A majority of voters are in support of more government action on climate change – and yet somehow it’s not an election issue. Let’s make it one
May 26, 2016 — The current dissonance between election campaign rhetoric and the facts of climate change is unfathomable, that is, until you dig a little deeper.
This month, the world passed a disastrous tipping point from which there will be no return: the Cape Grim Air Quality Monitoring Station registered a count of 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. Climate scientists have acknowledged that there is basically no going back from this point. We are in a climate emergency.
At the same time, 93% of the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing devastating bleaching; the biggest ever anti-coal protest at Newcastle – the world’s largest coal port – stopped exports for a day, and yet at the federal election leaders’ debate not one question was asked on what the parties would do about global warming or fossil fuel subsidies, coal or coal seam gas.
What is going on? A lack of interest or a debate with parameters and audience selection overseen by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News and Daily Telegraph? It is not credible that a representative selection of voters would not have raised global warming or asylum seekers as issues at all. Especially when a poll released this week showed that an overwhelming majority of voters are in favour of more government action on climate change.
But then we no longer live in a democracy. We have morphed into a plutocracy: government by the wealthy for the wealthy greased by political donations. You don’t need to be in parliament to secure your interests, you only need to buy or exert enough influence through cash or concentrated media ownership to make sure things don’t change regardless of whether the LNP or Labor is in government.
Big corporations call these donations “diversifying their investment”, and when you look at the donation records of fossil fuel companies, they donate to both major parties, capturing them both within their destructive and pervasive web of influence.
Australia is a disproportionately resource-based economy dependent on subsidised digging up and shipping away. The vested interests who have made their fortunes out of coal, oil and gas will fight to keep it that way. This is despite crystal clear evidence that the demand for our coal, oil and gas on the global stage is declining.
Rather than work to transition our economy to a more diverse and clean one, they will instead fight to keep every grant, subsidy, tax break and overseas tax haven they currently enjoy. They will tear down every job, research project or grants scheme that supports a renewable energy future, such as they have done by gutting of the CSIRO, the renewable energy target and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena).
They will keep every revolving door between their board rooms and parliament well oiled. They will stand their own candidates straight from the Institute of Public Affairs and they will place their own people in the tax office and in the big four accounting firms.
In an era of partisanship, these vested interests are bipartisan in providing lucrative post-politics careers. Tony Abbott made this blatantly clear when he said recently he hoped the mining industry would demonstrate their gratitude to Ian Macfarlane in his years of retirement for his magnificent achievement in scrapping the mining tax.
APPEA, the voice of the oil and gas industry, has already appointed former Labor energy minister Martin Ferguson as chair of its advisory board. Interestingly, Ian Macfarlane introduced the generous frontier tax arrangements and royalty payments for oil exploration that Martin Ferguson extended such that BP will be able to claim 150% of drilling costs in the Great Australian Bight. That’s bipartisanship for you.
The fossil fuel industry currently donates millions of dollars to both major parties, and in return secures billions in tax breaks and subsidies – not to mention preferential treatment when applying for mining and gas lease and oil drilling approvals and favourable decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
If donations aren’t enough, then hostile advertising is held over prime ministers as a threat. This tactic worked for them in destroying the mining tax and the carbon price and they are banking on it working again in 2016.
But how do they get away with it given the level of community concern about global warming? The concern that continues to grow in the wake of the terrifying fires, extreme droughts, and devastating storm surges people are living through.
How did the fossil fuel industry get away with all their subsidies intact in this year’s budget when hospitals and schools are defunded? This includes keeping their lucrative fuel tax rebate, which is worth $2bn a year while single parents and community legal centres are done over. Why didn’t Labor raise the roof about this and why didn’t they reject utterly the LNP’s billion dollar Arena cut?
Because it is not just the Liberal party that is captured by dirty money. Labor, Liberals and National parties have proven that they are utterly captured by this pervasive and polluting industry, that is rapidly condemning our planet to burn. And they are getting away with it because politicians on both sides of the aisle – with the exception the Greens – are unwilling to stand up to the big miners.
There is an unspoken bipartisan agreement supported by the mainstream media that the continuation of the coal, gas and oil industries is a given and will not be debated. The approval of Adani’s Carmichael mega coal mine still stands.
To win on the climate we have to take our democracy back from the corporates who have bought it. That means making the urgency of the climate emergency, the need to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground, political donations reform, fossil fuel subsidies and a national Icac, red hot issues in this election.
We can make a choice to stay lukewarm and lose any possibility of keeping warming below dangerous levels or we can ask every candidate for a yes or no answer and not vote for anyone who props up the big polluters and lets dangerous climate change runaway on their watch. It’s the only way to start reforming a broken system.