Norm Dixon: Australia’s 'Greenhouse Mafia’ Exposed
Australia’s 'Greenhouse Mafia’ Exposed
By Norm Dixon
Green Left Weekly (Australia)
A Liberal Party member, speech writer for former federal environment minister Robert Hill and former lobbyist in Canberra has gone on the record about the self-described ``mafia representing big business polluters that ``has got the keys to the [federal government’s] greenhouse policy car, which is ``being driven by the mining and energy sectors.
There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that if the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of the world’s corporations are not significantly and rapidly reduced within decades, humanity faces catastrophic consequences from the resulting rising temperatures. Yet the Australian government has not only brazenly thrown its weight (and subsidies) behind the corporate polluters’ efforts to stall mandatory international measures needed to avert this urgent crisis, it has embarked on a path that will ensure that worst-case scenarios of global warming will become reality.
On ABC TV’s Four Corners program on February 13, Guy Pearse told reporter Janine Cohen that, while working for Robert Hill from 1997 to 1999, he noticed the favoured treatment ``of a powerful group from the top end of town ... lobbyists from the high-energy-using industries who seemed determined to undermine the Environment Department and block any greenhouse reforms. However, it was not until he later taped interviews with some of them for his PhD research, which focussed on big business’ influence on climate change policies, that he realised just how instrumental they were in shaping the Coalition government’s surrender to global warming.
``What was incredible was the level of consensus that I got from the 56 interviewees ... about the extent of influence that the fossil fuel industry in Australia had over government greenhouse policy, Pearse told Cohen in the extended interview posted on the Four Corners website, but not used in the televised version. ``I spoke to Howard government ministers, to ministers in the Hawke and Keating governments, to heads of department here in Canberra and also to senior members of the bureaucracy ... What amazed me when I interviewed industry association bosses was that ... they were quite happy to brag about their role in running government greenhouse policy.
In the interviews, the lobbyists -- who spoke on condition that their names would not be made public -- openly and proudly referred to themselves as the ``mafia.
They were people associated with the Canberra-based Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AGIN), the members of which include powerful peak bodies in the fossil fuel industry such as the Australian Coal Association, the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association, the Minerals Council of Australia, the National Generators’ Forum, the Australian Aluminium Council, Australasian (Iron and Steel) Slag Association and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. Individual corporations, such as Alcoa, BP, BHP Billiton, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Santos, Shell, Woodside Petroleum and Wesfarmers are also AGIN members.
Pearse explained that some of these lobbyists were previously high-level public servants in key federal departments so were now negotiating with their former colleagues. In the website version of the interview, Pearse described the situation as like ``playing musical chairs. ``There's no question that the executive directors of these associations have been over many years recruited, from the industry department in particular but other departments [as well], because it was felt that they had a particular advantage to offer those industries through improved access to government and government processes.
``Mafia members boasted to Pearse that they were given access to confidential government documents, including papers that advise cabinet ministers on what policies to adopt. Such papers, known as cabinet submissions, are supposed to be drafted by public servants at the request of a minister. However, big business reps told Pearse, in the words of Cohen, ``how they'd helped write cabinet submissions and ministerial briefings, and costings relating to greenhouse policy ... One lobbyist who was interviewed in 2002 claimed he had drafted cabinet documents and ministerial briefs four or five times over the preceding 10 years. This meant his privileged access went back as far as the previous Labor government.
``So you ended up with this unique situation, a circular situation, where the advice that the government was receiving from its bureaucrats was almost identical to the advice they were receiving from industry associations, because effectively the same people were writing it, Pearse explained in the website interview.
When confronted with this by Four Corners, federal environment minister Ian Campbell, while denying the specific claim that industry reps authored cabinet documents, was unapologetic about big greenhouse polluters helping to formulate the government's greenhouse gas emissions policy: ``I think when you're designing greenhouse policies, when you're designing any policies, you want to make sure that industry are fully consulted ... I'm writing policy with the aim of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have a world-leading policy that will help to save the planet from dangerous climate change. I make no apology for any consultations I have with industry, be it from the coal industry or be it from the renewables industry.
AGIN spokesperson Robyn Bain (who is also executive director of the Cement Industry Federation and has previously been on the staff of two Coalition ministers) agreed: ``There is no doubt that industry and industry organisations work with government to provide information, and that's the role that we play, and an important one.
'Fixing the outcomes'
However, there was more than ``consultation involved. As one of Pearse's taped interviewees declared: ``I used to read the cabinet papers, you know? I know what was going on. And it was a question of using those ins carefully and protecting sources and you'd never go public on it. It's about fixing the outcomes.
The ''outcomes have certainly been in line with the interests of the greenhouse mafia champions. As Pearse points out in the website interview, ``There [are] definitely some industries in Australia for whom cheap energy, and Australia certainly has cheap energy by world standards, is integral to their ongoing operation ... As one member of the aluminium industry said to me, we pulled down 18% of eastern Australia's electricity consumption ...
``The mining, fuel and energy industries in Australia already receive billions in public assistance through tax concessions and direct expenditures ... The annual contribution the federal government makes [to these corporations in this way] is more than double our entire response to climate change.
The greenhouse mafia has ``prevented many things from happening over the years, Pearse continued, ``but really their proudest day was the release of the energy white paper by the government in 2004 where really they got total victory.
On September 7, 2004, ABC Radio National's PM program reported that leaked memos and emails revealed that the white paper was drafted with the help of the shadowy Lower Emissions Technical Advisory Group, which included representatives from Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, ExxonMobil, Alcoa, Holden, Boral, Amcor, Energex, Origin Energy and Edison Mission.
The Australian government continues to attempt to prevent the introduction of binding international greenhouse gas reduction measures. Following the US government's lead, Canberra has refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, even with its token goal of an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. Australia's greenhouse gas emissions rose by more than 23% between 1990 and 2003.
The US and Australian governments are instead promoting hugely expensive technological ``fixes that do not require reduced industrial CO2 emissions. The latest technological fad being hyped by these governments, and the major corporate polluters, is ``geosequestration. This is the process of capturing industrial CO2 emissions before they reach the air and storing them underground. The problem is the technology needed is not yet viable, and may never be!
Nevertheless, this fiction was the basis of a Coalition-hosted meeting of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in Sydney on January 12. The confab brought together governments whose countries are responsible for almost 50% of the world's CO2 emissions -- the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China and India -- to declare that ``coal and gas are and will remain critical fuels for all six partner economies. Alongside the government reps were the greenhouse mafia Dons, including executives from ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy.
The APPCDC's goal is to entrench fossil-fuel consumption, using the justification that (non-existent) ``clean coal technology, supplemented by expanded nuclear power, will save the day.
Addressing the gathering, Prime Minister John Howard summoned up all his powers of deception to declare that ``cleaner technologies ... have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in partner countries by almost 20% below what would otherwise be the case by the year 2050". This claimed ``reduction was based on an estimate by the government's Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), which uncritically accepted as fact the claims made for the yet-to-be-developed ``clean coal technology.
On even the most optimistic interpretation of ABARE's figures, overall world greenhouse emissions will in fact increase by more than 100% by 2050, locking the planet into a devastating 4°C temperature increase. World's scientists agree that, in order to restrict global warming to a (still damaging) 2°C, total human-generated greenhouse gas emissions must be slashed to at least 60%-80% below 1990 levels by 2050 at the latest.
Profits before the planet
ABARE was long ago compromised by the greenhouse mafia. Its climate change research was heavily funded by fossil fuel corporations and lobby groups, including BHP, Rio Tinto, Exxon, the Australian Coal Association and the Australian Aluminium Council. Industry groups and corporations that provided $50,000 to ABARE were given a place on its steering committee with the promise that they would ``have an influence on the direction of the model development.
The corporate polluters' control of Coalition policy was also apparent in the revelation that the government's official science adviser until 2005, Robin Batterham, was also on the board of Australia's largest coal producer, Rio Tinto, and being paid an estimated $700,000 annually. (Lyall Howard, the PM's nephew, happens to be Rio Tinto's ``government affairs manager.)
Batterham was a former chairperson of Rio Tinto's electricity-guzzling Comalco aluminium corporation. Not surprisingly, he was a vocal public campaigner for geosequestration.
That the Howard government is prepared to put the profits of the mega-corporations before the interests of the planet should come as no surprise. Figures from the Democracy4sale website ( http://www.democracy4sale.org) reveal that donations to the federal and NSW branches of the Liberal and National parties in 1998-2005 from corporations categorised as ``resources companies add up to a massive $1.43 million (compared to $331,000 for the ALP). This figure excludes the tens of thousands donated to the Coalition's other state branches.
Among the most generous donors were uranium miner Western Mining Corporation ($465,000), AGIN-affiliated oil producer Santos ($425,000) and Wesfarmers, an AGIN affiliate with significant holdings in coal ($435,000). A huge $5.6 million was donated by the mysterious Cormack Foundation between 2001 and 2004. The Cormack Foundation is co-chaired by former Western Mining Corporation boss and high-profile global warming sceptic Hugh Morgan.