Carmichael mine re-approved, Gittins on moratorium, why uni deregulation failed, SA dumps nuclear, and more

Adani mega-coal mine approved, again

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has just re-approved the Carmichael Coal mine. Our research over many years has shown that the industry is getting massive taxpayer subsidies from both state and federal governments, in particular with government-financed infrastructure. Adani appears to be struggling to raise private capital, and despite declaring that construction would be underway by 2013, not a sod has been turned. 

When the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund was announced, our research paper showed the strong public opposition to spending public funds on mines. Australian’s would much prefer their government invest in health and education. A recent positive sign was hearing Finance Minister, Josh Frydenberg, all but rule out the fund assisting the Adani project.

While both the Federal and Queensland State governments could and should stop the mine, in the end, it will likely be cold, hard numbers which save the Galilee Basin. And so we’ll keep on challenging the dodgy claims made about the mine, from the inflated jobs and royalties claims to the mining industries denial about their taxpayer-funded subsidies, to the downplaying of the true rehabilitation costs.

Just as a reminder of how massive the proposed mine that the government just approved is, we superimposed it over Malcolm Turnbull’s house:


In other news…

  • Moratorium makes sense to Gittins
  • Gifts, donations for access and cosy relations with Queensland miners 
  • Renewables Trump Nuclear Dump
  • Why university deregulation failed 
  • Turnbull quietly slips superannuation tax review back on the table
  • The Australia Institute in the Media 

Moratorium makes sense to Gittins

One of Australia’s most respected economists, Ross Gittins took a look at The Australia Institute’s research on the case for a global moratorium on coal mines, writing in his column this week ‘the case for a moratorium on new coal mines has a lot going for it’, adding his voice to the growing number of prominent Australians calling for No New Coal Mines


If you’d like more info, or updates from No New Coal Mines, visit the site – here.

Gifts, donations for access, cosy relations: Report on mining approvals in Queensland

The Australia Institute has released a major report, written by Graham Readfearn: Too Close For Comfort: How the coal and gas industry get their way in Queensland. The report sheds light on the high level of access and lack of accountability afforded to the fossil fuel lobby in the Sunshine State.

With the controversial Acland coal mine expansion facing a court challenge, as well as finalising the terms of reference for the inquiry into political donations which the Annastacia Palaszczuk promised to Peter Wellington in order to form government, the report paints a disturbing picture of the lack of transparency and accountability in the cosy relationships between senior government officials and the mining industry in Queensland. 

A separate Australia Institute report showed that 62% of Australians think big miners have too much influence over government. The research was looking at the mining and forestry lobby campaign to remove tax-deductibility for certain non-for-profit organisations they deem contrary to their business interests. On the other hand, it appears Australians are not concerned about the activities of environmental groups. Report in The Age.

Graham Readfearn’s summarised the findings of his report in The Guardian here.

Renewables Trump Nuclear Dump

The Royal Commission into expanding the nuclear fuel cycle in South Australia continues, with the assumptions to be used in economic modelling released for comment last week. From our initial analysis, it appears that the numbers are now stacked against nuclear power, with the creation of nuclear plants clearly uneconomic and unable to compete with ever-improving renewable generation. As we argued in our submission, cheaper renewables and declining electricity demands mean that nuclear power is poorly suited to Australia’s needs. This now seems to be the position of Commissioner Kevin Scarce, who told the Australian newspaper that a nuclear waste dump, not power, would be the most likely source of economic benefit. 

The focus then has shifted to the economics of the waste dump. If properly modelled, with massive up-front costs in shipping and storage, and factoring in the risks associated with nuclear waste, the poor economic case for a nuclear waste dump should be clear. Spending twenty years and billions of dollars to set up an industry which risks having no long term customers is a terrible plan. Presently, the modelling does not presently include shipping – the largest cost of an international waste storage business – nor an assessment of the business risks associated with such an industry. The Australia Institute have today alerted the Royal Commission to these issues and shortfalls with the modelling.

Why University Deregulation Failed

“I fixed it. I’m a fixer.” – Christopher Pyne, then Education Minister, Sky News 16 March 2015

He didn’t, and most Australians think that’s a good thing. Australia Institute research shows university fee deregulation became and remains deeply unpopular. Only 1 in 6 Australians think deregulation means better educational outcomes. Given positive opinions of universities overall, it’s clear the deregulation proponents never really made their case for radical and risky changes. If anything, most people think the government should contribute more.


So what was the deregulation fiasco all about? In March the Australia Institute argued that universities wanted more cash for more research to boost rankings rather than boost teaching, a trend towards ‘cross-subsidy’ from students that has been underway for years. After denying this, now Vice Chancellors now all but admit it.

Thanks to the Senate, and campaigns from groups like the National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Students, National Public Universities Alliance, deregulation is now shelved and there is breathing space for an honest debate in good faith. The new Minister, Simon Birmingham, promises to consult widely. Vice Chancellors are now talking of increased research funding, and student ‘fee-flexibility’ — but a new name wont be enough. The debate about university funding needs to put education and the public interest at its heart.

Turnbull sneaks super tax concession reform back onto the table

Four weeks into a Turnbull government and we are still mostly in the dark on the issue of tax reform. If you look really closely there might be a faint glimmer of hope that something will be done on super tax concessions. But if you blinked you probably missed it.

The new government leadership has been light on details. Expectations are high now that the nope, nope, nope attitude to real reform is sitting on the backbench. But the new Treasurer didn’t inspire much confidence when he declared the budget’s revenue problem was really a spending problem (The Australia Institute was quick to point out his mistake).

small crack has been left open for the possibility of super tax concession reform, with the IMF weighing in last week. Not only did it point out that Australia should borrow more for infrastructure, but it also called for reform of superannuation tax concessions noting “the system is complex and disproportionately benefits higher-income earners” – tell us something we don’t know.

Unlike Abbott and Hockey, Turnbull and Morrison have not ruled out changes to superannuation, and at the recent reform summit which our executive director, Ben Oquist attended, one of the only things that business groups, unions and NGOs agreed on was that super tax concessions needed to be changed.

The Australia Institute has released plenty of policy proposals for how reform could be done. Labor and the Greens have both proposed reforms. If the new Prime Minister wants quietly fix this, that’s fine – but if there’s no progress, he’ll hear about it.

The Australia Institute in the media

Newcastle Herald – Mine guidelines ‘confusing’

The Drum on ABC TV – Featuring Ben Oquist

Triple J – Hack featuring Tom Swann on University Deregulation

Bendigo Advertiser – Inequality creates different worlds for men and women, Bendigo forum hears

The Guardian – Carmichael mine rail link ‘not a priority’ for concessional loans, says minister

Financial Review – Richard Denniss: Sorry, but services company Transfield fails ethics 101

Canberra Times – Richard Denniss: Our cities and the debt debate both need renovations

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