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Australia’s fossil fuel industry is relying more on public spin campaigns than traditional lobbying tactics to deliberately undermine climate change policy, a UK environmental think tank argues.

These tactics focus on influencing public opinion and the broader political agenda rather than direct engagement with policymakers. 

InfluenceMap, which is funded by environmental and investor groups, says the Minerals Council of Australia had the biggest negative influence on Australian climate-related policy.

It also claims the Australian Petroleum Producers and Exploration Association (APPEA), which represents oil and gas companies including Santos and Origin Energy, has “primed Australia for a gas-fired recovery following the 2019-2020 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Due to a lack of regulation on transparency around political influence, there has been limited public scrutiny of these activities,” the report says. 

Mixed messaging

The report argues BHP, Santos and Rio Tinto have the biggest influence over their respective industry groups. It said all had successfully pushed them to undermine Australia’s climate commitments. 

It also found the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) have worked to stall action on climate change in Australia. 

“Despite nominally positive top-line statements, their detailed regulatory lobbying continues to oppose Paris-aligned climate policy,” it said. 

An analysis of more than 2000 examples of “lobbying activity” found industry groups were increasingly turning to “outside” campaign tactics to derail Australia’s international climate commitments. 

These included the use of localised campaigns, such as the one used by the NSW Minerals Council in 2019 aimed at the NSW Independent Planning Commission, putting pressure on NSW Minister for Planning Rob Stokes, after planning permissions for parts of two coal mines were rejected on climate grounds due to the IPC’s considerations of its “scope three” emissions.

As the government continues its push for a “gas-led” recovery, environmental groups say the voice of the fossil fuel industry is louder than ever.

Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility climate and environment director Dan Gocher said the report showed that despite declarations of support for the Paris Agreement, most industry associations continued to undermine action.

“Despite declarations of support for the Paris Agreement, most industry associations active on climate and energy in Australia continue to stand in the way of effective policy” he said. 

“APPEA, the Queensland Resources Council and others have explicitly called for taxpayer-funded subsidies for exploration and new pipelines in order to prop up a failing industry,” he said. “Angus Taylor is now delivering on APPEA and the Minerals Council of Australia’s demands to allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in gas and carbon capture and storage.”

MCA CEO Tania Constable slammed the report, saying it was based on misleading and “outdated information, biased claims and discredited conspiracy theories peddled by activist groups”.

“The MCA is proud to advocate for the interests of its member companies and outlining the challenges of moving to a zero emissions future,” she said.

“These include ensuring that policies do not produce unintended negative consequences or damage Australia’s mining industry, jobs and regional communities.”