The Dirty Dozen: Australia’s biggest climate foes, part 2
Who are the 12 people doing the most to block action on climate change in Australia? With a new government, and Australia’s emissions stubbornly high, we name and shame the second half of our fresh Dirty Dozen …
Yesterday we brought you the first six of our Dirty Dozen, the people who have been most responsible in recent times for preventing progress in the reduction of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the other six, in random order …
The former Australian Council of Trade Unions president now says Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not going far enough in cracking down on unions. But if “the working class can kiss my arse”, he retains his old workerist loathing of environmentalism. As minister for resources and energy in the Rudd and Gillard governments he was dirty industry’s best friend in cabinet, fighting tooth and nail to protect the interests of “his” industries and carving out massive subsidies for the big polluters. And after lobbying from coal companies, Ferguson was responsible for intensifying police and ASIO spying on environmental groups.
In 2009, blogger Andrew Bolt urged Ferguson to come out of the climate sceptic “closet”. Post-parliament he is out and proud. He chairs an advisory board for APPEA, representing gas and oil companies, in which role he almost qualifies as a member of the greenhouse mafia. But as an anti-climate policy lobbyist perhaps Ferguson’s new role as executive in charge of natural resources at Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group Holdings matters more. Stokes now makes much more money from mining than from TV, principally through ownership of Caterpillar dealerships in Australia and China, supplying mining trucks to Rio Tinto, BHP and pretty much every other mining company in Australia and northern China. Seven Group Holdings’ CEO is Don Voelte, who was head-hunted last year from Woodside Petroleum, from which position he was a member of the previous Dirty Dozen.
“I don’t know about Tony Abbott, but that Mr Hunt seems like a nice man. He says the government believes in climate change and the Direct Action plan will work. That’s good enough for me.” Hunt built his political career arguing the need to tackle climate change. Hell, he even won a prize for a thesis advocating emissions trading. Now he serves as the baby-faced apologist for the Abbott government’s attack on climate policy.
Hunt is the man who gave the go-ahead for a huge new coal export facility at Abbot Point in Queensland. And he defends climate deniers. Last year he denied the influence of climate change on increased bushfire intensity by quoting Wikipedia. He got all indignant on BBC radio defending his Prime Minister’s record on climate change. When asked if he agreed with Abbott that climate science is “absolute crap”, he rebuked the interviewer for swearing at him.
In the Howard government Philip Ruddock, the small-l Liberal who served as immigration minister, prosecuted a policy of systematic cruelty towards asylum seekers. He turned into a guilt-wracked ghost before our eyes. His own daughter strongly rebuked him. Watch Greg’s face over the next three years. Be more worried if it doesn’t change.
The Minerals Council of Australia is by far the largest fossil fuel lobby group, with $35 million to spend each year on keeping the government friendly or scared. Although Hooke has recently stepped down as chief executive of the MCA, in his 12 years at the helm he leaves such a trail of devastation through climate policy in Australia that his influence will live on. For the mining companies that paid his salary he was worth every cent.
Hooke likes to tell people he is a scientist (although if you cut through the bombast he comes across as a bit thick). It’s not his scientific training, however, that turned him into the big polluters’ most effective lobbyist, but his bullying style (though like most bullies, he goes to water when shirt-fronted). He was the perfect front man when the mining industry wanted to spend big destroying Labor’s mining tax and win massive concessions from the carbon price scheme. He was at home telling denialist shock jocks that scientific reports on climate change were “wholemeal sandal-wearing religious stuff”. The thing about Hooke is that, as a paid lobbyist, he doesn’t really believe any of it. Before he got the gig at the Minerals Council he used his talents to promote the interests of big food and agribusiness. Expect him to pop up as some kind of environmentalist next.
When Coalition ministers are asked to name an economist who believes their Direct Action plan to be better than a carbon price, the only one they can come up with is “Danny Price”. A “baseline-and-credit guy” who wants to replicate Bob Carr’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, the director of consulting firm Frontier Economics doesn’t like emissions trading. So it’s no surprise Hunt has appointed him to chair the committee tasked with making Direct Action work. Price seems to be serious about effective policy (for example, he would like to see the Renewable Energy Target expanded), but to date his role has been to provide cover for the Coalition. If he doesn’t get his way in a committee stacked with greenhouse mafia types, what would he do?
Price also provides cover for Nick Xenophon. In 2009, keen to differentiate himself from Labor and the Greens, Xenophon teamed up with the Coalition to commission Price to come up with an alternative to the emissions trading scheme. For Xenophon, populism always trumps good policy, and now he is on a belligerent anti-wind farm crusade. Price too criticises wind farms; the pair get plaudits from shadowy anti-wind front groups.
The former stockbroker and ABC chair now oversees the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council. He has recently (courtesy of Chris Mitchell) described the mass of evidence for human-induced climate change as “scientific delusion”. The scientific establishment is engaged in “mass psychology” because it is “intent on exploiting the masses and extracting more money”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “resorts to dishonesty and deceit” and promotes “the religion behind the climate crusade”. Phew!
Newman insists there are “credible” scientists who say the earth is cooling rather than warming. He declares that unless someone soon puts a stop to this “climate change madness”, most of us will “descend to serfdom”. He is one the few to have the ear of the PM’s gatekeeper, Peta Credlin. Get ready for Ian Plimer, on Newman’s advice, to be appointed Australia’s next chief scientist.
As the president of Scouts Australia (Western Australian branch) we might expect Sam Walsh to apply its motto “Be Prepared” to a world entering a new climate. But the CEO of mining giant Rio Tinto blithely pushes ahead with huge new coal mines. Walsh has been working hard at stopping Australia cutting its emissions for a long time. As the chief of Rio’s iron ore division he was there taking notes in 2004 at the secret meeting of big polluters called by John Howard to work out ways of screwing the renewables industry (page 140). The PM told the select group he was looking for their advice on how to squash renewables while still making out the government was taking climate change seriously.
Rio Tinto has a long and unrepentant history of environmental destruction, human rights violations, exploitation of workers and tax dodging (as I have written elsewhere). In 2008, Norway’s government decided to divest itself of around $1 billion of shares in Rio citing concern over severe environmental damages from its Grasberg mine in West Papua. The Norwegian finance minister accused the company of “grossly unethical conduct”.
While projecting a public image of a caring mining company Rio pays industry lobby groups to do the dirty work. Sam Walsh does not say much in public about global warming. He lets the company’s head of energy, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, put the company view — it’s time to forget “idealist discussions” about climate change, he said recently, because coal is here to stay.
So there they are — a Dirty Dozen for 2014.
I’ve never been a fan of the great man view of history, but neither is it credible to focus solely on depersonalised institutions while ignoring the influence of powerful individuals. Some of those mentioned in my Dirty Dozen are ciphers who represent their employers’ stance (such as Willox, Hooke and Walsh). Others have a defining influence on their institution’s positions — Tony Abbott on the federal Liberal Party, Chris Mitchell on TheAustralian, and Gina Rinehart who cannot be separated from her companies. These people have a special culpability.
In 50 years’ time, as the world swelters, crops fail, bushfires rage and extreme weather causes devastation around the globe, the Dirty Dozen are the people who should be remembered for their role in allowing it to happen. Perhaps primary schools could bury this list in time capsules to be excavated in 2100, just so future generations will not forget what they did.