Markets are neither free nor efficient, and they are bad for the environment. Market choice is not cheap. While that may sound like a timeless left-wing credo, it's also a simple assessment of Australia's 20 years of privatisation and market-oriented restructure of electricity supply. Outside small left-wing dissident circles (from Keynesians to Marxists), operating the power industry according to market principles has become an unquestioned and unspoken assumption.
Unemployed workers staged a protest at a Werribee construction site where they say workers have been brought from overseas on subclass 457 work visas, without advertising the positions locally. “We've spoken to management on site, they have confirmed there's 457 visa workers here,” protest spokesperson Nick Donohue told Green Left Weekly. “The 457 workers are welding tanks. We've got an abundance of skilled labour in the area that can do the same job, so there's no necessity for these workers to be brought here,” Donohue said.
Residents of the south Gippsland town of Poowong are preparing to hold a public protest against coal seam gas (CSG) exploration in their area on February 17. Local group CSG Free Poowong conducted an extensive survey of the area last year. They asked: “Do you want to declare Poowong coal and coal seam gas free?” The survey results showed over 95% of the community does not want CSG mining in their region. The event on February 17 is being organised as a celebration of this result.
Australia’s big electricity generators are feeling the squeeze of electricity demand falling in recent years and growing competition from renewable energy. This year, some environmentalists criticised the federal government for scrapping the “contracts for closure” negotiations, which would have made the federal government compensate operators to close up to 2000 megawatts of coal-fired power stations. However, more than 2000 megawatts of coal power plant has now been closed or “mothballed” across the country without paying the contracts for closure.
In recent months, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has taken to highlighting the role of state electricity utilities in pushing up power prices. Average power bills have been rising rapidly — 69% over four years in NSW.
The ALP’s capitulation to populist refugee-bashing is wrong on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. The underlying rationale is patently false. The Age reported: “In a major backdown from her earlier insistence on the Malaysia ‘people swap’, Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared: ‘If people want to put up banners that this is a compromise from the government: dead — in order to start saving lives.’
If the official government line is to be believed, Australia is only a minor player when it comes to our greenhouse gas emissions. In this view, Australia is powerless to bring about international action to cut emissions. Indeed, any such efforts are only likely to amount to economic self-sabotage. From Laggard to Leader, the new report from research group Beyond Zero Emissions, demolishes these arguments. Far from being an inconsequential emitter, Australia’s carbon footprint is immense.
A report published on July 23 calls for Australia to institute a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments as the centrepiece of a global campaign to phase out fossil fuels. Hundreds attended the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane meetings to launch the latest report from climate research group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), Laggard to Leader: How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity.
Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom & Australia's Future By Paul Cleary Black Inc., 2011 156 pages, pb, $24.95 Paul Cleary’s book Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia's Future, published last year, raises important questions, and provides much useful information for answers. But the real elephant in the room, coal mining, is largely left untouched.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is being set up under the Clean Energy Future legislation (the carbon price package). It will provide $10 billion to support renewable and low-emissions energy. That’s the message that most climate-concerned people have been hearing from the Labor government and the Greens. Unfortunately, it now seems overly optimistic. The recently completed CEFC expert review shows it may give most of its support to gas projects.
Poultry industry union delegates in the National Union of Workers (NUW) and supporters met on March 27 to launch a report outlining the basis for the union’s “Better Jobs 4 Better Chicken” campaign. Late last year, NUW members at Baiada Poultry took strike action over conditions of employment and wages, citing widespread use of cash-in-hand work at rates well below the minimum wage.
On the afternoon of March 30, Friends of the Earth campaigner Cam Walker said on Twitter: “This has been the week from hell for climate change politics in Vic. There's still a few working hours, maybe a nuke power plant is next?” Climate targets, standards abandoned
The planned expansion of coalmining in Victoria has led the member for Bass, Liberal MP Ken Smith, to oppose his own party on the issue. Bass Coast Shire Council said it “is totally opposed to new mining of coal, and to gas extraction associated with coal (unconventional gas), within the shire,” in a resolution on March 21. The motion asked the government to exempt land within the shire from coal and unconventional gas exploration or mining licences.
Healesville-based group, MyEnvironment, has lost a court case it mounted against government body VicForests over the logging of Victoria’s central highlands areas that include habitat for the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. Justice Robert Osborn handed down his decision in the Supreme Court on March 14. He refused to order a stop to logging in three forest coupes at Toolangi, including the Gun Barrel coupe that was the scene of blockades and protests in late 2011.
Climate activists like Newcastle group Rising Tide have labelled December’s draft Energy White Paper (EWP), which charts the federal government’s plan for Australia’s future energy mix, a “black” paper. The group says the paper “plans to further expand fossil fuel extraction (both domestically and for exports) at the expense of renewable [energy]”.
Media watchers should be forgiven for a degree of confusion over statements by federal treasurer and deputy prime minister Wayne Swan in the past two weeks. He began the month with a Press Club address, published in The Monthly’s March edition titled “The 0.01%” where he attacked “the rising power of vested interests” — naming mining magnates Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart — for “undermining our equality and threatening our democracy”.