Greens' coal phase-out call provokes corporate outrage


The call by Australian Greens' leader Senator Bob Brown on February 9 for a long-term plan to phase out coalmining, exports and power generation has predictably stirred a barrage of outrage from the coal industry. Brown's call also flushed out the Labor-Coalition bipartisan consensus of support for coal-company profits over the environment.

While Brown had called for long-term plan to begin to be implemented by 2010 to gradually phase out coalmining, his comments were completely misrepresented in much of the corporate media and by PM John Howard. It was falsely reported that Brown wanted to shut down the coal industry within three years.

The Murdoch-owned Brisbane Courier Mail's coverage was accompanied by a photo of Brown with the caption: "This man wants to kill off 20,000 Queensland jobs, exports worth $24 billion and the lifeblood of countless towns and ports."

"There has been a lot of inaccurate scare-mongering by the corporate media and major parties in response to Bob's comments to phase out coalmining and coal power generation", NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon told Green Left Weekly on February 16.

"Bob has been misquoted as calling for an immediate shut-down of the coal industry and that this would lead to a huge loss of jobs. The Greens policy calls for no new coal-fired power plants, no new coalmines, no extensions to coalmines and no new coal loaders. We are calling for plan of action to move to a post-coal future."

Rhiannon also emphasised that a transition to a "renewable energy economy would create more jobs than are lost during the phase-out of the coal industry", adding: "This means creating new jobs in clean-energy production, manufacturing, tourism and agriculture; it means investment in education and skills training, and it means employment in repairing the environmental damage to land and water resources caused by the coal industry. This retraining and the seeding of new industries in coal communities can be paid for through a levy on coal and carbon taxes."

Amid the shrill fear-mongering about job losses in the coal industry, there has been very little coverage in the corporate media about the real loss of jobs in the renewable-energy sector due to lack of government funding and support. For example, last year a wind-turbine assembly factory closed down due to lack of demand, resulting in the loss of 100 jobs.

Nor is there much media attention on the possibilities of job creation through expanding renewable energy use. While the coalmining companies currently employ around 30,000 people, a February 9 Greenpeace media release noted that Germany has created the same number of jobs in the solar industry alone in the last decade.

Those who jump to the defence of coalmining jobs, rarely mention the fact that global warming threatens to destroy the Great Barrier Reef, which could result in 63,000 full-time tourism industry jobs being lost.

In reality, what the pro-capitalist politicians and the multimillionaires who own the big resources companies like BHP Billiton are concerned about is not how many jobs there are in the coal industry, but how much corporate profit can be made from selling coal.

The burning of coal is a major contributor to climate change, which threatens the livelihoods and health of billions of people across the planet. There wouldn't be many people today who would argue that the loss of asbestos-mining jobs due to the complete ban on the use of asbestos products hasn't been outweighed by the health benefits to society of reducing the occurrence of deadly diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Rhiannon also said: "The major parties continue to spin the myth that we can manage climate change and continue to mine and burn coal. The Greens reject clean coal and nuclear power as bogus distractions from taking real action on climate change."

She said that the campaign to stop Centennial Coal from going ahead with the planned Anvil Hill coalmine "has become the line in the sand for climate change campaigners. The Anvil Hill coalmine would produce 10.5 million tonnes of coal each year. When burned, this coal would produce greenhouse gases equivalent to doubling the number of cars on NSW's roads."

The Anvil Hill mine has become a test case for the campaign against climate change as well as for Premier Morris Iemma's Labor government, which has made its "green" credentials a big part of its pitch for the March 24 state elections.

On November 27, the NSW Land and Environment Court made a historic judgement that the global climate-change impact of the burning of the coal from the Anvil Hill mine would have to be assessed before the mine could be approved.

Prior to this ruling, the Iemma government was willing to approve the mine without taking its broader environmental ramifications into account, highlighting the gap between Iemma's climate-change rhetoric and his fossil-fuel oriented practice.

The court ruling threw a huge spanner into Centennial Coal's and Iemma's plans. The February 13 Financial Review revealed that the Land and Environment Court had used the British-government commissioned Stern Review's estimate of economic cost of the damage caused by the production of a tonne of CO2 as being $109.

The NSW planning department is considering introducing this as a "pollution fee" on the Anvil Hill mine. Centennial Coal has complained that this may make the mine financially unviable, as total fees would likely add up to $1.4 billion per year.

Community activists are mobilising to stop the coalmine. On February 10, Newcastle hosted its second "port occupation" against the mine and the plans for a third coal loader, which would double coal exports from Newcastle harbour, already the biggest coal port in the world.

Vannessa Bowden from Rising Tide Newcastle told GLW that 500 people had participated in the February 10 protest (with about 200 in vessels on the harbour as part of the "port occupation"). She said that "NSW voters need to know before they go to the polls where the Iemma government really stands on climate change, and that's why we call on it to make its announcements on Anvil Hill and the proposed third coal loader immediately".