Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ANZ sheds 1000 jobs to fuel yet bigger profits

In the relative calm of the Australian economy, banks such as the ANZ are imposing the austerity of unemployment on thousands of workers to boost their multi-billion-dollar profits.

Yesterday The Age reported that, in addition to the 1000 jobs being shed by the ANZ, up to 10,000 jobs could go from the financial services sector in Australia within the next two years.

Today the paper ran my letter ("Blameless pay for global greed") responding to this coverage. Here's the unedited version:

So the banks, with their obscene profits, executive salaries and bonuses, and to protect their profitability and competitiveness from unfavourable circumstances, are set to impose the austerity of unemployment on perhaps 10,000 workers over the next two years. For the job cuts - beginning with Westpac and the ANZ - are indeed austerity measures, imposed on those blameless for the profligacy, greed and recklessness of global financial institutions.

Yet, with Australia riding the economic storm better than most, austerity does indeed imply blame on those who must bear its burden here. Workers unable to find jobs will be forced to rely on a welfare safety-net that the conservative champions of austerity seek at every turn to unpick. They will be forced into a job market competing against their peers in a sector-wide downturn, their options in public employment diminished - especially in Victoria, where the State Government will shed 3600 jobs.

On these happy tidings the ANZ share price increased yesterday [Tuesday], the numbers looking good for a corporation set to shed so much of its unnecessary human freight. If you are an ANZ shareholder - indeed a shareholder in any bank trading on the human misery of joblessness - please turn away from those who, without any semblance of genuine regret, or indeed emotion, can announce on television that this mass loss of livelihoods is merely "regrettable".
The bloodless headline of the ANZ's media release read, "ANZ announces changes in Australia to respond to emerging business environment". The Financial Services Union release spoke more plainly with "ANZ announces massive job cuts".

Detailed coverage aired on ABC News and the ABC's 7.30 Report.

Comments welcome.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ferguson claims "neutrality" as he shores up HRL brown coal

Updated 14/2/12

In a move to "shore up" brown coal rather than properly support genuine clean energy alternatives, resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson yesterday announced that HRL has yet a further six months to get its long-flailing Latrobe Valley brown coal power plant together and meet funding conditions before it loses a $100m Federal Government grant. Ferguson also announced $100m for CarbonNet, a carbon capture and storage project, also in the Latrobe Valley and part of the $1.68b CCS Flagships Program.

The HRL announcement follows concerted community action to stop the polluting brown coal power plant, the tabling in Federal Parliament of a petition of nearly 13,000 signatures opposing it, and a recent public rally at which Labor's Federal Member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson MP, spoke against the project, on which he also addressed the Parliament in tabling the petition.

The announcement has been met with dismay and a commitment to sustained action by community campaigners opposing the project because of its dangerously high carbon emissions, the availability of abundant and genuinely clean alternatives such as solar, and a promise by Prime Minister Julia Gillard not to build more dirty coal-fired power stations in Australia.

Here's the unedited version of my letter published in today's edition of The Age responding to Katharine Murphy and David Wroe's report of the HRL project extension.
In throwing a "lifeline" to HRL's brown coal power project and more money at carbon capture and storage in the Latrobe Valley, Martin Ferguson comes clean in at least one respect - he's aiming at "shoring up the value of Victoria's brown coal resource".

Ferguson can imagine no low-emissions solution that leaves coal in the ground. Unfortunately exploiting coal and lowering emissions are essentially contradictory aims.

Ferguson claims a "technology neutral" approach to clean energy solutions, but those he favours with so-called neutrality in fact serve private coal interests and escalate dangerous carbon emissions despite empty claims of technological advancement.

If Australia is to contribute to a safer global climate, the selection of clean energy solutions cannot be neutral in assessing projected emissions.

Ferguson knows there are jobs in genuine clean energy, but prefers coal at the bidding of coal interests who have no monopoly over energy from the sun and the wind.

He should also know that the public campaign to stop his climate destruction - a broad-based campaign driven not only by Greens - will only grow stronger.
 The published version can be read in today's letters (scroll to "Minister shores up coal").

See also the ABC's investigation of clean coal, Cloud hangs over Rudd's clean coal vision, for which Ferguson refused to be interviewed.

Comments welcome.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We're gonna stop HRL, fellas, so pull the $100m now

A great line-up of speakers and more than 400 nearly 500 people turned up at Victorian Parliament at lunchtime today (Wed. 1 Feb.) to call for an end to the HRL brown coal power station in the Latrobe Valley. (Why?)

Protesters obviously found it not only acceptable, but highly worthwhile to highlight that the project does not stack up economically and would be a disastrous misstep for action towards a safer climate.

The rally was organised by Greenpeace, Environment Victoria, and the wonderful Quit Coal campaign of Friends of the Earth.

Federal Labor Member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson MP, focused on the inconsistency of the project with Victoria's legislated 20% emissions reduction target by 2020 (not to mention federal targets).

He also noted the $100 million federal grant made by the Howard Government could be much better spent (I suggest redirection to renewables), as could the $50 million of State funding in Victoria - for example, by contributing to undergrounding powerlines in high-risk bushfire areas, a measure recommended by the Bushfires Royal Commission.

Kelvin also noted the lack of any private funding for the project, and a recent UN report calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 (see also this post on subsidies). For the full details of Kelvin's speech, visit his blog.

New Federal Green for Melbourne, Adam Bandt MP, also did a great job arguing for renewables over emissions-intensive (i.e. dirty) fossil fuels.

It was good to see some cross-party cooperation on this important issue, especially when it still seems to internally divide the Labor Party - it's a pity, for example, that Martin Ferguson can't seem to change tack from his current fossil-fuel-lobby cooperation.

There were three other speakers, and more about them will hopefully be written or posted as video on the web pages of the organisers.

(A wrap-up is now available from Quit Coal, including Ten News footage, and details of the tabling of a 13,000 signature petition against the HRL project in Canberra are available from Environment Victoria)

I was holding up the main banner with lots of other people, so I'm sorry I could only manage a hasty 40 seconds or so towards the end as Julien Vincent from Greenpeace vowed to continue the campaign even if efforts to end the $100 million federal grant were unsuccessful in the short term - which we are all hoping like hell they won't be.

The 40 seconds shows two things. First, the great crowd reaction, and, second, the difficulty of filming on a "smart" phone with big hands while holding a banner doing its best to demonstrate the abundance of wind energy in Victoria. Green Screen entry it is not.

Where to now?

Finally, there's going to be an action to maintain the pressure to end the HRL project next Thursday 9 February from 12.00-2.00pm in which we're all encouraged to ring, email, tweet and/or connect via all available or about-to-be-launched social media with prime minister Gillard, Finance Minister Penny Wong, and our respective local members (oh dear, that's Martin Ferguson in my case). I'll be in that (that is, it's in my diary as instructed, dear protest groups).

See also Rally says no to HRL coal power station in Victoria (from @takvera)

Comments welcome.