By Ebony Bennett
The Coalition government under Scott Morrison appears to have forgotten the first rule of holes: when you’re in one, stop digging.
It’s far too early to describe the Morrison government as terminal; the six months or so till a mooted May federal election is a long time in politics. But the government seems content to write off the message from Liberal voters in Wentworth and Victoria, particularly on climate change, because they do not represent its ‘base’. God only knows where the Liberal base is if it isn’t located in blue ribbon Liberal seats, but who are we to argue?
Coalition government policies under John Howard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison have failed to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Australia’s emissions are rising when they should be falling.
Worse, the Morrison government appears determined to back policies and projects that will increase emissions and fuel global warming.
It was sickening to watch the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan welcome Adani’s announcement that it was ready to start construction of its mega coal mine before Christmas, at the same time as bushfires raged across Queensland during an unprecedented heatwave.
Mining and burning coal is a major cause of the greenhouse gas pollution that is heating the atmosphere, cooking the Great Barrier Reef and intensifying the extreme weather conditions Queensland is currently experiencing.
For the first time in Queensland’s history, the state’s fire danger warning was raised to ‘catastrophic’, the new category of fire danger that had to be invented following the Black Saturday fires of 2009. It is only five years since the Bureau of Meteorology had to add new colours – deep purple and pink – to indicate temperatures beyond its 50-degree cap. Australia’s extreme heat and fire danger is now literally off the charts.
As far as divine signs to stop burning fossil fuels go, more than a hundred bushfires in Queensland’s tropical north rainforest country during the wet season could not be more obvious. Thousands of residents were given ‘Leave Now’ warnings, with authorities bluntly warning residents who refused to flee that they could “burn to death” and that the firestorm could create “dead man zones” which would be impossible to survive, even in a car.
Even on the beach.
“I’m sure that some people have probably got very good and elaborate systems of pumps and dams and systems and they believe that I’ll be OK and I know what I’m doing and I’ve done this before,” said Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford, who experienced Victoria’s Ash Wednesday fires firsthand as a firefighter. “Today is not one of those days. Today is different. We are expecting a firestorm.”
Australia’s extreme heat and fire danger is now literally off the charts.
Queensland residents described 20-metre-high flames fanned by “tornado-like” winds. The heatwave is set to continue. There is no rain forecast. Watching a senior minister tweet photos of bushfire devastation in Queensland while applauding Adani’s coal mine is like watching someone hand out cigarettes to cancer patients.
Is it any wonder thousands and thousands of students turned out in force across Australiaon Friday for the School Strike 4 Climate?
Australia’s kids are willing to sacrifice their education to stop Adani because they know it is their future at stake, it is their generation who will be forced to clean up the policy mess that ministers like Matt Canavan have left them.
But of course, it should not be up to Australia’s schoolchildren to stop Adani. The Labor party, Australia’s likely future government, should give voters a real choice at the next election and commit to stop Adani’s mine by any means available to it.
Adani’s mine is a dud project for any one of a dozen reasons. No bank would touch it, Adani has had to finance the mine itself. There won’t be many jobs in it, Adani boasts “When we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port”. Traditional owners do not consent to the mine on their land and are challenging Adani before a full federal court bench next year. Adani is still under investigation for potential environmental breaches in Australia and it has an appalling record of environmental destruction and prosecutions overseas, including allegations of corruption, fraud and money laundering.
The federal Environment Department found Adani probably broke the law in its environmental application by giving false evidence. Federal and Queensland governments are yet to sign off on key water plans which water scientists say are grossly inadequate to protect precious water. As Queensland burns and suffers through drought, it seems grossly unfair that Adani has been granted a license to extract 12.5 billion litres of water every year for 60 years, nearly as much as all local farmers combined, without a full environmental impact assessment, as documents obtained by Lock The Gate Alliance under Queensland’s Right To Information laws showed. And the Queensland government is still offering Adani a secret royalty subsidy.
Frankly Australia’s next government should not only stop Adani, it should put a moratorium on all new coal mines. Even with a ban on new mines, Australia Institute research shows Australia’s coal production would decline only gradually as existing mines reached the end of their economic lives. If Adani’s coal mine goes ahead, with flat world demand for coal, every new coal mine opened in new coal regions like the Galilee simply reduces production in existing coal regions like the Hunter Valley, Bowen Basin and Surat Basin. This will lead to the closure of some mines and layoffs in others. A moratorium on new coal mines would protect existing coal jobs. It is impossible to limit global warming while building new coal mines.
The Morrison government’s determination to use taxpayers’ money to underwrite new coal-fired power is also concerning. Just as you can’t dig yourself out of a hole, you can’t reduce electricity prices by building coal-fired power stations – the most expensive form of new energy to build. Renewable energy and battery storage are cheap and getting cheaper and renewables have been putting downwards pressure on electricity prices for years now.
But Minister for Energy Angus Taylor appears determined to invest in coal – like investing billions of taxpayers’ dollars in Video Ezy while blaming the world for streaming Netflix. Coal-fired fired power stations aren’t even that reliable and our ageing fleet increasingly fails in the heat when we need them most. The Australia Institute’s Gas and Coal Watch has tracked 109 separate breakdowns at coal-fired power stations this year: 67 at black coal plants and 42 at brown coal plants, hardly ‘reliable’.
Taxpayers should be concerned the Government is gearing up to sign risky contracts for billions of dollars, possibly without the authority to do so. It is policy on the run from a government in panic mode, only it is Australian taxpayers, not the Liberal and National parties, who will be left on the hook for any liability arising from the Minister’s rushed process.
The Liberal party is perfectly entitled to keep its ‘homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers’ branding – as Kelly O’Dwyer so succinctly put it – if it thinks it’s onto a winner. The only danger now is that the Coalition will mire Australia in its climate policy bog as it doubles down on coal and digs itself further away from the political mainstream.
Ebony Bennett is deputy director at The Australia Institute @ebony_bennett