How the lobby door spins for Swan’s vested mining interests

THERE’S a revolving door outside state and federal government offices that has been spinning for decades.

Entering the door are former ministers, MPs, senior advisers and public servants with years of experience behind them on the intestine-like inner workings of governments, politics and policy making.

As they exit the door, many become part of the opaque and mostly unreported world of corporate and industry lobbying.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has publicly questioned the power and influence wielded by vested interests in the mining and resources industries.

In his recent essay for The Monthly, Mr Swan chose to name three people in particular – Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forest – as representing this undue power which is shaping public policy for the narrowest of interests.

Vested interests had worked together to undermine climate policy and mining taxation, he wrote.  Australia’s success was in “jeopardy”, vested interests were a “poison” threatening the future prosperity of the “great mass of good hearted Australians”.

Mr Swan picked on a small number of super-rich mining magnates, leaving multi-billion dollar corporations and industries that work equally as hard for their own interests wondering what they’d done to escape the Treasurer’s wrath.

The essay was brave and most likely, in my view, broadly accurate. But it was heavy on the rhetoric and light on solutions.

Mr Swan could have taken the opportunity to call for more transparency and openness in the systems that regulate lobbying and political donations.

He could have supported the calls in the just-closed Senate inquiry into lobbying for stronger oversight of lobbyists.

He did neither.

Yet it is the same industries that Mr Swan is criticising – fossil fuels and resource extraction – that can afford to scoop up the talent from the public service and put them to work in a system that allows them to operate largely unseen.

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Catching up on old-ish news

Double yolker actionIT’S been a frantic few weeks, so just time to share some recent links of mine.

First up, I had a look at the phenomenon of the “conservative white male” effect which is a bit like the greenhouse gas effect, in that seemingly the more of it you release, the worse things get.

I also took a look at the new climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement, and their various links to conservative white males like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and pretty much every climate denier that’s ever stalked the corridors of a free market think-tank. Oh, and they share a PR firm with the Church of Scientology and The Exclusive Brethren.

On the Brisbane Times and across the rest of the Fairfax network, I previewed a court case about to close in Queensland which is hearing a challenge against a huge coal mine development by Xstrata. Over the mine’s lifetime, the coal burned will see about 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases added to the planet’s atmosphere. If you’re following Australia’s carbon tax debate, then this cancels out the Government’s five per cent cut about seven times over.

Also on the Brisbane Times, a look at a report from The Climate Institute into the mental health issues related to extreme weather events like floods, droughts, bushfires and cyclones. If you take your climate science from climate scientists, then you’ll know that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increase the chances of events such as these happening more often (or in the case of cyclones, there could be less of them, but the ones we do get will probably be bigger and meaner).

Oh, and one of my chickens laid that egg. Disappointingly, there was no dinosaur inside.

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Floods, climate and a “tiny” bit of coal outrage

AS the floods in Queensland and Victoria gushed through homes, businesses and streets leaving tragedy behind, all of that murky water and grime sent moral compasses and other measures of taste and decency spinning and covorting in all directions.

What outrages you, or anyone else, depends on which way your moral, political or ideological compass tends to point. Talking about building dams or the role of climate change while people are suffering could enrage some people while for others, it could simply drift by unnoticed on the media floodwaters.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown’s assertion that the floods in Queensland were caused in part by the coal industry is a classic case in point. He made the statement on Sunday 16 January, well after the majority of floodwaters in Queensland had subsided but before the communities of Toowoomba and Grantham had begun to bury their dead. Brown said the coal industry should be picking up some of the clean-up bill for future extreme weather events.

Ralph Hillman, executive director the Australian Coal Association (ACA), responded by saying that in any case, the emissions from domestically-mined coal in Australia made only a “tiny” contribution to world emissions of greenhouse gases. If tiny is a postulated 2.5 per cent of the world’s entire emissions from fossil fuels, then tiny it is. But more on that later.

Brown was accused by some, including Resources Minister Stephen Robertson, of using the floods to make a political point. Several mining companies and industry groups including Macarthur Coal, Xstrata, the ACA and the Minerals Council of Australia expressed outrage but some could not pass up the chance to make a political point of their own. Chairman of Macarthur Coal Keith DeLacy branded Brown as “irrelevant to mainstream Australia”.

It was time to pull together, commentators said, rather than start pointing the finger of blame or making political points. Yet in the days preceding Senator Brown’s comments, there had been plenty of wagging fingers.

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