Government Visions

jabiru in the NT I just read Quarry Vision by Guy Pearse. I’m a bit slow because it’s no longer the most recent issue of Quarterly Essay. When it came out I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it. I assumed it was more of Pearse’s results from his PhD thesis on Australia’s greenhouse mafia, otherwise known as the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AIGN),

an alliance representing almost all of Australia’s biggest fossil-energy producers and consumers, either directly or through their industry associations. [1] p.38

Not that I wasn’t interested in his research. He wrote High & Dry [2] a couple of years ago and I thought I’d heard all there was to tell, but I was wrong.

As I read the first few pages of Quarry Vision I thought, don’t we all know CCS is a pipedream of the coal industry and something drastic needs to be done about greenhouse gas emissions, but no government wants to. I kept reading and now I know why nothing much has changed in terms of Australia’s climate change policy. Rudd et al would like us to think otherwise, but while a different political party is in power,

the deep pockets of the Australian carbon lobby have made its members ubiquitous. [1] p.37

Since 1998 both major political parties in Australia received donations from organisations represented by AIGN. While companies are more likely to donate to the Liberal Party, Labor receives donations from all the associated unions. The Mining and Energy Division of the CFMEU annually donates large sums.

In 2007-08 its $700 000 donation was the largest external contribution made to the national secretariat of the Labor Party. [1] p.39

As with Liberal candidates, Labor candidates are recruited from the industries making up the carbon lobby. Jason Clare was elected in 2007 and subsequently joined the House of Representatives Committee on Infrastructure and Transport. He’s probably not championing public transport because he’s the

long time manager of corporate relations for Transurban, the biggest owner of Sydney and Melbourne toll roads. [1] p.40

I’ve never thought much of political parties supposed “differences,” but in the lead up to the 2007 election this somehow slipped my mind. When I was seventeen and naive I got all excited about joining the electoral roll. Then I spent the next decade going to a polling place on election day to get my name crossed off – exercising my right not to vote. It’s not illegal not to vote, it’s illegal not to get your name crossed off. I was very happy the day I moved house and “forgot” to change my address on the electoral roll and also devised a cunning strategy to the convince the Australian Electoral Commission there was someone living in my house who did not have to be on the electoral roll (he did live with me for a few months, so it wasn’t a total lie). My life was perfect until people started telling me I had to vote in 2007, otherwise the world would end. I put myself back on the electoral roll, voted, my vote made no difference to the outcome of the election (while Labor won, the Liberal candidate in my electorate won his seat. I did vote Green in the senate, but whatever). Now I’m stuck on the stupid roll again and Guy Pearse detailed for me all the ways the participants change from year to year, but the ideology never does.

In the lead up to the 2007 election I read articles in The Australian newspaper by Matthew Warren, their environment reporter. (Obviously my brain was addled in more ways than one – environment articles in the Australian newspaper!?) Now I discover Warren was a former PR person in the coal industry and after the election became CEO of the Clean Energy Council (p.42). The Clean Energy Council membership includes companies which deal in solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, bioenergy, and gas (LNG) electricity generation. This is evident on their website, but Pearse notes membership is dominated by “companies whose focus is oil or the unfettered expansion of coal mining and burning,” with “relatively small stakes in cleaner energy” (p.38), not so clearly displayed online.

The Clean Energy Council recently released the Carbon and Renewable Energy Markets Report which includes information on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). I can’t read the report to find out what they said because I’m not a member. Last November Dr Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute brought to light the flaw in the CPRS which means as well as carbon emissions not rising above a certain level, they cannot fall below that level. In Pearse’s critique of the CPRS he focused on the huge compensation provided to industries which produce the biggest carbon emissions (p.63), including coal mining, coal fired power stations and Woodside’s LNG production (p.69). When used to generate electricity LNG emits 60% less greenhouse gases than equivalent coal fired plants [3], but how does this necessitate handing them free permits? Woodside’s LNG production in WA’s north decimates pristine wilderness and Aboriginal rock art. I always thought the point of a CPRS was to put a price on carbon emissions so less were produced, the Australian government obviously doesn’t agree (p.70) and the industries receiving the government’s handouts want even more!? (p.72)

Like his predecessor, Rudd’s government is enamoured of CCS (clean coal) and Pearse examined why it’s not a solution to climate change. That part bored me, but I guess there are a few people who haven’t got it.

The spectacular growth industry is not clean coal, but clean coal PR. [1] p.79

Because I took so long to read Quarry Vision, I had the next Quarterly Essay and I could read the correspondence [4] immediately. I was surprised at the lack of dissenting voices. Surely someone in Penny Wong’s office noticed a publication of such importance to her portfolio. If so they didn’t care about it, probably about as much as they care about climate change. Pearse provided the solution of ending coal mining and export, and the main critique from correspondents was this was about as likely to happen as CCS fixing climate change. (Some correspondents said this wouldn’t be feasible/helpful/”good”. I just think the carbon lobby wouldn’t allow it). In concluding Quarry Vision Pearse noted,

It is up to governments to make hard policy decisions like this one, not BHP Billiton or Rio Tinto. [1] p.92

Unfortunately Rudd’s government enjoys making hay while the sun shines. It’s a shame most of the people making these decisions (and donating the huge sums of money) might not be around to experience the full impact of our carbon addiction, or perhaps it’ll happen sooner rather than later and they will be.



If you’re wondering what relevance the photo of a jabiru (black necked stork) has to this story, the way we’re going the rise in oceans which will occur due to climate change is likely to inundate the wetlands of Kakadu and there might be a few upset residents, jabirus being one of many.


  1. Pearse, Guy (2009) “Quarry Vision: Coal, Climate Change and the End of the Resources Boom” Quarterly Essay, no.32.
  2. Pearse, Guy (2007) High & Dry: John Howard, Climate Change and the Selling of Australia’s Future. Camberwell, Vic: Penguin.
  3. McNeil, Ben (2007) “An addiction that fouls the airThe Sydney Morning Herald, 16 January.
  4. “Quarry Vision: Correspondence” (2009) in Stop at Nothing Quarterly Essay, no.33, pp.101-126.

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2 thoughts on “Government Visions

  1. Hi Clare

    When seeing what our Government Visions are it is quite easy to become despondent or not to vote – which is to me as good as voting as you are giving your opinion -. I can understand that the general public can be slow to change their behaviour but politicians have “no excuse” in not acting or in blocking action on climate change. I am an optimist and believe we can change and improve our world but i take a hit when I hear stories like Peter Garett and the Pulp Mill and the Uranium mine and the issue in the Liverpool Plains (was on 4 corners this week). The best we can do is voice our opinions, vote (or not?) change our behaviours, take a big breath and maybe start a revolution :) because to me our democracy as it is doesn’t allow change to take place.
    Forgot to say i enjoy reading you



  2. Hi Nicolas,
    Thanks for reading and your comment. Next time I’m thinking despondently I’ll remember to take a big breath and do the things that will make a difference, like convincing ppl I know to change their opinions and behaviours.
    Cheers, Clare.

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