As the latest State of the Climate report reaffirms 2014 to be “the hottest on record”, the NSW Liberal Party is pressing ahead with plans for a “Carnival of Coal” in August. The party’s upper house whip, Peter Phelps, has appealed to members to download a sticker for MP office doors in support of the upcoming carbon love-in. It says:
I loved carbon before it was coal.
The Liberal paleo-love for coal, which Tony Abbott has declared “good for humanity”, is at least a point of differentiation with Labor. Labor does not promote such slogans at all – even if, in Victoria, the Andrews Labor government is still issuing coal exploration licences.
Both parties are capable of romancing the coal industry. But Liberal parties around the country have had much more success in convincing voters that either coal is more important than climate, or have decided that – with a population drip-fed on attention-deficit-consumerism and its reality television advertorials – their connection can be comfortably sublimated.
Whatever its form, the love for coal in Australia is going to end badly, like all relationships based on fantasy. To slightly misquote a 19th-century philosopher: the demand to give up the illusion that coal is good for humanity is the demand to give up a condition which needs such an illusion.
The condition I am referring to is the way our half-formed social democracy has become so captive to the ugliest form of corporate-servicing statism. It is not that the state has completely merged with corporate interests. Australia still has incredibly strong and progressive civic institutions such as its public broadcaster, its schools, universities, bureaus, museums and aspects of the legal system that do not serve capital’s interests.
It is that our governments have become servile – not to voters, but to a conjunction of multinational mining, energy and media interests, who have as their dating agencies the far-right silos of the capitalist class, such as the Institute for Public Affairs, which do not disclose their corporate donors.
Many believe, including perhaps Abbott himself, that he retains his power base at the pleasure of an ageing octogenarian who is well known for obtaining amusement from playing the Freudian Fort-Da game with entire democracies – the power to give and take away power – as long as he has also received something in return.
The same newspaper group that managed to squeeze a “toxic” “carbon tax” through the consciousness of millions of tabloid readers by means of slogan and cartoon did so when it was threatened by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) with having to repay almost A$900 million it had received on the eve of the last federal election.
The infamous “Kick this Mob Out” election blitzkrieg on Labor that started on August 5, 2013, was launched precisely at decision time for the ATO to appeal the Federal Court ruling on the windfall payout News Corp reportedly received by titanic-scale profit-shifting.
Global profit-shifting activities are routine for multinational empires such as Murdoch’s. But, not all have the ability to pressure governments at election times. And it is clear that at least the two major political parties believe they need a media mogul to gain office.
The examples are quite grotesque. Fuel rebate subsidies that mining companies receive run at A$2.2 billion per year. Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is asked to cancel its A$2.1 billion in subsidies directed exclusively to windfarms – which have the ability to hurt coal.
Before it moved to neuter the CEFC, the Coalition has proposed what has been dubbed the ”Dirty Energy Finance Corporation” for Northern Australia. It will bewilderingly make up to A$5 billion available to subsidise infrastructure projects in northern Australia and Queensland in particular.
A source has suggested to me that the fund is actually an elaborate financial smokescreen to helping out the coal mines in the Galilee basin – particularly the Adani Enterprises mine, but also the GVK Alpha Coalmine. GVK Alpha, the largest coal mine in Australia, was approved 2 months after the Coalition assumed power, is part-owned by Gina Rinehart – and also stands to benefit from billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Ms Rhinehart attracted satire in 2011 for flying liberal MPs to India to attend the wedding of the granddaughter of mine co-owner GV Krishna.
With the coal price diving worldwide, the mines – are unlikely to be economically viable without a huge subsidy. They might also surpass the viability threshold if they were able to sell the coal to a nearby newly proposed coal-fired power station that has been endorsed by Abbott personally.
However, competition from renewable energy company Windlab for an adjacent 1.2 gigawatt combined solar and wind farm would be an enormous threat to Alpha and Adani. It is pledging to undercut the price of the coal station by $30 per megawatt hour.
Time for my readers to draw a diagram to figure out which proposal will get funded. A diagram might picture the coincidence that the CEFC was directed to cease subsidising windfarms – for which it actually returns a profit to Australian taxpayers – just as it was realised the Windlab proposal posed a threat to the coal-fired power station.
It is worth considering that, according to Bill McKibben from 350.org, the Galilee basin alone has so much coal that if it is all burnt, it would take the world 30% of the way to getting to 2 degrees. You couldn’t invent a more tragic case study on how destructive the Abbott government is on climate.
But then there is Direct Action. This is a government marketing exercise that disguises a further A$2.5 billion giveaway to corporate Australia that works with targets so small as to guarantee Australia’s status as having fallen off the climate action map.
Detailed analysis shows that Direct Action won’t even meet its miniscule targets. It has led to a demonstrable increase in Australias Co2 emissions since the carbon tax was repealed, according to the government’s own figures.
Given the Abbott government’s ongoing love affair with coal, it is little wonder that Australia was publicly scrutinised at climate talks held in Bonn last month about the impact of its domestic policies. The UN talks, attended by representatives of 190 countries, were an important stepping stone to the much-anticipated Paris summit to be held in December.
While the Coalition’s reckless disregard for addressing climate change may not get scrutiny by the tabloid media in Australia, it certainly will in Paris.
David Holmes is Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies at Monash University. This article was first published in The Conversation on 18 July 2015.