Corporatocracy

May 14, 2024
Oil gas refinery or petrochemical plant. Include arrow, graph or bar chart. Increase trend or growth of production, market price, demand, supply. Concept of business, industry, fuel, power energy.

It’s time we reckoned with what it means to become a corporatocracy. Our governments exist to enact the desires of their corporate masters. Some of these politicians, like Madeleine King, appear to do so with alacrity, while others appear lost in the perceived demands of party and pressure groups. The end result will be an uninhabitable world.

This week, the Albanese government appalled much of its voter base by renaming the Coalition’s “gas-led recovery” out of Covid as the all new Future Gas Strategy.

In it, Minister King asserts that gas is a transition fuel. This ceased to be true many years ago. As Professor Bill Hare, author of “numerous” UN climate reports explained: “It’s one of the main contributors to global warming and has been the largest source of increases of CO2 [emissions] over the last decade.”

In the policy, the government commits half a billion taxpayer dollars to finding new fossil fuel deposits through Geoscience Australia. Deposits found at our expense will be handed to mainly foreign corporations for their profit. These funds are additional to the roughly $11 billion in subsidies and tax breaks currently granted to the sector annually. Bernard Keane reminds Australians, revisiting Gough Whitlam’s words from 1974, that Australians are still “paying to be exploited” by mining corporations.

The fossil fuel sector has been found to pay “less tax than the typical Australian worker” and many of the corporations “barely pay any tax at all.”

Crikey has also established that the government’s announced raise in the mining rent tax is basically spin with pennies accruing to the commonwealth from ballooning profits.

Labor’s announcement also promotes the farcical climate capture and storage technology as a solution to the rise in carbon emissions they are creating with the policy. It remains, however, an “abject failure” and a “rort.” If the technology becomes viable, it will be one tool in a range of technologies deployed in our race to limit atmospheric carbon rather than this purported offset. This is fossil fuel sector spin, not a policy, least of all a solution.

This surge in gas production was announced on the same day that scientists warned that the world was on the edge of a “climate abyss.” They are expecting the climate to “soar” past the international target of 1.5C, with 80% of the experts surveyed predicting a rise of “at least 2.5C.” Every fraction of a degree means millions of deaths in the Global South. We are approaching crucial tipping points that could worsen the current predictions. Without urgent, substantial effort, a hostile climate will devastate us.

The Australia Institute’s Matthew Ryan warned that, according to “conservative estimates adopted by the US government”, our current exports – which bring us about 2.3. billion from the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax – will ultimately cost $74.9 billion in damages “here and around the world.” Australia also granted approval for Chevron’s “massive expansion” to the Gorgon project on the same day as the gas policy announcement. That 3 billion tonnes of emissions alone could cause $1.9 trillion in damages using an estimate published in Nature.

This is particularly disastrous for our Pacific neighbours who will be displaced by ever-worsening climate impacts. It is not just northern Australia that could become unliveable in the next 50 years. Large tracts of Western Sydney might be abandoned within 30 years.

It is not only the corporations that contribute so little to the Australian economy that are pressuring the government to act. The Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe revealed the ugly degree to which the Japanese and Korean governments are pressuring the Labor government to boost gas production to compensate for those nations’ failure to transition to renewables. The disgraceful sea dumping bill was introduced at those nations’ demand. Part of the gas announcement addressed that coercion, declaring Australia is committed to being a “reliable trading partner.”

It is important to note that these trade deals do little for us. Japan’s biggest oil and gas producer, INPEX , for example “employs few people, pays very little company tax, zero petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT) and gets our gas for free.” Between 2013 and 2022, it made $41 billion from Australia’s gas.

The global problem, however, remains centred on the corporations which handcuff the politicians and governments, and muddy the debate.

In America, the fossil fuel-backed Heritage Foundation has set out the fossil fuel-based plan for a second Trump presidency in Project 2025.

One of the main projects that make Biden anathema to the sector is his massive investment in the transition away from carbon-based power to renewable technology under the umbrella of the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans are determined to destroy these steps and The Washington Post reported that last month at Mar-a-Lago, Trump set out his promises to the sector in return for a demanded one billion dollars committed to his campaign.

Despite the loathed restrictions imposed by the Biden administration, American oil companies are producing a record number of barrels and boasting “bumper” profits. This will not suffice, and they are also reported to be drafting “executive orders and other policy paperwork” for Trump to sign immediately on regaining office. They fear his Super Tuesday commitment to “drill baby drill” might be lost in the chaos of his plans for vengeance and his other prioritised commitment to deport 11 million non-White people.

Right wing forces in America are working to crush protest rights. In Australia, Labor state governments are imposing similar restrictions. In fact, in 2023 South Australia’s Labor government rushed through laws to silence protest outside the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) conference. The resources minister told the gathering that his government was “at your disposal.”

We will not be allowed to inconvenience the corporations for which our politicians work, even at their conferences.

Renewables are quickly becoming cheap and gaining market share on that basis. Without corporate distortion of the market, using their politicians to funnel taxpayer money away from the community’s needs into subsidies to boost their profits, we would be moving in the right direction.

With government money deployed not to subsidise our own destruction but towards renewables, we can boost our chances of success.

Madeleine King’s resources ministry and this announcement are probably partly sops to West Australian Labor voters who believe their prosperity is dependent on gas. Albanese’s team is gambling that the rest of Australia is as susceptible to the long-outdated argument that gas is a transition fuel. Australia’s regions, served by Sky News propaganda free-to-air, may be filled with manufactured doubt about the prospects for renewables to ramp up relatively quickly and reliably to meet energy needs.

In the better-informed cities, however, Labor might just have been forced to kill its own government by corporations that would prefer the Coalition was back in power.

We must hope that quality independents and small parties can free us from the golden-handcuffed party hacks, pushing Labor into minority government.

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