Yesterday, as the IPCC released its third report on climate change – this time on the (minimal) costs of slashing pollution – the Minerals Council of Australia, backed by BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and GlencoreXstrata, launched its tone-deaf campaign “Australians for Coal”.
Australians for Coal's central tool is an orange website that encourages visitors to email their MP, to spread the word about just how great they think coal actually is. They also added "extremist activists" emails to their list. So here at the Australian Conservation Foundation, we know they managed to get out no more than about 30 emails in support of coal.
While Australians for Coal looks like a fizzer, it is part of a trend for our multinational polluters. The federal budget is due in less than a month and with the conservative government talking tough about ending the age of entitlement, mining companies are tugging at their collars and glancing nervously at the billions of dollars in preferential tax treatments they receive on behalf of the taxpayer.
Australian governments have long spent billions propping up mining companies but nothing quite so egregious as the $2-3 billion we annually hand over via the Fuel Tax Credit scheme.
While the rest of us pay around 38 cents tax for every litre of fuel we buy, the Fuel Tax Credit scheme allows international mining giants like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto to get a 32c per litre discount, meaning they pay only around 6 cents per litre in tax.
If you feel like you’re under the pump at the petrol station you can rest assured that Gina Rinehart doesn’t, and the higher rate you pay is helping to subsidise the big miners. These billions of dollars of free handouts that encourage pollution may well be on the chopping block, and the miners hiding behind the Minerals Council are a little nervous.
Year after year, leading into the budget, the mining sector launches a mini-campaign to protect these fossil fuel subsidies. Not on the scale of the industry’s all-out, scorched-earth war to kill the mining tax, but smaller and more targeted at politicians.
This year Australians have wised up. After the release of “Australians for Coal”, thousands of social media users jumped on the Minerals Council’s hashtag #australiansforcoal, with an ongoing outpouring of scorn.
Australians are cottoning on to the games played by big miners and it turns out that no, they don’t like coal all that much. They don’t like the pollution it causes. They don’t like the damage mines cause to local communities, and they don’t like that it dirties our air and muddies our water.
They certainly don’t like it when mining companies disingenuously tell them coal mining creates 200,000 jobs, before admitting under questioning that three quarters of those jobs are not actually in the coal mining industry, being instead in catering and services. They detest that these companies have the gall to try to promote the benefits of "Coal and the Reef".
Australians know the Great Barrier Reef will be devastated if it is dredged to allow more cargo shipping. We know coral is being bleached as water temperatures rise from coal-induced climate change.
The jobs in coal should not be considered untouchable. There are dynamic, 21st century jobs in clean energy just waiting to be unlocked, if only the federal government didn’t seem intent on ripping support out from under Australia’s renewables industry by attempting to kill the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and threatening the Renewable Energy Target and ARENA, the renewables agency. More than 4,300 businesses are active in the solar industry across Australia, and the growth potential of this new industry is limited only by government policy flip-flops.
Today, the head of the Minerals Council will appear before a senate committee trying to spin the line that those who oppose handouts to international mining companies are part of an "anti-mining agenda".
Mining companies have enough money that they can throw millions at distorting our democratic process. Year after year, they go to the wall, using their money — money that political and pro-nature groups simply cannot match — to protect the unimaginable handouts they receive in our name.
Perhaps we’re reaching the point that Australians have wised up to this, and they’re well and truly sick of it.
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