Green Coal and Scams | Between the Lines


The Wrap with Richard Denniss

Is something better than nothing, or do we always need to be on the lookout for ways to do better?

Should we be proud that the Matildas made the semi-finals or should we be aiming to win the World Cup? Should Government policy be focussed on the politics of today or the threats and opportunities of tomorrow?

There are no right answers to the question of how ambitious a person, team or country should be.

But when it comes to think tanks, our role is to be as ambitious as we can be. Our role is to broaden the imagination, of the public and policy makers alike, by putting good ideas on the democratic menu. Ultimately it is up to the parliament to choose its favoured option, and for voters to choose their favoured parliamentarians.

Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, despite the cost of the COVID-19 crisis. But even though our national pie is growing, real wages are falling because the prices firms charge have been growing faster than the wages they pay.

But while workers are being told to tighten their belts, CEO pay continues to rise rapidly. And from July 1 next year, when the Stage 3 tax cuts are due to kick in, those earning high wages are set to reap most of the benefits.

The Prime Minister is right to say that the Stage 3 tax cuts deliver something for everyone earning over $45,000 but he is wrong to leave out the fact that those earning $46,000 will get just 50 cents per week while those earning over $200,000 will get $175 per week.

To put it another way, the Stage 3 tax cuts mean those earning the full-time minimum wage afford to splash out on a sachet of tartare sauce each week while those earning $200,000 can buy themselves a lobster and a bottle of French wine from their restaurant of choice. Every week.

Whether Australia should spend $20 billion a year on promised tax cuts to high income earners or invest the money instead in public housing, renewable energy or better wages for teachers and nurses is a question for our current parliamentarians and for voters at the next election.

Likewise, so is the question of how we tax fossil fuels. The gas and coal industry in Australia is allowed to operate virtually tax free, earning billions, while minimum-wage workers can barely afford to season their chips.

What should the parliament do in such situations? Is something better than nothing? That’s a democratic question.

But what could the parliament do? Well, that’s a question for a think tank.

The answer is good news for anyone who is interested in reducing inequality, boosting the quality of public services or investing in a rapid transition away from fossil fuels – Australia can do all three at once, without driving up inflation or debt, if it simply chose to collect more tax and spend more money on those priorities.

While it is up to parliament to decide if we should, the economics make clear that we could.

If enough of us wanted to.

In happier news, I am delighted to announce that the Australia Institute is partnering with beloved cartoonist Judy Horacek to bring you her cartoons exclusively to the Australia Institute’s newsletter – the first of which you will find in this issue below. Enjoy!

— Richard Denniss, Executive Director of the Australia Institute

The Big Stories

Unions Urge Labor to Rethink Stage 3 Tax Cuts

Ahead of the ALP national conference, the United Workers Union has urged the Albanese government to commit to reviewing the stage-three tax cuts, declaring they need to be revamped to help low- and middle-income workers through the cost-of-living crisis.

If the government needed further convincing, we’ve compiled 16 reasons why they should be scrapped.

In short, they are fiscally irresponsible, massively expensive and completely unfair.

Dumping CO2 in the Sea: Pipe Dream or Nightmare?

The Government recently passed new laws through the House of Reps to allow sea-dumping of CO2, and as Polly Hemming explains, there is a single company for which this is relevant: Santos.

“If you look at all those pipelines involved and what could go wrong in the meantime, the fact that we’re treating it with any kind of credulity is embarrassing.”

Polly Hemming, director of the Climate & Energy program

The fossil fuel producer plans to pump CO2 sludge into 20-year-old gas pipes with the aim of ‘storing’ it in a near-depleted gas field off the coast of Timor-Leste. The risks are enormous and the potential consequences devastating.

“It’s about as feasible as Santos saying ‘We’re going to put carbon dioxide on the moon’.”

Read the story in the Saturday Paper.

You can also read our submission to the Sea Dumping Bill for a detailed investigation of the issue. And listen to the podcast: A Trojan Horse for Fossil Fuels.

Introducing our First Judy Horacek Cartoon!

Ending Native Forest Logging in Tasmania

Tasmania’s native forests are globally recognised for their unique species and conservation value, as well as being some of the most carbon dense forests on the planet. As other states put an end to native forest logging, Tasmania continues to delay the inevitable end of native logging, at enormous cost.

Just days ago this wonder of nature was alive, centuries old but still unimaginably strong and youthful.

Today the tree’s death is a national disgrace.

— Dr Bob Brown, environmentalist, doctor and former leader of the Australian Greens 
A single-rider log from a downed giant native tree is trucked out of the Florentine Valley on 14 August 2023. Source: Bob Brown Foundation

Logging is a relatively small employer, heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and causes climate change and habitat loss. Get the facts on the reality of native forest logging in Tasmania.

Now is the time to protect Tasmania’s irreplaceable native forests and support native forestry workers to move to sustainable industries.

Add your name to our petition to end native forest logging.

Rising Seas Undeniable: Time for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific

At last week’s Pacific Islands Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, Finance Ministers welcomed the Port Vila call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific.

While Pacific Island nations are responsible for only a tiny percentage of global emissions, they are already feeling the full effects of climate change, with rising seas inundating homes, extreme weather events, food scarcity and health issues amongst the Pacific communities. Support for the Port Vila call now enables the Pacific Islands Forum to formalise discussions for a phase out of fossil fuels in the region.

A story in The Age this week reinforced the need for a phase out, detailing the impacts of Australia’s continued expansion of fossil fuels in the region, despite the devastating effects, and calls from Pacific leaders to stop.

The article also made mention of our research detailing the $11.6 billion in fossil fuel subsidies committed by federal and state governments in the 2021-22 financial year, and Minister Plibersek’s approval of three new coal mines.

Despite the Australian Government’s demonstrated reluctance to take meaningful action on climate change, the federal government has plans to bid to host the United Nations climate conference COP31 in partnership with the Pacific in 2026.

This Honest Government Ad is a good reminder of the hubris of the COP31 proposal.

Australian Parents for Climate Action Sue EnergyAustralia for Greenwashing

The charity Australian Parents for Climate Action sued EnergyAustralia in the Federal Court on 9 August for misleading consumers about their “carbon neutral” Go Neutral product – certified “carbon neutral” by the Australian Government’s Climate Active scheme.

“We’ve had enough of power companies misleading us into buying polluting products. So we’re taking a stand against EnergyAustralia’s greenwashing on behalf of Australia’s parents and our children.

“We’re challenging EnergyAustralia for false and misleading marketing of its products as “carbon neutral”, when in fact these products burn fossil fuels.”

The Australia Institute first filed a complaint with the ACCC about the misleading nature of the Climate Active scheme in February this year.

Promoting fossil fuel companies as climate leaders punishes companies with legitimate climate ambition. It rewards greenwashing while credible claims are unrecognised and unrewarded.

Tasmanian Environment Health Check

Funding boost needed for Tasmania’s Long-Overdue State of the Environment report

For fourteen years, the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Planning Commission (TPC) failed to publish the vital State of the Environment (SOE) Report. But they have committed to do so by 30 June 2024 following concerted efforts by the Australia Institute Tasmania, the Environmental Defenders Office, and the Tasmanian community.

Our new report, “Get Your Skates On: Tasmania’s Next State of the Environment Report” calls for additional and ongoing funding of at least $1.1 million to make up for the long-standing lack of comprehensive environmental analysis and reporting.

“There are less than 12 months until the overdue report should be delivered, and almost 15 years of environmental data to be considered. Significant additional funding is needed to deliver a report that meets modern standards and gives our state’s environment the respect it deserves,” said Director of the Australia Institute Tasmania, Eloise Carr.

Saving the Maugean Skate

The Australia Institute Tasmania has written to federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, urging her to intervene and end salmon farming in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour, which is threatening the endangered Maugean skate.

This week The Australian reported that Minister Plibersek had written to Tasmanian government to warn ‘that the maugean skate, found only in western Tasmania’s remote Macquarie Harbour, is “at very high risk of extinction”’, blaming decreased oxygen levels in the water because of salmon farming and hydro schemes.

The Australia Institute’s research shows that three in five Australians (61%) support stopping fish farming where it puts the endangered Maugean skate at risk of extinction, while only one in six (17%) oppose it.

Salmon Tasmania didn’t like those numbers and complained about our polling to the media, but they are trying to create doubt where there is none.

The science is clear: oxygen levels have plummeted because of increased nutrient loads from fish farming. Altered hydrology from hydro-electric operations is affecting the Harbour’s ability to replenish oxygen in the water.

Stopping fish farming is the key policy response available to save the endangered Maugean skate and our polling shows a majority of Australians support this policy response.

New political donations laws to level the playing field

Five years after the Tasmanian Government promised to introduce a Tasmanian political donations disclosure regime, debate to finalise such legislation is – hopefully – imminent.

Until now, Tasmania has had a low bar for disclosure – no bar at all. Tasmania is the only state relying solely on Commonwealth legislation for disclosure of political donations, which means parties and candidates without a federal presence are not subject to any disclosure requirements.

However, the Tasmanian legislation as currently drafted does not go anywhere near creating a transparent, effective system.

This month, the Australia Institute identified five principles for political finance reform – including that independent and party-affiliated candidates should be on a level playing field and that taxpayer-funded advantages of incumbency need to be factored into the design of any “level playing field”. These principles should lead Tasmanian legislators as they weigh up the benefits and costs of spending caps.

Read more: ‘New Political Donation Laws Will Help Level the Playing Field’ first published in the Hobart Mercury.

Annual Emissions from Tamboran LNG Plant

A new report from the Australia Institute has found that the Tamboran NT LNG facility, a project from the Darwin Middle Arm precinct, is looking to produce up 20 million tonnes of LNG per year for export, producing domestic emissions equivalent to building 3 new coal-fired power stations in Australia.

The report comes as the NT Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles, told the National Press Club this month that gas was a reliable energy source on the pathway to transitioning from coal and oil.

However, the Tamboran is not targeting its first LNG production until 2030, meaning any exports are eight years away, while we can expect the pollution from production much sooner.

Multinational miners rue the day Palaszczuk and Dick delivered for Queenslanders.

“There will come a day [when Queenslanders] will look back and rue changes that were made and how they were made because of the impact on that long-term investment.” BHP CEO Mike Henry said recently.

Rue the day!

What had the world’s most powerful mining executive sounding like an unmasked villain at the end of a Scooby Doo episode?

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick (left) and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (right) (AAP Image/Darren England)

A change to the coal royalty system, made by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Treasurer Cameron Dick in June 2022 which saw BHP paying higher royalties and Queensland earning back $4.3 billion in 2023-23.

Now, NSW is considering adopting its own coal royalties system ahead of the September budget, and the idea has the multinational miners shaking their fist.

Read more.

The Quote

Just days ago this wonder of nature, centuries old but still unimaginably strong and youthful, was alive and a natural wonder.

Today the tree’s death is a national disgrace: it was publicly subsidised and entirely unnecessary.

Dr Bob Brown, on the recent logging of a native mountain ash tree (eucalyptus regnans) estimated to be at least 150 years old. Mountain ashes are the world’s tallest flowering tree and one of the giants in the old growth forests of Tasmania.

The Win

Pitch Legends

The Australian women’s soccer team, the Matildas are breaking records left, right and centre and bringing the nation on their nail-biting journey to a (hopeful) final victory.

At this point, they’ve done enough to secure themselves legendary status without even winning the World Cup.

Not only have they broken broadcast records across the country, stuck it to those who would deny women athletes equal pay, continued to smash through the games and win a penalty shootout with the excruciating score of 7-6 (here’s looking at you Cortnee Vine), but they will also go down in history as the first Australian team to ever progress this far in a soccer World Cup.

The Matildas will take on England in the semi-final on Wednesday, 16 August at Sydney’s Stadium Australia, kicking off at 8pm (AEST).

Go the Matildas!

The Bin

Labor and Liberal Vote Against Inquiry into Fracking Development

The Government and the Coalition voted together against a Senate inquiry into the Middle Arm development. That’s the one that includes the Tamboran LNG plant which, as we highlighted earlier in this newsletter, would result in 12 coal-fired power stations worth of emissions.

The Government is planning on subsiding this facility to the tune of $1.5 billion, so it’s curious that the Government would reject an inquiry into such a heavy emitter; one that they are going to great lengths to paint as “sustainable“.

The inquiry was voted down on the day that parents and doctors from the Northern Territory travelled to Canberra to demand the federal government stop fracking in the Beetaloo Basin and withdraw its $1.5 billion subsidy.

Last week the Australia Institute hosted Dr Monique Ryan, Senator David Pocock and Dr Louise Woodward (one of the NT Doctors who travelled for the rally) at Politics in the Pub for a discussion about the health and climate disasters that will come from fracking and the petrochemical pollution at the Darwin Harbour Midde Arm precinct in the Northern Territory.

What’s On

Heat: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet with Jeff Goodell | 11am Wednesday 23 August

The world is waking up to a new reality: once-in-a century floods are now happening three times a year; bushfires are the new norm.

The surface area of the Arctic’s polar ice caps is rapidly decreasing, while Antarctica’s largest ice shelf is crumbling. These are effects of the planet’s increased temperature.

Join Jeff Goodell, award-winning environmental journalist and author of Heat, for a discussion about the extreme ways in which our planet is already changing, and what we can do to stop it.

Free, RSVP essential

Politics in the Pub: From Politics to Paradise – The Villain Edit | 6:30pm Wednesday 6 September

When former government staffer Alisha Aitken-Radburn was given a ‘villain edit’ on her first season of The Bachelor, she wasn’t entirely surprised—after all, there are only a handful of character tropes producers can manipulate into storylines. But the backlash on social media was unexpectedly intense, and Alisha found her sense of identity completely rocked by a single comment: ‘You are a bad person’.

The Villain Edit charts Alisha’s journey through the smoke-and-mirrors worlds of politics, reality TV and social media. Navigating the secrets, lies and hard truths that are laced through even the most fairytale of endings, it reveals how the perceptions of others can rewrite the story of who we think we are, and how important it is to know when to go off-script and take control of the narrative.

Join us for Politics to Paradise: The Villain Edit with Bachelor star Alisha Aitken-Radburn.

6:30pm Wednesday 6 September, Verity Lane Market 

Free, RSVP essential

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