the majority of Australia’s wind turbines have never received a single complaint.[19] There are various problems with this statement:

i.wind turbines located significant distances from residents will not generate complaints;

ii.many residents suffering adverse health effects were not aware of any nexus between their health and the impact of wind turbines in order to make a complaint;

iii. just because residents do not lodge a formal complaint does not mean they are not suffering adverse health effects;

iv.data obtained by Professor Chapman from wind farm operators of the numbers of complaints lodged cannot be relied upon; and

v.the use of non-disclosure clauses and ‘good neighbour agreements’ legally restricts people from making adverse public statements or complaints.

And so the madness continues . . .

While Abbott Isn’t The Yakka Skink, Greg Hunt May Be The Ornamental Snake!

Last week, as I pointed out, there are plenty of coal mines up for sale. So why is Adani so determined to build a new one?

On the face of it, we have one of those “silly” court decisions. A mine that’s going to create more jobs than we could possibly imagine is being held up over concern over a couple of animals.

As our illustrious leader put it:

“While it’s absolutely true that we want the highest environmental standards to apply to projects in Australia, and while it’s absolutely true that people have a right to go to court, this is a $21 billion investment, it will create 10,000 jobs in Queensland and elsewhere in our country.

“Let them go ahead for the workers of Australia and for the people of countries like India who right at the moment have no electricity.

“Imagine what it’s like to live in the modern world with no electricity.

“Australian resources can give them electricity and the interesting thing about Australian resources is that invariably they’re much better for the environment than the alternative.”

Now, leaving aside the fact that Adani itself have admitted that the figure of 10,000 jobs may have been what some people have called “slightly exaggerated” – which in business-speak is code for “outright lie” – and leaving aside the idea that way Mr Abbott has phrased his response it sounds like none of “the people of India” have electricity, it’s his use of the word “while” that I find most strange.

If you think about it, it suggests that somehow when a project is worth $21 billion these other things shouldn’t apply. Take these examples:

“While your leg is very important to you, unless you have it amputated, you’ll be dead within six months!”

“While I understand that you need the money, this bank doesn’t normally accept your dead mother’s false teeth as collateral no matter how much sentimental value they have.”

“While I understand that slavery is mentioned several times in the Bible, and while I understand that slaves have a lot less mortgage stress, the fact remains that it’s not really a strong justification for the Abbott government’s new workplace proposals.”

Of course, the strangest thing the statement from about our man with the plan is that last bit.

‘…the interesting thing about Australian resources is that invariably they’re much better for the environment than the alternative.”

See, we have good, clean Australian coal. Not like those noisy, dirty, unsightly wind farms or those filthy rays from the sun. Is anyone doing research into the danger of adding to skin cancer if we increase our solar energy output? I think there’s a four million grant to some university to take that one on. Australian resources – anyone who doesn’t support them is not only unpatriotic, but an environmental vandal.

And as for Greg Hunt, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could do less for their portfolio than Abbott does as Minister for Women, but our environmental minister certainly gives him a run for his money.

The sad, sad truth is that if Tony Abbott wasn’t Prime Minister he’d be the sort of man you don’t bother to argue with because it’s better to walk away and hope that he receives the treatment he needs before he falls on hard times.

 

Still being lied to

So it seems that Bill Shorten will be taking a proposal for a 50% renewable target by 2030 to Labor’s national conference in Melbourne this weekend. Accordingly, climate change is shaping up to be a major battleground for the next election – probably much to Abbott’s chagrin. On this argument, the Coalition starts from behind. Tony Abbott would prefer the discussion to be neutralised and as a result the government is stepping up the rhetoric to attack Labor’s history and position on the climate change front. As a result, the laughably-named Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, has been working the airwaves furiously to poison the national consciousness.

Shorten’s laudable goal, as those who have been watching the development of renewable energy and its increasing prevalence in the energy mix of countries and even Australian States will know, is technically not difficult. Labor describes the proposal as “ambitious”, but the main challenge with achieving this is political. The primary difficulty is that the Australian people are skeptical about the ability of renewable energy to be a practical, economical choice for energy generation, and consecutive conservative governments have sought to play up on that uncertainty at the behest of their backers and overlords, the existing fossil fuel oligarchies. The Australian people have been lied to from the outset.

They’re still being lied to now. Greg Hunt has been given saturation coverage on news media outlets, parroting the Government’s official response to the reports of this labor policy proposal. The detail of Hunt’s interviews and discussions has varied slightly from broadcast to broadcast, but the salient points remain the same. Unfortunately but predictably, the Government’s official stance – and thus Hunt’s answers – is a farrago of lies and mistruths that often pass without challenge. The ABC is not immune to this mistreatment: in several ABC news interviews Hunt has made the same baldfaced statements without being challenged. The ABC can’t be blamed for this. In an already fraught environment with the national broadcaster under continual threat, challenge and attack by our government, it is vital for the ABC to retain an appearance of impartiality for its news arm. Rather, the problem is with our laws and systems that contain absolutely no penalty for a Government Minister to lie to a reporter, and to lie to the Australian people, so long as they can get away with it. A Minister can lie with impunity – as long as their lie goes unchallenged.

This is a problem, as we head into an election year in 2016. Standard practice in news reporting is to describe the news item of the day, interview appropriate persons involved with the policy or proposal or scandal, and drill into the detail to as shallow or deep an extent as time allows. Then, in the interest of “balance”, journalism will often seek a response from the other side. In politics, this brings us to a situation where the Coalition, with the benefit of incumbency, can coast with few policy announcements, leaving Labor few opportunities to respond. Labor’s situation is more challenging. Winning back government from opposition is difficult and requires a constant stream of policy announcements. When the last word in a news report comes from a Coalition minister in response, far too often the sound bite the audience will remember is the government’s position. If that position is in error, the voters have been misled.

A news reporter is not in a position to challenge a statement made. That comes down to us – the concerned public. It is incumbent on us to be informed, and to inform others who might otherwise be taken in by the lies.

Because the Coalition adheres to the concept that repeating a lie often enough will convince people to take it as truth, their talking points in response to Labor’s proposed policy are consistent and we will hear them trotted out regularly over the coming weeks. Each one of them is demonstrably untrue and the best response progressives can make is to have ready clear, concise explanations as to why each Coalition argument is based on a falsehood. With that in mind, what follows is a precis of the Coalition’s talking points on Labor’s proposed renewable energy target and ETS.

The centrepiece of the policy will be a new carbon tax.

“Carbon tax – they’ll call it an emissions trading scheme, but it’s the same thing, with the same effect, the same hit on electricity prices…” In a recent interview, asked several times for clarification, Hunt fell back on the government’s agreed attack line: that an ETS is just a carbon tax by another name. This was not true the first time around and it is certainly not true now. The reason why is very simple.

Under a carbon tax, every emitter pays for their emissions. Every tonne of carbon carries a cost. The incentive is obvious for the business to reduce its carbon emissions and pay less tax. All taxes raised go to the government, for use in whatever way it deems appropriate. The government may choose to return some of the taxes to companies in the form of incentives and subsidies, but to do so is to devalue the impact of the tax. Over time, unless you force changes to the tax rates through parliament, the price of carbon remains the same.

In contrast, under an ETS, businesses are permitted to release carbon emissions up to a cap, without any cost to them. If a business holds sufficient carbon permits, it can emit as much carbon as it likes with no financial cost at all. If it emits less carbon than it holds permits for, it can trade the excess permits on the market, allowing other businesses more latitude to emit carbon. This brings you to the question of how the business gets the permits in the first place.

Under the Gillard government’s ETS, initial permits were allocated for free to relevant industries to shield them from the immediate impact. Other organisations were forced to purchase initial permits. Over time, under an ETS, the number of permits available is regulated to decrease, providing incentive to companies to reduce their carbon emissions over time: as time goes on, carbon permits become more expensive, increasing the benefit to the company if it can trade its excess permits on the market, and increasing the cost of permits if it does not.

Due to compromises with the Greens required to get the legislation through a hostile senate, the price of permits was set for an initial three year period and the permits were not eligible to be traded, thus making the scheme’s initital appearance close enough to a “tax” to make it unworth arguing the semantics of “tax” and “ETS”. This led, in short order, to Labor being lambasted as a high-taxing regime (ironic, coming from the party which would soon implement a much more oppressive tax regime) and Julia Gillard as a liar.

Labor has learned its lesson on this front. It is fair to assume its new ETS will not commence with a set price and untradeable permits. For the government to claim that Labor’s new ETS will be “exactly the same” as a carbon tax is misrepresentation of the highest order. The ETS will be a different thing, with a very different effect, working in a very different way.

Greg Hunt knows this very well. This is the same Greg Hunt who won an award for co-authoring a thesis about implementing an ETS in Australia. Until recently some on the left held a grudging respect for Mr Hunt, being forced to toe the party line against his own documented beliefs, and pity, for being one of the few realists in a cabinet laced with flat-earthers. His recent performances have shown that he is a thorough convert to the Coalition’s paradigm that somehow a market-based scheme is far inferior to direct governmental intervention. As a result, his respect has died, leaving him only with pity.

Regardless of his personal beliefs, however, Greg Hunt knows very well that an ETS is not remotely similar to a carbon tax, and to claim that it is is to deliberately mislead Australian voters.

A higher renewable energy target will increase electricity prices

The talking point that a renewable energy puts upwards pressure on power prices seems an article of faith for the Coalition. This also is demonstrably untrue. ETS or carbon tax aside, all experience in Australia to date disproves the idea that renewable energy competition can push the price of electricity up. All models and analysis, including the government’s own modelling, show clearly that renewable energy puts competition and downwards pressure on energy prices. The only group that this hurts is the big energy generators and distributors, who coincidentally are big benefactors of the Coalition.

An ETS did have the expected outcome of pushing up power prices from carbon-heavy power generators. Gillard’s government allowed for this and overcompensated consumers for the expected price increases.

The one thing likely to place significant upwards pressure on energy prices is the effect of Queensland’s previous, liberal government opening its gas markets to export. The result is that gas, one of the major energy sources for much  of Australia’s eastern seaboard, will now be traded at the significantly higher international price rather than the domestic one.

The carbon tax “didn’t work”

Perhaps the most egregious lie of all is the continued insistence by the Government and Greg Hunt as their mouthpiece that the carbon tax was ineffective. It has been claimed that during the carbon price, emissions continued to increase. This is true. What is wilfully ignored in that discussion is that, under the influence of the carbon price, emissions rose less than they would have otherwise done. In fact, the carbon price was restricted to a relatively small part of Australia’s economy. In sectors where the carbon price applied, carbon emissions decreased markedly. (And, unsurprisingly, upon the repeal of the carbon price, carbon emissions in these sectors immediately increased again). Hunt has argued that Australia’s carbon emissions were already falling prior to the introduction of the carbon price and that the ETS had little effect. This also is untrue. In short, the government’s overblown claims about the carbon tax are almost universally deliberately misleading or even entirely untrue. The carbon price, even at a high price per tonne and acting like a tax, had little effect on the overall economy, destroyed no country towns, and was being remarkably successful at reducing Australia’s emissions.

A new ETS could do the same again.

Labor is inconsistent

Greg Hunt foamed that the parliament had “…just voted for stability in the renewable energy sector…”, referring to the recent passing through the parliament of a reduced renewable energy target for Australia. This criticism popped its head up but has now subsided; perhaps the Coalition has decided that talking about “the politics” is a little too fraught to be a certain winner. In any case, the fact that Labor reluctantly supported the government’s cut of the renewable energy target to 33,000 GW does not mean that Labor is inconsistent. Labor was able to forge a compromise position for the sake of settling the argument in the short term and giving certainty to the existing renewable energy market, but it was clear that this figure was not Labor’s preference.

Frankly, it seems amazing that Labor was able to secure any kind of a compromise from this government, after more than a year of the government steadfastly refusing to budge from its original position. As this government has shown, any policy agreed to under one government is not sacrosanct to the next.

The truth shall set you free

Armed with the facts, it becomes easier to counter the government’s wilful misinformation. Not easy, of course: there are none so blind as those who will not see, and for many in the Australian public the prevailing narrative being told by the government is emotionally compelling. But there are some who may be persuaded by actual facts and evidence. It is for these people that we must be prepared to call it out when we see the government deliberately distorting history and building straw men on Labor’s commitments. We must be able to point out that they have been lied to, and they are still being lied to.

 

Premature congratulation

The Abbott government suffers from a bad case of premature congratulation.

We have had a parade of Hockey, Cormann, Frydenberg, Abbott and others telling us that they have halved Labor’s debt – which is a rather bizarre claim considering the gross debt has increased by $83 billion (and counting) since they took office.

Joe Hockey tells us that “job creation across the economy is running at around 15,000 new jobs a month. This is three times larger than the average of around 5,000 jobs a month last year.”

Aside from the fact that there is no measure of “new jobs” (job ads do not differentiate between new and existing jobs), comparative figures show that, in the 19 months from August 2013 to March 2015, there was a rise of 52,300 in the number of people employed and a rise of 56,200 in the number of people unemployed.  The aggregate monthly hours worked fell from 1,647.3 million hours to 1,628.7 million hours.  In other words, employment has not kept up with population growth and those who are working are working less hours.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Christian Porter informs us that cuts to red tape have delivered $2.5 billion in savings in compliance costs since coming to Government.  To arrive at this figure they have done some very creative accounting.

People buying prepaid mobile phones will only have to go through the identity check once, not twice, saying that will save $6.2 million.

He said rejigging the e-tax website so the data entered the previous year shows up would save time and cut costs by $156 million and he said there was a $17 million saving in scrapping regulations that banned people using mobile devices on take-off and landing in planes.

The costs were partly calculated by working out how much time people or businesses would have spent complying with the rules and then what their time was worth.  Who would have thought that turning off your phone for a minute would have cost so much?

Andrew Robb has been showered with praise for completing several free trade agreements.  The secrecy surrounding these negotiations makes it very hard to understand the full implications but the FTA with Japan alone led to a $1.6 billion write down in revenue.  One must wonder why these countries, after years of negotiation, were all willing to sign off so quickly all of a sudden.  I fear our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be under attack very soon, along with our plain packaging laws, and that manufacturing will have no future in this country.

We have also been barraged by a litany of self-congratulation for “stopping the boats”.  Whilst the number of boats is less, they certainly haven’t stopped, even under the threat of incarceration and torture at the other end.  But more to the point, what has this policy achieved in helping the growing tide of displaced people around the world?  We pretend to care about deaths at sea but apparently don’t give a toss about what is happening to those we turn away.

The gold award for premature congratulation, however, must surely go to Greg Hunt who, in one day, would have us believe that he cut our emissions by 4 times what occurred under carbon pricing and for 1% of the cost.  This unbelievable statement is so wrong on so many counts it is hard to know where to begin.

A study by the ANU showed that emissions reductions directly attributable to the carbon price in the electricity sector alone had achieved an abatement of between 11 and 17 million tonnes over its two year life while raising around $6 billion in revenue.  Abatement would have been even higher had the industry believed the carbon price to be permanent.

Whilst it’s true that demand has been falling for some time, 2013’s 0.8 per cent economy-wide fall in emissions was the largest annual reduction in the 24 years of monitoring. In the power sector, the industry most directly covered by the carbon price, emissions fell 5 per cent.

Hunt’s ridiculous statement that the carbon price was $1,300 per tonne has been lambasted by experts for the lie that it so obviously is.  The real price was in the 20-odd dollar range, and if the carbon tax had been allowed to develop into an emissions trading scheme, which it would’ve by now, the price would be linked to the European system which is trading at around the $10 mark.

Hunt’s other glaring omission is that while the Coalition’s policy is a cost, the carbon tax raised revenue.

What the government has actually done is spend $660 million of taxpayers’ funds buying a possible 47 million tonnes of carbon abatement – 25% of their total budget for 15% of the required abatement.

As reported in New Matilda, there’s also no guarantee the contracts companies won in Thursday’s ‘reverse auction’ will be discharged before the 2020 deadline. Many of them extend for seven or 10 years, and the government has not provided information about when the abatements need to be achieved.

“The experience with grant-based mechanisms is some of the projects proposed or actually contracted don’t happen in actual fact,” Professor Jotzo said. Even if they do, the types of projects contracted so far are largely land-fill and agriculture abatements, many of which may have been occurring already under ‘carbon farming’ initiatives, or would have occurred anyway.   Hunt is very much counting his chickens before they have hatched.

A very excited Andrew Robb also informed the Mines and Money Conference in March that “Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has quickly approved 145 projects worth over $1 trillion in economic value; the majority of which are in the resources and energy sector.  Federal project approval times have been slashed to below 200 days from an average of 470 days in 2012.  We have created a ‘one-stop shop’ for environmental approvals that eliminates duplication between states, territories and the Commonwealth, saving business $426 million per year.”

The trouble with fast tracking approval is that companies lie and it takes expensive court cases to prove it.

A Queensland court has heard expert evidence from Adani’s own witness that the Indian company which wants to build Australia’s largest ever coal mine has drastically overstated the project’s benefits to the Queensland public.  And in other explosive evidence, a senior company official said he “could not comment” on speculation the company had been structured to siphon profits off to Singapore, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands, to avoid Australian company taxes.

Adani’s claims about the number of jobs the project will create have already been referred to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission by the Australia Institute, which argues they have been inflated by 300 per cent.

Adani has also claimed that the mine would generate “$22 billion in mining taxes and royalties in just the first half of the project life”.   Even their own expert belies this claim, estimating that royalties will actually amount to just $7.8 billion and corporate taxes will add around $9.96 billion over the 30-year period under consideration.  This too is being challenged as they apparently used a company tax rate of 32% rather than 30% and have been actively structuring their company to “optimise” their tax obligation.

Earlier this month, as part of the Land Court proceedings, the mining giant argued that the world is on track to a 3.1 degree temperature rise and if they don’t dig up the proposed 60 million tonnes of coal annually, another, potentially foreign, company will. Such a rise in temperatures, Adani’s expert witness conceded, would ultimately destroy the Great Barrier Reef.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, considered to be a close friend of Gautam Adani, attended the G20 conference in Brisbane last year, he announced a $1 billion loan for the Adani project from the State Bank of India.  Apparently, this offer is being withdrawn, adding to the growing list of banks and financial organisations refusing to offer finance for the proposed mines.

So despite all the back-slapping and self-congratulation indulged in by the Coalition, it is hard to find any tangible benefit from having the adults back in charge.  The reality is that the debt and deficit are worse, unemployment is worse, our sovereignty to make health and environment laws is at risk, our emissions are increasing, investment in renewable energy has ceased, we are endangering the Great Barrier Reef, and we have done nothing to help asylum seekers.

But rest assured, by keeping your phone on during take-off and landing, you are saving the country millions.

The death of due process, transparency and accountability

Increasingly this government is seeking to subvert due process and impose their agenda in totalitarian fashion.

Regardless of whether you think the increase in fuel excise is an appropriate measure, the move to introduce it through regulation rather than legislation is specifically designed to bypass parliament.  The regulations will need to be backed up with proper legislation by the Senate within 12 months or the money raised will have to be refunded.

As reported in the SMH

“The government believes the ploy will put Labor and Greens senators in a bind at that time forcing them to choose between keeping the escalating revenue stream, or voting it down forcing the government to pay potentially hundreds of millions of dollars collected from motorists back to oil companies.

While the incremental inflation adjustments will raise an expected $167 million from motorists by November next year, little-appreciated new compliance costs for service stations are calculated at $5.06 million according to Treasury estimates.”

So much for cutting red tape to help small businesses.  They also ignore the flowon costs to households as businesses pass on increased delivery expenses, and the cumulative effect of twice yearly increases.

And it seems they may be trying to introduce the GP co-payment in the same way.

Initially, on Tuesday Peter Dutton said:

“There is no capacity to introduce a $7 co-payment through regulation, the advice from our legal people within the department as well as with attorneys is the $7 co-payment needs substantive legislation to support the co-payment.”

But yesterday he changed that message, refusing to rule out the introduction of the $7 levy by regulation to bypass the need for legislation.

“I am not going to rule things in or out. I am saying that there are options that are available to the Government,” Mr Dutton said.

Finding ways around our parliament and our laws is becoming a habit.

After the High Court ruled in June that the federal government could not directly fund religious chaplains in public schools, Christopher Pyne chose to give the money to the states with the direction that it could not be used for secular welfare workers.

So much for their claim that education decisions should not be dictated by Canberra.

In February, a Senate inquiry paved the way for the Parliament to give Environment Minister Greg Hunt legal immunity against future legal challenges to his decisions on mining projects.  It will protect him from being challenged over deliberate or negligent decisions that do not comply with the law.

The Coalition government has now licensed Greg Hunt to avoid compliance with the EPBC Act.  The amendment retrospectively validates ministerial decisions – even if they did not comply with the EPBC Act when they were made.

We are also losing our right to appeal development decisions.

The Abbott government’s move to establish a single approval process by passing environmental approval responsibilities onto the states and territories creates a conflict of interest as they raise revenue from land sales and mining royalties.

In early 2014 the Queensland government proposed to confine the objections and notifications process for a mining lease to people owning land within the proposed lease.

The Coordinator-General is fast becoming an almost supremely powerful czar for large projects in Queensland, subject only to the political whims of the state government.  He can also prevent any objections to the environmental authority for a coordinated project from being heard by the Land Court. When combined with the severe restrictions on objections to mining leases, very few people can now challenge matters such as impacts on groundwater of large mines that are declared a coordinated project.

Under the federal Coalition’s one-stop shop the Coordinator-General is also proposed to have power to approve projects impacting on matters protected under federal environmental laws.

And that’s not the only avenue for appeal that is being shut down.

Australians could be left with no appeal rights against government secrecy by the end of this year.

The May budget cut $10.2 million funding for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) which handles Freedom of Information appeals.  The government wants appeals to be handled by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal instead.  This move is being blocked in the Senate so we will be left with effectively no avenue for appeal.

But perhaps the most blatant disregard for the law is being shown by Scott Morrison who, in a Napoleonic gesture, has conferred on himself the power to revoke a person’s citizenship.  The new laws provide the Minister with the power to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) concerning character and identity if it would be in the public interest to do so and confer on the Minister the power to make legislative instruments.

Morrison has condemned innocent people to indefinite incarceration and washed his hands of any responsibility for their welfare.  He has ignored warnings that his actions are in breach of human rights and is actively outsourcing our responsibilities under the Refugee Convention at enormous cost to this country.  He is now even blocking refugee applications from people coming through official UNHCR channels.

Journalists have been denied access to detention camps.  Even the head of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, was denied access to child asylum seekers on Nauru on the grounds that the commission’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Australia’s borders.  The cost of a single-entry media visa to Nauru rose from $200 to $8,000.

And if any of us report on the machinations of this government, our fate is in the hands of Attorney-General George Brandis who has the individual power to determine if we should face a possible ten year jail sentence.

So much for free speech, transparency and accountability.

“Trust me,” they say.  Not friggin’ likely.

 

Words are cheap, but Direct Action sure isn’t.

In an interview on Lateline in October last year, Greg Hunt said that the carbon price “doesn’t work”, “doesn’t do the job” and is “a just hopeless means of achieving the outcome.”

In defending his move to disband the Climate Change Commission, the Climate Change Authority, the Energy Security Fund, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA, Hunt said

“At the governmental level, the primary scientific agency is the Bureau of Meteorology. 1,700 staff. I spoke with the director of the Bureau this evening and invited them to provide a scientific briefing, reaffirmed a complete commitment to their independence, to their original research and to the extraordinary capacity that they give to Australia to look at meteorological questions and broader global questions.

The Bureau is the originating scientific agency for meteorological matters in Australia for matters relating to climate and matters relating to climate science. The CSIRO also backs those up. So, they are strong, deep, independent scientific agencies whose independence isn’t just guaranteed under us, but is welcomed.”

He then proceeded to cut $10 million from the BoM, with an anticipated loss of 80 jobs next year, and he cut CSIRO’s funding by $111 million over four years, which will result in 500 job cuts at the nation’s peak scientific organisation.

Hunt went on to say

“we have bipartisan support for the science. We have bipartisan support for the targets. The disagreement is about the carbon tax and the mechanism because emissions go up, not down under the carbon tax and because it does enormous damage to our cost of living and our economy by being an electricity tax. In short, it doesn’t work, but it does do damage.”

Figures released last week revealed that the annual growth of cost of living for all households slowed over the past three months (employee and age pensioner households increased by just 1.9%), largely due to the end of the carbon price in June.

But as Greg Jericho points out, any broadening of the GST base to include food, or an interest rate rise, or fuel indexation, will quickly wipe out any gains made by removing the carbon tax which was only slated to run for another year with a fixed price.

While the cost of living increase may have slowed, two new studies show that brown coal and black coal generation has jumped sharply in the four months since the carbon price was dumped by the Abbott government. The share of coal has gone up from 69.6% of sent out electricity in June to 76.4% in October.

And emissions have also jumped sharply, with one study from the Melbourne Energy Institute saying “emissions intensity’ has already jumped an “unprecedented” 10 per cent, and another saying that Australia’s aggregate emissions could rise more than 10 per cent over the year, after falling nearly that much while the carbon price was in place.

Danny Price, from Frontier Economics who helped the Government develop its direct action plan, was also interviewed on Lateline in November last year.

He insisted that penalties for industries that increase their emissions is a crucial part of the plan.

“The direction action policy has always had a penalty included in it. It’s been a consistent feature of direct action from the very first document, that’s been put out on direct action.

The Government, of course, hasn’t yet put anything out about how the penalties will work or the baselines will work which will be a challenge for the Government and they’re the two, you know, most difficult issues for the Government to deal with. But I guess we’ll get to see what the form of the penalty is going to be.”

But not for a while. Nick Xenophon insisted on a safeguards mechanism that will be negotiated in the next 12 months that will determine how tight emissions limits will be and the penalties for exceeding them.  Strangely, the emissions reduction fund auctions will apparently begin before the baselines are determined.

“I can announce this today, that the first auctions under the Emissions Reduction Fund, after having spoken to the Clean Energy Regulator on Friday, will be held in the first quarter of next year,” Mr Hunt said on Sunday.

When asked how much Direct Action would cost to achieve the 5% reduction target by 2020, Mr Price, who is the government’s expert on this, said

“Well, I don’t know yet because it will depend very much on where the Government sets the baselines, the nature of the penalties that are applied, but in the order of between $7 billion to $10 billion but probably on the lower end of that range.

The now Government, but then Opposition, had said initially that they had funds available for up to $10.5 billion till 2020. My understanding is that there are funds beyond the forward estimates. And that would be the extra $4.5 billion plus the 2.55 would be very consistent with what I’ve just said I think the costs are likely to be.”

The budget text states that the government will provide an “initial” $2.55 billion to establish the Emissions Reduction Fund, which is consistent with what the Coalition had promised prior to the election over the first four years of the scheme.

Yet the table which accompanies this text listing the hard dollars provides a contradictory and highly confusing story. It outlines a total funding allocation over the next four years of just under $1.15 billion.

A spokesperson for Greg Hunt said that the Clean Energy Regulator is free to at least commit to abatement purchasing contracts up to $2.55 billion over the next four years. However, they expect that because the regulator will only pay for abatement once it is delivered, the expenditure of the $2.55 billion will be spaced out over a period beyond the forward estimates period to 2017-18.

Market analysts Reputex suggest the $2.5 billion fund may get Australia about a third of the way to our low 5% target, but not much more.

Price stressed that Direct Action requires investors who, in turn, need certainty about legislation and regulation.

“this has to be a policy orientated towards investors and I just can’t see that investors are going to invest in a scheme [carbon pricing] where the Government can and will change the price to suit the politics and it could render their investments completely stranded, redundant.”

I wonder how he feels about the Coalition’s backflip on the Renewable Energy Target leading to the decimation of the renewable energy industry and the loss of billions of dollars investment that would have contributed towards meeting our emission reduction target whilst creating new jobs.

Greg Hunt told Emma Alberici

“I’m the Environment Minister and my job is to make sure that we do two things: that we understand the challenge and we respond to the challenge. And then the third thing which goes beyond that is to make sure that our actions are sensible and prudent and real.”

Hunt said on Monday that cleaning up existing power stations was the “the best thing” thing the government could do to reduce emissions, and pointed to the CSIRO’s direct injection carbon engine (DICE) technology as a way to reduce emissions from brown coal.

But, as pointed out in Crikey, rather than being a “major CSIRO research project”, there is a small team of two to four well-intentioned scientists and engineers working out of the CSIRO’s energy labs in Newcastle, running a 4-litre, single-cylinder diesel engine on coal, on a shoestring budget, struggling to find industry partners. The technology is drastically underfunded, unavailable at scale, and has a colourful history of unsuccessful research sponsored for very many years by miner Travers Duncan who has been part of the ICAC investigation into White Coal and Eddie Obeid.  Any significant commercial roll-out is decades away.

Hunt should also know that the recent apparent breakthrough in capture and storage of coal emissions – the Canadian Boundary Dam Project – was hideously expensive. They spent $US1.24 billion to retrofit an existing power station to produce 110 megawatts of power to the grid. Assuming 80 per cent utilisation that’s more than $US14 million per effective megawatt, and you’ve got fuel costs on top of that.

By comparison a wind farm assuming 40 per cent utilisation (what newly constructed wind farms in Australia can achieve) comes in at $US5 million or so per effective megawatt with no fuel cost. Also, it can be built in one year instead of four or five, with that saving in construction time adding up to lot of avoided bank loan interest which weighs on the clean coal project.

In the budget the government cut $459.3m over three years from its carbon capture and storage flagship program, leaving $191.7m to continue existing projects for the next seven years, so one wonders just how serious they are about it.

If the government sticks to its suggested (but not confirmed) budget of $4.95 billion up to 2020, they can only afford to spend an average of $11.75 per tonne of CO2. At that price they may achieve a few million tonnes of abatement, but leading carbon market analysts and brokers including Bloomberg New Energy Finance, SKM-MMA and RepuTex suggest that the government has Buckley’s chance of reaching its target of 421 million tonnes with the allocated budget.

At the start of his prime ministership Tony Abbott said, “We hope to be judged by what we have done rather than by what we have said we would do.”

Rest assured Tony, the whole world is judging these actions.

carbon tax repeal

 

 

 

 

 

Do ya do ya do ya really care?

I make this pledge to you the Australian people.

I will govern for all Australians.

I want to lift everyone’s standard of living.

I want to see wages and benefits rise in line with a growing economy.

I want to see our hospitals and schools improving as we invest the proceeds of a well-run economy into the things that really count.

I won’t let you down.

This is my pledge to you.

-Tony Abbott campaign launch speech, August 25 2013

Nice words but let’s face it – the Abbott government doesn’t give a shit about you.  The evidence is overwhelming.

With one in seven Australians living in poverty, we have a Prime Minister who spends hundreds of billions on defence, security, and buying armaments. We have a Prime Minister who is so stage-managed he refuses to face the electorate on Q&A.

Our Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs has overseen the slashing of funding and the abolition of many successful initiatives that were working towards supporting our Indigenous people and closing the gap. But we have truancy officers aplenty, even if most of them are working for the dole.

We have a treasurer who feels those on welfare, the ‘leaners’, should be the ones to clear the country of debt. His justification for this is that he must cut spending and poor families get more money from the government than the rich, whilst steadfastly refusing to consider raising revenue by cracking down on tax avoidance.

He tells the world that our economy is in good shape while whipping up hysteria here about a non-existent emergency.

After coming to power on the promise of reducing the debt, Hockey has been borrowing so fast the net debt has increased from $178.10 billion when he took over to $217.55 billion at the end of August. PEFO numbers had net debt peaking at $219bn (12.7% of GDP) in 2015/16.  The gross debt has risen from $290 billion to $345.035 billion – that’s extra borrowing of about one billion a week.

We have an education minister who has reneged on funding reform for schools, wants to make tertiary courses unaffordable, has closed down trades training centres, has insulted teachers, wasted money on a pointless review, and wants to rewrite history as a Christian crusade.

We have a health minister who is busily unwinding universal healthcare and preventative health agencies and who wants to discourage the poor from seeing a doctor.

On one hand we are warned about the alarming increase in obesity and diabetes, on the other we have the assistant minister for health, at the behest of her junk food lobbyist chief of staff, taking down a healthy food website.

Senator Nash insisted the health star site be pulled down a day after it was published in Febuary on the grounds it was published in error, despite freedom of information documents showing the minister was warned it would be published, and the states committing to spend $11 million on it.

In June, a watered down version of the site was reinstated, with the voluntary introduction period extended to five years from two and companies allowed to use the star ratings in conjunction with the industry’s daily intake guide.  They also decided to continue voluntary pregnancy warning labels on alcohol, despite poor uptake by mixed drinks and so-called alcopops. Michael Thorn, the chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education, said it was “disgraceful” and put “booze before babies”.

“The alcohol industry will be celebrating that they have been able to successfully avoid introducing a warning label on their products for almost two decades,” he said.

One of the first steps of the minister for social services, Kevin Andrews, was to wind back gambling reform laws despite recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in its 2010 report into Australia’s gambling industry and the Victorian coroner’s report linking 128 suicides in that state directly to gambling..

This is the man who, along with our employment minister (he of breast cancer/abortion link fame), wants to see young unemployed without any income for 6 months of the year, and for the disabled to get out there and get one of those thousands of jobs that are just waiting for them if only they weren’t such bludgers. He also wants to lower the indexation rate of pensions which will cause the gap in standard of living to widen.  All this while cutting $44 million from the capital works program of the National Partnership on Homelessness.

We have an environment minister who wants to cut down Tasmanian old growth forests and expand coal ports and dump sediment on the reef. He has wound back environmental protection laws and the right to appeal and gone on a spree of approving record amounts of fossil fuel production.  At the same time, he has overseen the destruction of the renewable energy industry.  They don’t even send him to world conferences on climate change because, after all, what could he say other than sorry.

Not content with these overt attacks on the environment, the government has quietly initiated a low key, unscheduled review into Australia’s national appliance energy efficiency standards. The only formal explanation offered to date is in the Energy “Anti-” Green Paper, which refers to “opportunities to reduce the red-tape burden on businesses”.

At least they were honest when our communications minister was appointed to “destroy the NBN” and he has done a damn fine job of it. Despite Tony Abbott’s election speech claim that within 100 days “the NBN will have a new business plan to ensure that every household gains five times current broadband speeds – within three years and without digging up almost every street in Australia – for $60 billion less than Labor,” the truth has emerged.

We will be left with a sub-optimal network, a mishmash of technologies, at a time when the world is increasingly going fibre. It will end up taking nearly as long and costing nearly as much as the all-fibre network it is replacing. The industry – and many around Turnbull – is increasingly realising this. But Turnbull will not budge.

Australia is the loser – all because of one man’s pride.

Scott Morrison, our immigration minister, is about as welcoming as a firing squad. He is like Hymie from Get Smart in his robotic determination to stop the boats at any cost.  That goal apparently absolves him from any form of scrutiny, criticism, or human decency.  He has a blank cheque and not one cent of it will be used to help refugees.

Despite our growing unemployment, he is also front and centre in providing Gina with her 457 visa workers – no rights, no entitlements, and if they complain they get deported.

Our minister for trade is working in secret, getting signatures on free trade agreements at any cost – it’s the announcement before the end of the year that’s important, not pesky details about tariffs and the fact that we no longer have the right to make our own laws without getting sued by global corporations.

Our attorney-general, the highest legal appointment in the land, thinks defending bigots is a priority. When faced with illegal actions by the government, steal the evidence, threaten journalists with gaol time and funding cuts, and introduce laws which remove official accountability.  And while you’re at it, let’s bug the entire nation and make people prove themselves innocent.  Even if they haven’t done anything wrong I am sure they have had evil thoughts.

Barnaby was last seen trying to hasten the demise of a few endangered species that are standing in the way of his dams.

Warren Truss is run off his feet planning roads, roads and more roads. Luckily they dumped that idea about releasing cost benefit analyses for any expenditure over $100 million.  Thank god we got rid of that pesky head of Infrastructure Australia so we could get someone who understands our idea of what ‘independent body’ means.  If the people want public transport they can build it themselves.

And how’s our girl doing? She’s looking tired to me.  Making a case for a seat on the Human Rights Council whilst torturing refugees, or being sent in to bat at the world leaders’ conference on climate changed armed with nothing other than a rain forest conference, must shake even asbestos Julie’s steely resolve.  The Armani suits and death stare can only get you so far.  When in doubt, flirt.

I know you would like a mention Jamie Briggs but for the life of me, the only thing that comes to mind is your fawning introductions for our ‘Infrastructure Prime Minister’….

”To introduce our Tony, is what I’m here to do, and it really makes me happy to introduce to you…the indescribable, the incompatible, the unadorable….. Prrrriiiiimmme Minister!”

 

Uncertain future for Adani at Abbot Point as fight for the reef continues

It’s been an eventful month for Australia’s greatest natural wonder.

It was widely reported this week that Abbot Point proponents Adani Group, GVK Hancock and North Queensland Bulk Ports would seek to reverse their plan to dump 5 million tonnes of dredge spoil into the marine park near Bowen, instead opting for land disposal. This has since been confirmed by deputy Queensland Premier Jeff Seeney, who will meet with environment minister Greg Hunt to approve the land-based alternative.

While the news was somewhat unexpected, there has been growing public discontent with the dredging approval following months of campaigning by environmental groups, tourism operators and local communities. The Australian Government has come under increasing scrutiny and pressure from the international community over their plans for the reef, and questions about the social and environmental track record of Indian coal company Adani have been brought to the fore.

Photo: Greenpeace Australia

The news has breathed life into reef campaigners who view it not as a solution, but as a step in the right direction towards a total ban on capital dredging projects within the marine park area. A Senate inquiry has supported this, calling for sediment dumping to be banned in the marine park until further studies can be conducted about its impact on the reef ecosystem.

Growing doubts over Carmichael mine

Indian coal company Adani is no stranger to controversy, insisting they will proceed at Abbot Point and the Carmichael mega-mine which will feed it. But there is growing doubt about the viability of the development.

Adani purchased Carmichael coal mine from Australian Linc Energy in 2010 during the peak of the coal boom, a deal which gave Linc royalty rights on future profits. In August, Adani agreed to buy out Linc’s future royalty stream for $155 million which they say,

“reflects Adani’s confidence in the progress of Carmichael mine, which received final federal environmental approvals from the Australian government last month.”  

However, analysts have said the amount Adani is paying out, compared with the value of the future royalties, implies they have put a 25-30% probability on the development actually proceeding.

A reef in danger

In early August, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released their much anticipated Reef Outlook Report 2014. The five year report painted a stark picture of the reef’s health not just today, but also over the coming years which will see its resilience decline further.

“Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate.”

Even Greg Hunt was forced to admit the grim outlook, particularly in the southern part of the reef where he said there were “some real negatives”.

The report outlined climate change as the main threat over the coming decades, which is why building a resilient reef system is vital in combating the associated rising sea temperature, ocean acidification and increased storm activity,

Crucially, coastal development was named as a key factor affecting the reef locally. These impacts are set to increase as shipping through the marine park increases by 250% over the next 20 years.

The report stressed the large knowledge gaps which still exist about the impacts of dredging and dumping on the reef ecosystem.

“Increasing port activities directly affects local areas and uncertainty remains around ecosystem effects of dredging and the disposal and re-suspension of dredge material.”

Photo: WWF

Considering the rate at which port developments and expansions are being approved, this is particularly alarming.

The politics of environmental approvals

Four Corners followed up the release of the report with ‘Battle for the Reef‘. The investigation revealed the internal clashes within the GBRMPA in the months leading up to the approval of the Abbot Point dredging and dumping permit. It shone a light on the huge political pressure within the GBRMPA to green light the approval, despite widespread concerns among its own scientists that sea disposal was socially and environmentally unacceptable.

The revelations in the report have led to calls for a complete overhaul of the GBRMPA, leading to the creation of a new and truly independent authority who will protect the Great Barrier Reef from politically motivated approvals.

The question of political dollars buying environmental approvals gained further traction in recent weeks amid allegations that a large donation to the LNP from a Queensland property developer preceded the approval of a dredging permit for the expansion of his Airlie Beach marina.

It was revealed that long time LNP supporter and donor Paul Darrouzet gave a $150,000 donation to the party a mere week before gaining approval to dredge. Naturally, Mr Darrouzet denied any link between the two with QLD environment minister Andrew Powell quickly following suit.

Following these reports LNP MP George Christensen, whose electorate covers the Whitsundays, made a dramatic admission that he was wrong to support the sea disposal of dredge waste from Abbot Point. According to Christensen, he

“didn’t foresee the angst the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef marine park would cause tourism operators and the residents of the Whitsundays.”

A line in the sand

While Christensen is most likely trying to save his political skin after widespread criticism and discontent within his electorate, the move represents the growing pressure on the government over Abbot Point, and more largely over their actions against the environment during their first year in power.

In light of this, Greg Hunt has sought to paint himself as the good guy, saving the reef from negligence “on someone else’s watch”.

Interviewed during the Four Corners investigation, Hunt promised that Abbot Point would be the last time sea disposal of dredge waste would be permitted in the marine park, that it was a ‘line in the sand’.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters sought clarification of these vague promises in the Senate but the government backed away from Hunt’s comments. According to Waters, the words were worthless and ‘full of holes’, failing to specify if projects already applied for will be approved.

In addition, Hunt’s promise is limited to capital dredging, meaning maintenance dredging such as at Hay Point will still be allowed. Approval for the 378,000 cubic metre maintenance dredging project at Hay Point was granted this year, despite real concerns over the damage caused to corals during the initial 2006 dredging.

Australia falling behind

While Australia regresses into a coal mining, climate-change denying stupor, the rest of the world is moving forward in its transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

Even the main recipient of our coal is moving in the right direction. In an unprecedented move, the Indian Supreme Court this month ruled all coal licenses from 1993 to 2010 illegal, deemed to have been granted unfairly and without transparency. Coal mining had become a source of massive corruption and controversy in India in recent years, with over 200 leases granted to private steel, cement and power companies without proper regulation.

While the move is sure to put pressure on India’s power supply, Australian coal is not in line to fill the void. New PM Narendra Modi aims to roll out solar power across the nation over the next 5 years with renewable energy one of the new government’s top priorities.

Meanwhile our government has decided to scale back the successful RET, crippling our renewable energy sector for supposedly driving up electricity prices – which has since been shown through independent modelling and reviews to be false.

The fact that the review was headed by self-professed climate sceptic and Caltex Australia chairman Dick Warburton (in the words of Scott Ludlam, SRSLY?) would lead anyone to question the independence of this review. But fear not, Warburton has assured the Australian public that his personal beliefs had no bearing on his findings.

Hunt continues to paint environmental groups, concerned locals, tourism operators and concerned Australians who add their name to a GetUp! petition as “as the extreme left of the Australian political scheme”. By doing so, he is alienating the majority of Australians who are rising up to demand stronger action on climate and greater protection for our reef.

The Madness of Greg Hunt and the Carmichael Mine

Just in case anyone was left doubting the Abbott government’s disdain for environmental protection, our Environment Minister Greg Hunt has laid that to rest, approving the development of one of the largest coal mines in the world.

The Carmichael mine will be developed by Indian power company Adani. Owned by an Indian billionaire, Adani are sourcing Australian coal to fuel the surging demand for electricity in India.  They hope to begin exporting coal from the mega-mine in 2017.

The coal mine is simply gigantic – the largest Australia has ever seen, and one of the biggest in the world. Consisting of six open cut pits and five underground mines, it will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney Harbour.  The initial stages require the clearing of 20,000 hectares of bushland, home to 60 threatened species of flora and fauna.

Around 60 million tonnes of coal will be sent to the Queensland coast every year by an accompanying $2.1 billion rail corridor, where it will be exported to India from Abbot Point via the Great Barrier Reef.

CO2 emissions from the combusted Carmichael mine coal are estimated at a whopping 128 million tonnes per annum, cancelling out any of the gains made under the government’s pathetic Direct Action policy.  To put that figure in perspective, that’s equal to four times the amount that New Zealand emits in a year.

There were so many reasons not to approve this unprecedented development, both economic and environmental. Greg Hunt, however, was unmoved.

Of foremost concern – Adani’s alarming environmental track record. In India, they have been fined for illegally building on villagers’ land and destroying protected mangrove areas. They have been involved in the large-scale illegal export of iron ore, bribing officials, building an aerodrome without environmental approval, manipulating the approval process, ignoring environmental conditions and non-compliance with environmental monitoring.

Remember the Abbot Point controversy?  Well, Adani were one of the companies behind that too. Adani owns the coal export terminal at Abbot Point.  For the massive volumes of coal to be shipped overseas from their Carmichael mine, they need to expand the terminal to meet the surge in exports, which will see upwards of 450 extra coal ships travelling through the Great Barrier Reef every year.

Safe to say, this is bad news for the reef environment.

The proposed expansion of the coal export terminal requires three million cubic tonnes of seabed to be dredged, and dumped in adjacent waters within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  Despite concerns within the GBR Marine Park Authority itself and UNESCO, as well as public outcry over the threat to the reef, Greg Hunt approved the dredging.

So toxic and unpopular is the Abbot Point dredging project, even international banks don’t want to be associated with it, with HSBC, Deutsche Bank and The Royal Bank of Scotland withdrawing funding.  But despite this, the Australian government thinks it fine to go ahead.

Despite Adani’s woeful record, Greg Hunt is comfortable allowing them to operate in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the world.  I am not.

The impact on groundwater has been a major cause for concern.  When operational, the mine will extract 12 billion litres annually from local rivers and aquifers, in an agricultural region already prone to drought and dependent largely on water from bores. Hunt assures us that,

“The absolute strictest of conditions have been imposed to ensure the protection of the environment, with a specific focus on the protection of groundwater.”

In what we’ve learned to be the usual Greg Hunt response, he has slapped on a bunch of ‘Conditions’ and ‘Offsets’ to mitigate any environmental damage, 36 in this case, although a Senate enquiry has shown what rubbish these are.

“These 36 conditions complement the conditions imposed by the Queensland Government, and will ensure the proponent meets the highest environmental standards and that all impacts, including cumulative impacts, are avoided, mitigated or offset.” – Greg Hunt

So what are the net benefits for Australians? Economic reports continue to show us that coal is just not profitable anymore.  There are real questions surrounding the viability of Galilee Basin coal projects in the face of a long term, downward trend in global coal prices.  A huge investment in infrastructure by Adani is needed to service the Carmichael mine, which has driven down their potential for profit substantially.

“Good quality steaming coal exported from Australia is fetching about $US67 ($71.30) a tonne in the spot market, which means that after taking borrowing costs into account there would be little profit margin.” – SMH

Any profits made will be channelled overseas to India first, then to other Asian nations who will take on development contracts like Korea, whose company POSCO who will build the rail link. In the absence of a Carbon or Mining Tax, benefits to Australians are small – apart from the promise of employment and regional development.

But at what cost?  A country is more than just an economy.  All Australians will be left with is a massive hole in the ground, linked to a dying reef by a ghost train.  In the mean time, Greg Hunt will twiddle his thumbs, waiting for the years-away clean coal technology to be rolled out.

But there’s still a glimmer of hope.  While the coal mine has been approved, Adani still need to secure billions of dollars of funding before they can begin construction (or destruction in this case).  Greenpeace, together with GetUp, AYCC and Market Forces are campaigning to stop the Big Four Banks from funding Adani.

If Australians continue to show their collective power through grassroots campaigning and action, hopefully our banks will have the sense to ditch this sinking ship.

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