11 Jul 2014

An Epiphany For Australia Institute On Power Of Partnership?

By Warrick Jordan

The Australia Institute's stunning coup in turning Clive Palmer into a climate change believer is three parts welcome, and at least one part curious. Warrick Jordan weighs in.

Last week a generic email landed in my inbox from the Australia Institute. Defensive in tone, it justified the role of the institute’s new Strategy Director, Ben Oquist, in the extraordinary Al Gore-led coup that converted Clive Palmer to climate change advocate.

The email stressed the importance of engaging with “all sections of the community. Even those we may have fundamental differences of opinions with”. It also put forward the reasonable proposition that “change is only achieved by engagement with people who do NOT share your view” (original emphasis).

Clive’s climate road to Damascus is paved with some material that some environmentalists would probably rather not stand in, but it has dramatically re-set the debate.

The prospect of saving the furniture of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Renewable Energy Target and the Climate Change Authority, and potentially ensuring the political clock isn’t set back to year zero on carbon pricing (even if the price is) is a remarkable achievement.

The nimble populism of the PUP means nothing is set in concrete. But those involved, including Oquist and former Australian Conservation Foundation head Don Henry, should be congratulated for taking the risk on this brave but game-changing gambit.

The email also pointed to the “powerful alliance” of farmers and environmentalists, among them the Wilderness Society, as a prime example of what can be achieved when relationships are built across divides.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement appears to be exactly the type of alliance building that the Australia Institute advocates, yet when the agreement was signed in November 2012 Australia Institute Director Richard Denniss slammed it.

“The newly-inked Tasmanian Forest Agreement has been hailed by many as a historic breakthrough that provides Tasmania with an opportunity to end the divisive ‘forest wars’ and remake the state’s ailing economy. In truth, it is a case study in how not to make policy,” Denniss and Andrew Macintosh opined in Crikey.

“By handing over the responsibility for resolving the dispute to two groups that sit at either end of the debate   the forest lobby and green groups   the Tasmanian government has overlooked the interests of those in the middle; the Tasmanian public.”

Denniss’s take on the agreement plays to the same argument run by Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, a warrior-like figure in the forest wars, as cover for an ideologically anti-conservation agenda.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement was negotiated in 2012 between environmentalists, including the Wilderness Society, industry and unions to end the decades-long forest wars that have blighted Tasmania.

It’s based on a simple premise – that the highly charged brew of super-heated Tasmanian forest politics; a forestry industry in dire straits due to international competition and environmentally-sensitive markets; regional communities suffering economic decline; and ongoing environmental damage could only be addressed by arch enemies sitting down to fix some diabolically difficult problems.

Since being signed in November 2012 and legislated in 2013 by the former Tasmanian ALP-Green Government and the independent upper house, the historic agreement has delivered.

A World Heritage Area covering 170,000 hectares of the most contested and spectacular forests on the planet – think wilderness valleys full of old growth forest with trees almost 100 metres tall – was listed in June 2013.

A further 400,000 hectares of agreed forest has interim protection from logging, pending formal protection in national parks.

While the battles and efforts of conservationists over decades laid the groundwork for these outcomes, the simple fact is that they could not have been delivered without industry and union collaboration.

On the back of environment groups’ support for wood products from Tasmania’s native forests, industry decline has stabilised, albeit at a level dramatically reduced from the woodchippers heyday of the early 2000s.

Government assistance has bought out mills to reduce the industry to a size where long-term viability and forest protection is possible, and government support for value adding and R&D into the required transition to plantation wood was agreed.

The most significant test of the value of collaboration has been the response from the key industry and union signatories to the election of Tasmanian and Commonwealth Governments hostile to the outcomes of the agreement.

Some on both fringes of the political spectrum have chosen to play the politics, and the Abbott and Hodgman Governments have sought to axe outcomes, particularly for conservation, but key agreement signatories such as the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania and the CFMEU have continued to back the agreement.

This has included advocacy against the Abbott Government’s kamikaze and recently rejected efforts to get the World Heritage Committee to delist an area of World Heritage forest for logging.

Institute head Denniss is critical of the subsidies for state-owned forest managers. The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups have argued this for decades, but unfortunately the argument hasn’t resulted in protecting forests.

What has protected forests is the support of an industry with the chance of viability and an acceptance of market demands.

Denniss has previously characterised the $420 million package of mainly Commonwealth funds to support the agreement as a ‘bailout’ for the forestry industry, yet less than 20 per cent of these funds went towards supporting the existing native forest industry, while $100 million was spent buying back contracts to reducing the industry in size to viable levels – and allow the protection of forests.

The remainder was allocated to support for workers impacted by the forestry downturn, the transition to plantations, conservation, and non-forestry regional development.

Richard Denniss has recently shown remarkable pragmatism in his urging of the Labor Party to back the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, saying, “The government is offering to spend a couple of billion on abating emissions. As long as we get good value for it, and we are confident the emissions are abated and administrative costs are not excessively high, I think that would be a good outcome.”

This may or not be the case, but support for a large spend on highly speculative environmental outcomes and criticism of expenditure of funds with a much clearer environmental pay-off appears inconsistent.

The Australia Institute’s pluck in backing the Palmer climate decision and working across divides is admirable.

I can only hope in future it recognises and supports the same actions in others.

Warrick Jordan is the Wilderness Society’s National Forest Campaign Manager.

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Posted Friday, July 11, 2014 - 12:29

All decent, pro-planet Australians  applauded  Clive Palmer’s action in saving the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Renewable Energy Target and the Climate Change Authority but in presently refusing to put a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution (e.g. by a Carbon Tax)  he is an effective climate change denier.

The  reality is that Clive Palmers through his iron  ore, coal and nickel interests is a major and expanding player in greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and  he and his supporters  will repeal the Carbon Tax coupled with hypothetical backing of a dodgy and ineffective future ETS if  major polluting nations all support it.

Yet numerous climate scientists, climate economists and climate activists  argue for a transparent Carbon Tax of up to $150 per tonne CO2-e  (whereas like the climate criminal Coalition, Clive Palmer and his PUPs want $0 per tonne CO2-e )  and variously condemn the ETS approach as empirically ineffective, consequently  counterproductive, susceptible to dodgy market manipulation, and inherently  fraudulent through the Australian Government dishonestly  selling licences to  pollute the one common atmosphere and ocean of all peoples and all countries  (for 62 expert pro-Carbon Tax views see “Science & economic experts: Carbon Tax needed not Carbon Trading”, 300.org: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/sciennce-economics-experts-carbon-tax-needed-not-carbon-trading ) but Clive Palmer supports a hypothetical future ETS.

Yesterday I sent the following letter to Clive Palmer, other MPs and media.

LETTER: “According to climate economist  Dr Chris Hope from 90-Nobel-Laureate Cambridge University the damage-based Carbon Price of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is $150 per tonne CO2, and according to Dr James Hansen from NASA and 101-Nobel-Laureate Columbia University industrial man has added 1,466 billion tonnes CO2 to the atmosphere (1751-2014), this yielding a global Carbon Debt of $220 trillion or about 2.6 times the World’s GDP.

A revised annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is 64 billion tonnes CO2-e (CO2-equivalent, including other GHGs like methane, CH4) and thus Carbon Debt is increasing  globally each year by $150 per tonne CO2-e x 0.064 trillion tonnes CO2-e = $9.6 trillion i.e. by about $10 trillion annually, to be paid by future generations.

Australia’s historical Carbon Debt is about 11 billion tonnes CO2 x $150 per tonne CO2 = $1.7 trillion and this is increasing each year at $150 per tonne CO2-e x 2 billion tonnes CO2-e per year (Domestic plus Exported) = $300 billion annually, to be paid by future generations.

Those rejecting a Carbon Tax are complicit in an immense crime against Humanity, the Biosphere, the young and future generations (for documentation Google "$10 trillion annual carbon debt")” END LETTER.

Syd Walker
Posted Friday, July 11, 2014 - 14:07

This is a very interesting article, and provides insights into the latest round of what's a rather old issue: the extent to which environmental NGOs should compromise to get results.


I don't think there's ever certainty about this. It's a question that must be judged afresh on each occasion - and reviewed later in the light of experience. One hopes that the individuals involved are well-motivated and haven't been 'bought out'. While there may be cases of that, I'm not aware of any obvious instances in the Australian environment movement.


Of course (IMO), Gideon Polya is basically right. We don't just need a price on carbon - if pricing is to drive the change needed in the time-frame necessary, we need a MUCH HIGHER price on carbon. But try getting that through the Australian Parliament of 2014.


Clive Palmer is showing himself to be a more interesting - and more adept - politician than many (myself included) imagined when he entered electoral politics. Now PUP has Parliamentary members, it would be silly not to engage with its representatives in dialogue. One can be confident the mining lobby and right-wing think tanks are doing that. Why give them a free run?


On the other hand, compromises struck in a particular context and time in history should not and cannot bind environmental activists in the future. We'll need to go further towards sustainability until we get there. Compromises possible today won't, in many cases, be sufficient in the longer-term if we're to stablize the atmosphere, reverse ongoing pollution of the planetary ecosystem and arrest global biodiversity decline.


It's also important - and sometimes quite useful - that the right to dissent is respected within the environment movement. We are, after all, a collection of individuals. Some in the movement, at any one time, may believe others accept too much compromise. They have a perfect right to say so and argue their case


It's interesting the PUP has agreed to support renewable energy programs but not (so far) carbon pricing in the here and now. As the price of renewables has plummeted in recent years, boosting renewables has become more immediately saleable than pricing carbon, given the hysterical but very effective disinformation campaign levelled against it.


One subject I would like more discussion about is the extent to which schemes like the RET can function effectively if the Federal Government of the day is hostile to their success. That's not clear to me. Doubtless other NM readers have a better understanding of the detail of these clean energy schemes and the extent to which they can really be protected, by parliament, from a government that's ill-motivated towards them.

Posted Friday, July 11, 2014 - 17:47

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. RossC
Posted Friday, July 11, 2014 - 20:52

The 'Australia Institute' is a fantastic new counter to the 'Sydney Institute' and the IPA, both of whom have consumed far more oxygen than they deserve over the last few years. I applaud the 'Australia Institute's daring new relationship with PUP, and welcome the opportunity to save some of the important 'renewable energy' furniture.

And I applaud Clive, for apparently taking the time to listen.

I think we are all in for some more surprises but, on this particular topic, perhaps Clive's announcement was less surprising than we may all have imagined.  It's not all about minimising tax. Some is about securing and anticipating the successful business models that will be profitable in the future.

Clive seems pretty sharp, and you don't actually have to be that sharp to get that AGW is very likely to be real - the basic principles are high-school physics after all.   

Once you have made this 'leap', the next step is pretty obvious, from a business perspective. The costs of AGW are going to be very high. But in those costs will emerge some new business opportunities - and those businesses - or countries - who stand idly by at the outset are very likely to miss them. 

Those blessed with good business acumen realise that they had better start planning for a time, in the near future, when legislation and laws to help control and mitigate the AGW phenomenon - either at home or abroad, or more likely everywhere - begin to impact on business direction.

Clive is a businessman with acumen. He is changing stance in response to new insight, in the way that all businesses respond to changing or unanticipated market circumstances.   

Abbott is a partisan political ideologue with no business acumen. He is acting out of instinctive opposition to all things that run counter to his narrow, blinkered, set-in-stone, predictable world view. Tony can't ever be seen to change his view in response to political opponents, because he associates that sort of change with losing. And Tony hates losers.

That's amusing, because by behaving the way he is, Tony is virtually guaranteeing that he is going to be ambushed and frustrated at every turn, run ragged, and is likely to be the biggest loser of all.

It's going to be a hoot watching. 

Posted Saturday, July 12, 2014 - 07:59

I don't think Clive Palmer is much interested in climate change, he is simply expressing common decency.  He didn't become mega-rich by being stupid.  Abbott's poisonous idiocy is extremely obvious to all and sundry.

Posted Saturday, July 12, 2014 - 08:37

THe LNP politicians must really hate Clive Palmer, he is all the things that they should be.

Posted Saturday, July 12, 2014 - 11:36

Do you believe that Clive Palmer should have discussed his business dealings with the Chinese, with the ABC interviewer.  I suggest the subject is a irrelevant to Australian politics as Julia Gillard's gender.

Posted Sunday, July 13, 2014 - 07:04

I get sick of Abbott's use of Eddie Bernays's techniques - create a problem and sell the answer to it.  Both asylum seekers and the 'carbon tax' as well as the MRRT are confected problems created to promote Abbott politically.  The simple  fact is that he has nothing constructive to offer. On all three issues he has painted himself into a corner by being strident and negative.  Now he has to come up with the goods and unfortunately for him Clive Palmer has a good brain and a strong streak of common decency.

Posted Sunday, July 13, 2014 - 12:14

I think it is quite nice that Clive Palmer is mentally flexible, unlike some others (unless it is to cover up preceding lies) .

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 06:26

I can't believe how many intelligent people, Al Gore foremost amongst them but including all the so-called journalists here at New Matilda and all the posters of comments to this article, have been so easily conned by Clive Palmer.

His motivations are easy to understand: first and foremost, to advance his own material interests, and a close second, to take revenge on the Liberal National Party in Queensland (and its Federal colleagues) for not repaying the favour of years of multi-million-dollar donations by advancing his material interests in the Galilee Basin by choosing the inferior railway-and-port scheme to suit his mine and to disadvantage those of his competitors.

To continue to fulfil these venal motivations after upcoming State elections and past the next Federal election he needs to be the populist choice for those many Australians pissed off with all the other parties, major and minor, but without actually passing or preserving legislation that will hurt him personally.

So let's see how he's gone with climate change. The carbon tax is about to be abolished which will save him personally some $60million a year. It will now include amendments that the media is happy to trumpet as Clive making sure that the average voter sees their bills cut where otherwise evil power and gas companies would just have pocketed the tax cut. Note that this applies only to power and gas companies and not to companies like Clive's. 

And note also that all reputable experts think these amendments will not achieve a single pass-through of the carbon tax cut that would not have occurred under the government's unamended legislation, but will be a significant regulatory burden on electricity and gas companies – and guess who will pay that added cost?

If he really wanted the Emissions Trading Scheme he touted (while drawing enormous green cred by having Al Gore stand beside him) he would have looked to amend the Carbon Tax abolition legislation to allow the Carbon Tax itself to morph as planned into an ETS but to do it sooner and with a zero price until all five of our major trading partners had copied the amended legislation into their jurisdictions. 

Instead he says he plans to insert the Palmer ETS into legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority, legislation he says he will then vote against! (Since when you are being chummy with the likes of Al Gore you have to favour the taxpayer paying for advice you can get free anyway, and this is small change in a multi-billion-dollar budget.)

Even if the majority of the Senate votes for this amendment and then for the amended CCA abolition legislation, it will then have to return to the House of Representatives, where guess what? The Abbott government will vote it down.

So where do we end up? No price on carbon – the Carbon Tax has been abolished, and the Palmer ETS has either failed to get the numbers in the Senate, or has been voted down in the House of Representatives, but Palmer gets to look the green hero who has been beaten by the numbers of the other parties, building on the sort of idiotic hagiography exemplified in the brain-dead article above.

Not that the Palmer ETS was ever anything more than a fig leaf – can you really imagine all five of our major trading partners enacting sufficiently-similar legislation for Palmer to approve the reintroduction of a carbon price that would apply to his businesses?

And I wouldn't be holding your breath for the Renewable Energy Target – the Abbott government hasn't actually said it will try to change anything, it has just flown a few kites about amending the legislation to say what everyone thinks it says anyway, that by 2020, 20% of Australia's energy will come from renewable sources (rather than the 41,000 gigawatt hours the legislation actually specifies, which is likely to be somewhere north of 23% come 2020 thanks to falling electricity consumption).

And if the Libs do choose to move such an amendment, I reckon Clive will have no trouble spinning the PUPs' passing it as being him saving the RET while actually voting to effectively reduce it.