Dirty Money: The True Cost of Australia’s Mineral Boom
By Matthew Benns
William Heinemann, 2011,
296 pages, $34.95 (pb)
Australian mining companies hand over $10 million a year in political donations to state and federal political parties. They don’t expect to be bitten on the hand by those they are feeding, as the Rudd Labor government did with its proposed mining super profits tax.
Time for the big stick of a fear-mongering $22 million campaign to remind the government who really rules in Australia.
The wealth and power of Australia’s mining companies, says Matthew Benns in Dirty Money, was nakedly on display during the defeat of the super profits tax policy. Benns' essays explore just how rich and unscrupulous the big miners really are.
Paying little or no corporate tax in Australia helps swell company profits and the personal wealth of billionaire mining CEOs. The low tax pickings overseas in poor countries by Australian mining giants, too, are also helpful.
The routing of profits to offshore tax havens, secret deals with corrupt political elites, and exemption from all tax as an investment inducement courtesy of the companies’ promises (repeatedly unfulfilled) of a development and jobs bonanza are all factors that help fill the mining giants’ coffers.
Australian economic colonialism is alive and kicking in the mines — about 220 Australian mining and oil companies have a hand in 595 projects in 42 countries around the globe.
In classic imperial tradition, mining company profits come well before human rights. Locals are exploited and mining companies are often complicit in the violent repression of the consequent protests.
Pollution is also a gift to overseas locals, from toxic spills on land and at sea. Not that Australians miss out on the dirty side of the mining boom, with lead-poisoned children in Broken Hill, and dead and dying victims of coal dust pollution in the Hunter region.
Australia is also a world leader in cyanide pollution from gold mining. Uranium mining also creates 2000 tonnes of radioactive waste for each tonne of uranium extracted and regularly leaks contaminated water.
The Great Barrier Reef, smack in the middle of the “coal highway” from Australia to China, pits fragile coral against oil from coalships running aground. Coal seam gas mining poisons water, air and soil with its chemical cocktail.
Mining is also staggeringly wasteful of natural resources. Coal seam gas mining depletes underground bore water and uranium mining is insatiably thirsty (BHP’s Olympic Dam guzzles 35 million litres of water every day from the Great Artesian Basin).
Global warming also gets a boost from mining. Just one five-gram gold ring requires ten litres of CO2-filthy diesel to move rock and adds 270 additional kilograms of CO2 during processing.
“This is Australia today”, Benns says, “the dirty scent of political corruption, greedy companies trampling on the little people and taxpayers footing the bill to clean up the mess years after the mining companies have taken their profits and jobs and moved elsewhere.”
“We need,” he concludes, “a political party resistant to industry donations,” one willing to appoint a strong, independent industry regulator.
Then the granting of contentious mining leases in pristine areas might cease. BP might not have been given permission by the federal government for high risk, deep water drilling in the Great Australian Bight off the coast of South Australia. Its decision was made just six days after BP had been officially found to have criminally placed dollars above safety in the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
One might wish for a “leader with political courage to stand up to the miners” and renounce their political donations, but Benns’ recording of mining companies behaving badly and the equally repetitive record of Labor and Liberal governments featherbedding and promoting the mining industry, calls for a more radical conclusion.
It is not just political donations that buys a government’s pro-mining loyalties — it is the belief in the divine right of profit by Labor and Liberal managers of the capitalist economy that allows the big mining capitalists to plunder, pollute and party with their stolen wealth.