Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Local Labor keen to draw Gillard link

The Northcote Leader has run with a story suggesting a close relationship between new prime minister, Julia Gillard, and local State and Federal MPs, Fiona Richardson and Martin Ferguson. I left the following comment on the story, and it will be interesting to see if it gets up:
With Martin Ferguson behind the "meteoric rise" of new prime minister, Julia Gillard, what hope do we really have either for urgent climate action or for a robust resources tax that won't be just a backdown in the face of a powerful mining lobby? After all, Martin has been on a listening tour to the mining magnates.

As for Fiona Richardson, she may well try to wring out a few votes by association with Australia's first female prime minister, but why not ask the two other women known at this stage to be running for State and Federal Parliament what it means for them to have a woman as prime minister? Could it be because they are running for the Greens?

We should also remember that the Richardson association cuts both ways - it ties Gillard to the factional apparatus of the Victorian Right. Surprise, surprise.
Comments welcome.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gillard stumbles as call for climate action sounds

Despite the rise of our plain-spoken and highly capable first female prime minister, Julia Gillard has taken little time to make her first false moves on climate.

Writing in The Age, Adam Morton relates the role of climate backsliding in the demise of Kevin Rudd as a conviction politician, but we now see Julia Gillard party to a brown coal deal with Vietnam as she “opens the door” to the mining industry and flags the need to build community “consensus” before Australia acts decisively on climate.

The consensus line comes as a new poll already shows strong concern for action on climate and a perception that the major parties are "clones" on climate policy.

An admitted party to the Rudd Government’s disastrous decision to shelve work on emissions trading, Gillard now appears to be operating on the consensus of the mining industry that it proceed full-steam ahead with the extraction of our natural resources despite the community, environmental and climate impacts, and quite possibly with a watered-down tax payment on its super profits.

The prime minister surely recalls Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election mandate to act on climate, and Australia's historic ratification of Kyoto. Julia Gillard must now acknowledge that should she ignore the scientific and growing community consensus, the climate will render self-evident its own consensus through the clear and worsening impacts of global warming. That is already happening, and further delay on climate action is no better than denial.

Comments welcome!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Truth and Lies event calls for climate action

Last Wednesday, Darebin Climate Action Now ran a great event at Northcote Town Hall about the truths of climate science, the lies of the climate denialists, and the renewable solutions that can help us to beat climate change if there is sufficient public and political will for climate action.

The report on Truth & Lies, Climate Change: Science and Solutions is now up, together with video of a presentation by Climate Code Red co-author, David Spratt, and some very interesting links and resources. Also presenting were Jenny McCracken on the impact of eating meat on climate change, Beyond Zero Emissions' Mark Ogge on the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 project, and DarebinCAN's Jane Morton on successful climate activism.

Have a read and you might just feel like joining in on some local climate action. As well as the blog link above, you can also follow Darebin Climate Action Now on Facebook and Twitter. They hold regular meetings and events in Darebin - usually at Northcote Town Hall - and welcome new members.

Comments welcome!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Gillard and a consensus on climate

I was at a climate event last night when one of the presenters, David Spratt, announced to the gathering that he'd received a text to say a challenge was on for the Labor leadership. It was a bombshell, and, as we saw this morning, Julia Gillard - always potential prime minister material - fulfilled that ambition in rather sad circumstances.

This morning's press conference, with only the odd false note, was coherent, focused and eloquent. Yet there's an immediate question mark over our new prime minister's stance on the resources tax and on climate action.

On the first, I thought it was a masterful stroke to cease the resources tax campaign with the accompanying proviso that the mining industry follow suit as a sign of good faith. Though I think the ads - however poor in execution - were justified, it's good to be able to avoid the charges of political advertising, provided the mining industry isn't thereby offered free hits with the continuation of its own propaganda.

However, the test will lie in what Julia's "open door" policy for the mining industry really means. If it turns out to mean a spineless watering-down of the resources tax (as happened with the ETS), then the leadership change will rightfully be seen as a massive win for the tactics of the mining industry. If it means a sensible approach to creating a clear and workable tax that recognises the strong case for the mining industry to pay (a lot) more, then that may be a good thing.

On climate there was also cause for concern. Julia spoke of the need for a strong community consensus before a price was put on carbon. In the context of her admission that she was a party to the decision to shelve the emissions trading scheme, this statement was worrying. She clearly wasn't talking about the obvious consensus that exists on the science, but on the public will to tackle the problem.

In that sense, the pressing question is what she is going to do about achieving that consensus within a timeframe that addresses the urgency of the science. She surely can't mean only the $30 million for better climate change communication drawn from the existing funding of a climate change department expected to find savings of $200 million?

I've argued before that the justification for the resources tax campaign would also justify a campaign on climate change, but that a truthful campaign on climate would force the government to acknowledge that its currently proposed measures are totally inadequate.

As David Spratt pointed out at the climate event I attended on the fateful night, the promises on the table at Copenhagen point to four degrees of warming - easily enough to push us past catastrophic climate tipping points.

It's now up to Julia. To a powerful case for election built on workplace relations, health and education, our first female prime minister can add climate action. Kevin Rudd ratified Kyoto; Julia can finish the job - as long as she recognises science as the benchmark of her success, or failure.

Comments welcome

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Climate "Truth & Lies" event this Wednesday!

Come and hear about climate change science and solutions at Truth & Lies, a presentation by Climate Code Red co-author David Spratt at Northcote Town Hall (Rooftop), 189 High Street, on Wednesday 23 June from 7.00–9.00pm (snacks from 6.30pm, entry by donation).

We all know about the success of the climate deniers in sowing doubt about the need for urgent action on climate change. But do you know the arguments they use and do you know the truth? These days the fossil fuel industry is funding a campaign of disinformation about renewable technology to supplement their long-running campaign against climate science.

Darebin Climate Action Network is providing you with the opportunity to become well informed about the truth and lies about climate change by taking a guided look at the science and the solutions.

David Spratt, who will speak on the latest science and sceptics’ arguments, will be joined by Mark Ogge from Beyond Zero Emissions – the technology group working on a plan to repower Australia with 100% renewable energy by 2020. Their report Zero Carbon Australia 2020 is to be released next month.

There will also be brief presentations from DarebinCAN members – Jenny McCracken on “Food Truth & Lies” and Jane Morton on “Successful Activism”.

For a map showing the venue location, go to Darebin Climate Action Network.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reply to Turnbull on the RSPT and climate

Malcolm Turnbull has published on his blog the full text of last Saturday's Deakin lecture speech on the politics of climate change, where he made the copiously reported comments about Kevin Rudd's "political cowardice" over climate change.

After my Twitter exchange disagreeing with Malcolm over his "support" for climate action coupled with his rejection of the resources tax, I left the following comment on his blog post. It will be interesting to see if it stays up, and if he responds. I'd also like to see this issue dealt with on next Monday night's Q&A, where Malcolm will be a panellist. Here's my comment:
I was there for your presentation, and I have to say you had the best jokes ("Kevin has always said such nice things about me"). However, you're wrong to support climate action - if only a weak version of it that doesn't reflect the science - and not support the resources tax. I am fully aware that the RSPT is not intended as a climate tax, but the fact is that, missing from this debate is a range of unacknowledged costs of the mining industry - from environmental and climate impacts, through to health impacts on local communities. You will never hear the mining industry acknowledge these costs, because they view them as external to their own narrow commercial self-interest. Sure we don't yet have an appropriate carbon price, but I'm willing to support the RSPT as a down-payment on the day when the true costs of the industry are accounted for and the wealthy mining barons are called on to pay up (I might have said "cough up", but that is done in the Hunter Valley and elsewhere). Of course, I also support the RSPT on the basis of Australians getting a fair share of profits in the meantime. Mining royalties have been declining as a percentage of mining profits, afterall.
 Comments welcome (you too, Malcolm).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Turnbull "supports" climate action, rejects resources tax

@TurnbullMalcolm onthe RSPT

Today The Age published my letter responding to Malcolm Turnbull's remarks on emissions trading at Saturday's Deakin lecture on the politics of climate change. My response referred to Clive Hamilton's excellent opinion piece on the Resources Super Profits Tax and the newspaper's strong editorial on Australia's quest for oil in deep water in the context of the Gulf of Mexico disaster. As usual, here's the letter as published, followed by the version I submitted:

CLIVE Hamilton (Comment, 14/6) rightly identifies the mining industry as the self-interested common enemy of the resources tax and the emissions trading scheme.

Unfortunately, Malcolm Turnbull (''Calls to get ETS back on agenda'', The Age, 14/6) fails to acknowledge the common element of climate in these two vital initiatives.

I was at Saturday's Deakin lecture on the politics of climate change, where Turnbull spoke. Skirting his own party's climate denialist position, Turnbull attacked the ''political cowardice'' of the Prime Minister in failing to go to a double-dissolution election over the ETS, while decrying a resources tax he said nobody could understand.

In a later Twitter exchange with me, he claimed: ''rspt has nothing to do with climate - its [sic] just a big new tax to raise additional revenues.''

While the Rudd government is indeed guilty of cowardice for not taking science-based action on climate, or even proposing it, the resources tax would be a small down payment to address the damage wrought by the mining industry.

Mining can have a direct and catastrophic effect on the physical environment, as well as contributing strongly to carbon emissions and global warming. How Turnbull can ''support'' climate action but reject the resources tax is beyond me.

Now the very similar version submitted:

Clive Hamilton (Comment & Debate, 14/6) rightly identifies the mining industry as the self-interested common enemy of both the resources tax and the emissions trading scheme.

Unfortunately, Malcolm Turnbull (News, 14/6) fails to acknowledge the common element of climate in these two vital initiatives as he calls to get a flawed ETS back on the agenda.

I was at Saturday's Deakin lecture on the politics of climate change where he made the comments reported in your newspaper. Skirting the climate denialist position of his own party, Turnbull attacked the “political cowardice” of the prime minister in failing to go to a double-dissolution election over the ETS, while decrying a resources tax he said nobody could understand.

In a later Twitter exchange with me, he claimed: “rspt has nothing to do with climate – its (sic) just a big new tax to raise additional revenues”.

While the Rudd government is indeed guilty of cowardice for not taking science-based action on climate, or even proposing it, the resources tax would be a small down-payment to address the damage wrought by the mining industry.

As shown by your excellent editorial on Australia’s continuing quest for for oil in the face of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, mining can have a direct and catastrophic effect on the physical environment, as well as contributing strongly to carbon emissions and global warming.

How Turnbull can “support” climate action but reject the resources tax is beyond me.

Comments welcome.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deakins focus on prosperity without growth

Last night I went to see Tim Jackson's outstanding Deakin lecture on his recent book, Prosperity without Growth. Just what Jackson is up against was bleakly but amusingly illustrated when I sought out his book a while back and had to ask a shop assistant. "Prosperity without growth?" she asked. Enough said.

For a man jet-lagged and awake since at least 5.00am, Jackson moved swiftly to the substance of his argument in a succinct 30 minutes followed by questions. The dilemma we face is that we either continue growing our economy, and thereby exhaust our finite planet, or we negotiate the perils of "de-growth", including the loss of jobs. With the relentless drive to ever greater efficiency, Jackson explained, more can be done by fewer people, and so the only way to keep people in jobs is to grow the economy. The trouble is, this process is resource and emissions intensive, and attempts to "de-couple" growth from its impact on the planet are unlikely to succeed.

It was worth going for this clarifying insight alone, and the idea that we can limit growth in some areas so that it can occur in others where it is truly needed. Jackson thinks we need to return our focus to human flourishing, and away from the psychology of envy that characterises our current consumption, which he says is not an inherent feature of human nature.

I will write further on the detail of Jackson's presentation, but there's no need to rely on brief blog posts, as the Wheeler Centre has already made the video available on its website, where you can leave comments. I've started the ball rolling by asking how Jackson might view the current debate over the resources tax, a key defence of which has been that it will in fact be good for the industry. With all its hidden costs, however, we should ask whether the growth of the mining industry is really good for us:
Great presentation, and fantastic work to have the video up so quickly. What I wanted to ask Tim was what he makes of the current resources tax debate. One of the key government defences is that it will ultimately be good for the industry and lead to expansion. Yet nowhere in the debate is there any accounting for the climate, environmental or human health cost of the mining industry, which will only worsen with any expansion - especially in the absence of an effective ETS or strong carbon tax. I support the resources tax, and would do so even more so if it served to put a brake on damaging and excessive mineral extraction. What says Tim?

Comments welcome

Costello would have us eat the miners' dust

Peter Costello is at it again in yesterday's edition of The Age. This time his sweeping arrogance has it that the Government has lost the argument on fairness over the resources tax. An interesting world view this may be, but lacking on any objective measure of the true cost of the mining industry to this country and the world.

Any business enterprise that left out significant costs in its project budget would ordinarily be looked on with scorn by the hoarders and graspers of profit – unless of course, the costs ignored are to the climate and the environment, and to the health of communities affected by mineral extraction. While on economic grounds alone there is a strong case for the tax, we are seeing – with global warming, the US Gulf Coast oil disaster, and the health impacts of coal mining on local communities – just some of the horrendous costs that have escaped any proper public reckoning.

Costello also claims that the mining industry "has withstood a misleading campaign and turned it around". It's true the Government has committed substantial funds to countering the miners' self-interest, which has been relentlessly projected on our screens and the nation's news pages. However, I suggest those who oppose the Government's public interest campaign consider the secret but massive expenditure of the miners' as they try to persuade us to eat their dust.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Picking which "emergency" to advertise

There’s something oddly out of focus about the controversy raging over the Federal Government’s $38 million advertising campaign explaining tax changes including the contentious Resources Super Profits Tax (RSPT). The campaign has been cast by some as back-tracking by the Rudd Government on political advertising, a hypocritical regression to the kind of obscene expenditure by the former Coalition Government on the GST and WorkChoices campaigns.

The charge has stemmed from the exemption granted the campaign by Cabinet Secretary, Senator Joe Ludwig, in apparent accordance, it must be said, with guidelines announced in 2008 and most recently published in March this year.

The guidelines give the Cabinet Secretary power to exempt campaigns from compliance “on the basis of national emergency, extreme urgency or other compelling reason”. Argument should proceed, then, not on the fact of the exemption, but on whether it qualifies in these terms.

If it does, then a further pertinent but more awkward question for the Government is what other issues ought to have qualified on the same grounds, but have not been seen to warrant a similar campaign – climate change being a strong contender.

Dealing first with the exemption, on its face this campaign ought to qualify. The tax changes are significant, with major implications for the public interest. The first evidence I have seen of the campaign – a full-page advertisement in Melbourne’s The Sunday Age – includes the simple claim that “before the last mining boom, the Australian people received $1 in every $3 of mining profits through royalties and resource charges. By the end of that boom, our share had fallen to just $1 in every $7”.

A factual claim, it would seem, capable of verification or otherwise, and consistent with recent comments by former Minerals Council head David Buckingham on ABC Radio National, that royalties have declined as a percentage of miners’ profits. Economists have also come out in support of the tax, while Treasury Secretary, Dr Ken Henry, has questioned the miners’ assertions of the broader economic impacts of the tax, and the role of the resources industry in seeing Australia through the global financial crisis.

Though the campaign has been granted an exemption, the closer it is seen to adhere to the guidelines, the stronger the case for its acceptance. In addition to requiring the stakes to be high and the expenditure large enough to warrant scrutiny (over $250,000), the kinds of tests the guidelines include relate to information, education, and the encouragement of the “informed consideration of issues”. They also refer to campaigns “informed by appropriate research or evidence” that “clearly and directly affect the interests of recipients”.

Despite the exemption, then, there is scope for ongoing testing of the campaign against the guidelines to assess through public debate how justified it really is. So far, there has been little that has echoed anything like the propagandistic tones of the “Unchain my Heart” GST campaign, or the readily falsifiable campaign mounted in support of WorkChoices, the acceptance of which was decidedly not in the interests of the campaign’s recipients – as judged by them at the November 2007 Federal election.

If we could posit the perfect public interest campaign, it should not be disqualified as “political advertising” simply due to alignment with the policies of a Government seeking to act in the genuine public interest. That would leave the Government fighting with one hand tied behind its back against the well-funded campaign of any lobby group attempting to paint as detrimental a measure undermining its own narrow self-interest but not resulting in any broader, national disadvantage. Without the RSPT campaign, this was the scenario threatened by the Minerals Council of Australia.

In the Council’s feigned altruism – in its disputed claims that the industry saved Australia from the global financial crisis, that it contributes appropriately to the nation’s coffers, and that the RSPT will have innumerable flow-on impacts for investment, jobs, businesses and prices – the lobby group seems to be making a case based on the public interest rather than its own profit margins. Yet where is the accountability for its campaign, resourced at a likely governmental but secret scale? Where are the requirements for veracity, information, education and research placed on it?

Where the lack of focus enters this issue, lies instead with the awkward question prompted by reasoned acceptance of the Government’s RSPT campaign. Why have we not had a similar campaign, subject to similar strictures, based on climate change?

I am deeply struck by this question having raised the idea of a public interest campaign around climate in an April meeting with Martin Ferguson, energy and resources minister in the Australian Government and, as it happens, my local federal MP.

Ferguson was being challenged over his support for fossil fuels and the climate inaction of the Rudd Government. He claimed that the Government had taken a climate position it thought would “bring the community along”. Yet when might there have been a more truly urgent time to campaign on the need for strong climate action – far stronger than the now-shelved emissions trading scheme (ETS) – than in the lead-up to the November 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, and during the Senate’s deliberations on the legislation?

While climate has fallen off the Government’s agenda, the climate clock hasn’t stopped ticking. Commitments under the Copenhagen Accord have, for example, been estimated to lead to warming of more than three degrees Celsius, substantially above the levels where further dangerous impacts will be locked in. Surely this argues for a public interest campaign “on the basis of national emergency, extreme urgency or other compelling reason”.

“We’ve made it very difficult for ourselves with political advertising,” Ferguson commented at the meeting. Yet, less than two months later, we have another campaign – with which I admittedly agree – justified on a basis that also applies to our climate emergency, where international leadership by Australia might well influence stronger international action.

It’s true that the recent federal budget provides $30 million over two years for better climate communication, but the funding is to be drawn from a climate change department expected to find savings of $200 million (1). There is also the question of what an effective climate campaign might look like, in contrast with what the Government might be willing to say.

Whether or not such a campaign were granted an exemption from the advertising guidelines similar to the RSPT, it would need to be based on verifiable research that stood to inform and educate the Australian public on the need to take strong climate measures due to the highly likely serious impacts on the Australian (and world) population if this were not done.

A claimed defender of the science of climate change, the Government must concede that the body of peer-reviewed scientific research supporting strong action far exceeds any factual basis it is now giving for its resources tax. Nor has there been a clearer example of a well funded and pervasive misinformation campaign than has been orchestrated by the deniers of climate change, who remain unaccountable for the impacts they would allow.

The trouble is that any truly honest campaign around climate would demonstrate the dishonesty and ineffectiveness of the Government’s own climate measures, that it is indeed closer to the Coalition and the climate deniers than it is to policies that would support a safe climate.

In essence, a better critique of the RSPT campaign is not that it is unjustified, but that the Government has been political in its picking of emergencies to advertise. If the RSPT controversy serves as a grand distraction from this fact, dangerous climate change may tax us all to far greater consequence.

1. The savings expected from the Department of Climate Change are discussed by Katharine Murphy in “Of backflips and backchat”, The Age, Insight, p.5, 15 May 2010.

Comments welcome