Seize fossil fuel companies’ record profits to pay for transition

August 24, 2022
The Traditional Owners of Murujuga are opposing the Perdaman fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula. Photo: Nancye Miles-Tweedie/Save Our Songlines/Facebook

The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) gloated in June that the state’s exports of coal, gas and minerals rose to a record high of $77 billion in the 12 months to March.

Former Coalition minister, turned corporate lobbyist, Ian Macfarlane, who heads the QRC, claimed that “every Queenslander benefits from the sector’s prosperity”.

He said these royalty payments “go straight into the Queensland budget to pay for doctors, nurses, teachers and other state-funded essential services and infrastructure”.

Fast forward to August and the QRC is now complaining about those same royalties, after a modest rise in the June budget. “The new tax regime is destabilising the Queensland economy and destroying jobs,” Macfarlane bleated on August 23.

Queensland Greens MP Amy MacMahon believes this is a “mock battle” staged by “Labor and their mates in coal”.

“The mining billionaires are saying the new royalties go too far and will drive them out of the state,” MacMahon said in an August 12 Facebook post. Meanwhile, “Labor is saying that these new royalties are too modest to have much effect on these companies’ bottom lines, but are somehow also a huge boost to state revenue”.

Coal exports in Queensland rose from $24.5 billion to $61.4 billion in 12 months. This means that coal and gas corporations are “making massive profits off the back of super high export prices”, MacMahon said.

But the state will receive a comparatively small $1.2 billion over four years ($300 million a year) from this rise. And, when prices return to their long term average, “not even this modest increase will continue to apply”, MacMahon said.

The same is happening with fossil fuel super profits in Western Australia. Socialist Alliance national co-convenor Sam Wainwright told a recent Green Left Show that “WA has just overtaken Qatar as the world’s biggest exporter of LNG”.

The taxpayer collects a “piddling” $715 million a year in taxes and royalties, he said. By contrast, the state-owned industry in Qatar collects $17 billion.

“Not only is this industry threatening to destroy the basis of life on this planet,” Wainwright said, “but we’re just giving companies like Shell, Exxon and Woodside the resource” virtually for free.

In return, these companies “throw a few pennies in the dirt” in the form of sponsorship of sporting or cultural projects and “we’re meant to feel grateful”.

The federal Labor government is making much of its new climate target being the “end of the climate wars”. However, its ongoing support for new fossil fuel projects tells a different story.

Federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek  gave support on August 23 to the $4.5 billion Perdaman fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula in northern WA, despite the threat it poses to First Nations’ sacred sites.

Although the plant, near Karratha, will not extract fossil fuels, it will be powered by gas. It will be co-located with the the Scarborough gas project.

Save Our Songlines spokespeople Raelene Cooper and Josie Alec accused Plibersek of not doing her homework. Murujuga, the Burrup Peninsula, is home to the largest and oldest collection of rock carvings in the world.

Federal and state Labor parties support fossil projects in Scarborough, Beetaloo in the Northern Territory and the Narrabri in New South Wales. Queensland Labor approved the New Acland coal mine expansion in June.

The solution for people and the planet is to take the fossil fuel industry out of the hands of parasitic billionaires. The first step is to tax their super-profits for the transition.

We can fast track the phase-out of fossil fuel energy and put jobs-rich renewable and carbon-free alternatives in place if the sector is placed under democratic, community control. This modest suggestion is just the beginning of what could be achieved by a bigger and more mobilised climate movement.

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