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Jul 12, 2013

Tiger vows green future, but Newman’s got it by the tail

The appointment of Tony Abbott's business adviser to the board of Tigerair has cast doubt on its green credentials. One renewables campaigner says it tarnishes the campaign.

Struggling discount airline Tiger Airways’ environmentally friendly fuselage is at risk of being torn apart by the appointment of a well-known climate change sceptic to its board of directors this week.

Maurice Newman, a staunch anti-wind farm crusader who will head up Tony Abbott’s business advisory group in the event of a Coalition victory at the federal election, joined the Tiger board on Monday after Virgin Australia announced the acquisition of a 60% stake in Australia’s fourth carrier.

The Howard-era ABC chair has called for the scrapping of the Renewable Energy Target — arguably responsible for substantial decreases in carbon emissions — because he believes subsidies for renewable energy represent a “crime against the people”. He has referred to pro-climate change media coverage as “group think”.

But Tiger has dubbed itself Australia’s “greenest” airline and claims its young, fuel-efficient fleet and baggage fee structure benefits those who travel light, cutting excess fuel use and limiting associated emissions.

Newman’s objection to environmental causes is more than just theoretical. Last month, Crikey revealed that he and his wife, Jeanette, were key figures building momentum for an anti-wind farm rally at Parliament House on June 18. The event was sparsely attended, despite being hosted by right-wing shock jock Alan Jones and spruiked by the anonymous activism site Stop These Things.

Newman has slammed wind farms as “grossly inefficient, extremely expensive, socially inequitable, a danger to human health, environmentally harmful, divisive for communities, a blot on the landscape, and don’t even achieve the purpose for which they were designed — namely the reliable generation of electricity and the reduction of CO2 emissions”.

In April, he hosted a meeting of the anti-wind farm group the Crookwell District Landscape Guardians to discuss the prospect of Coalition action on the development of wind farms. Crookwell landholders are threatening to sue prospective wind farmer Charlie Prell for “substantial damages” if the wind farm causes the value of their multimillion-dollar properties to fall or their health to fail.

In a statement provided to Crikey today, a Tiger spokesperson said its:

“… claim to be the greenest airline in 2010 was based on having the newest and most fuel efficient as well as smallest fleet of aircraft in Australia…and also the fact that as a low cost carrier Tigerair’s passengers were typically travelling lighter to secure more affordable travel deals. The airline’s fleet is still amongst the youngest in Australia.”

It did not comment specifically on whether Newman’s appointment had placed its green cred in jeopardy.

Leigh Ewbank, from environmental group Yes 2 Renewables, told Crikey that “Newman’s appointment tarnishes the airline’s green credentials and will dissuade those who are concerned about climate change and support renewable energy”.

Tiger’s notional competitor Virgin and real competitor Jetstar maintain carbon offset programs, accredited under the Rudd government’s National Carbon Offset Scheme. The Tiger spokesperson told Crikey that “while the airline doesn’t currently have a carbon offset program, we will review this, as with many other things as part of our forward strategy”.

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