Workers vs environment: Howard's false debate

June 15, 2007

With opinion polls showing his government is headed for defeat in this year's federal election, PM John Howard has been sure to pull out the, now well-weathered, "economic management" card in an attempt to regain voter support.

Howard presents his government as the best group of economic managers this country has ever had. At the same time, his ministers are trying to scare voters at the prospect of a federal Labor government — either recalling the high interest rates under the Keating Labor government or pointing to the lack of previous ministerial experience of the current Labor front bench.

Government ministers are now trying to play the economy scare card by saying that Labor's plans to combat climate change — which are not substantially different from those of the Coalition government, except that Labor has set a paper target of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 — will "destroy the economy and jobs" (this is really code for corporate profits).

Howard has already noted that he will not commit to any GHG reduction targets until after the federal election. In the past, he has joined with US President George Bush to oppose any international agreement on GHG that has mandatory targets.

Howard is what could be described as a global warming sceptic. Not surprisingly, donations from the big polluters for the Liberal Party have gone from strength to strength.

While realistic plans to significantly reduce GHG emissions are available, as demonstrated by the proposals set forth by the Melbourne-based Beyond Zero Emissions group in GLW #713, it is now clear that the major political parties lack belief in the need for real change and the political will to carry it out.

In the lead up to the last federal election, we saw Howard receiving a grand ovation from forestry workers in Tasmania. He declared that he was not going to get rid of their jobs and therefore became the hero of Tasmanian forestry workers. The lack of an adequate response from the ALP or the Greens undoubtedly cost them seats in Tasmania in that election.

Despite being one of Australia's most profitable industries, coalmining only employs about 30,000 workers. Howard denounces any proposals to phase out coalmining as a threat to jobs. Since the early 1980s, the Australian steel industry — dominated by BHP — has halved its work force to 21,000. We never heard any complaints about those job losses from Howard — precisely because they were undertaken to boost BHP's profits.

All the plans for using renewable energy show a clear pattern in their potential to create a lot of new jobs. It would not only be possible with renewable energy to create replacement
jobs for all current workers in polluting industries but also many more. Workers who were guaranteed a job in the new industry, with complementary re-training, would be able to make a clear decision about moving to the new industries.

Big business and the government have the power to create such a change. But this has been held back by big polluters, keen to continue receiving the megaprofits their current investments provide.

Climate change will not wait for market forces — which are drive by investment decisions for corporate profit.

Taking electricity production back into government ownership, can lay the basis for making the power industry serve public needs, rather than simply generating massive private profits, with a massive program of conversion to renewable technologies — generating large numbers of new jobs.

Governments need to encourage the lessening of human impact on the environment. They have the power to provide us with safe, sustainable, jobs. But they continue to tell ordinary Australians that it is up to us to individually make the world a sustainable place.

But when corporations do as they please and governments continue to avoid the real issues despite our calls for action and the willingness of many to adopt green changes in their lives, we must ask who has the real power to enact the kind of change we need today.

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