Hidden cost of the Greens' agenda

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 1, 2012

For years, environmental organisations in Australia have cast themselves as the only authentic defenders of the natural environment against ruthless human exploitation, usually identified with corporate Australia, particularly the mining industry, the forestry industry, agribusiness and “the big polluters” (who happen to be Australia’s electricity industry).

Their latest crusade is the introduction of a carbon tax, which is said to be necessary to prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, which are said to be causing uncontrollable global warming. The tax has contributed to the latest rise in the price of electricity for millions of households and businesses around Australia.

At the same time that the carbon tax was introduced, Australian exports of coal — which are exempt from the tax — have continued to skyrocket … with the active encouragement of the government which imposed the carbon tax!

According to the Australian Coal Association, coal is Australia’s second highest export commodity, with sales running at around 300 million tonnes a year. The value of Australia’s coal exports has nearly doubled since the Rudd Labor government was elected in 2007, and more than tripled over the past 10 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Having helped Australia avert the effects of the global financial crisis, the coal industry is now being targeted through both the carbon tax and the mining tax, also introduced on July 1, 2012 by Labor with the support of the Greens. Under this punitive tax, any profit made by mining companies that is above 6 per cent of their capital investment would be taxed at 40 per cent.

However, the Greens’ agenda goes far beyond these two new taxes. It has consistently opposed the expansion of the iron-ore industry and wants to end coal-mining completely. It would also limit the expansion of Australia’s natural-gas industry, and ban uranium-mining altogether.

While no mainstream party has adopted these policies, there can be no doubt that the Greens’ policy has substantially retarded Australia’s national development for many years, as the major parties have courted the Greens in the hope of winning their preferences.

The Greens oppose the export of Australian timber and the logging of all timber from native forests. Its plan that timber would come only from plantations would lead to a substantial increase in imports from countries where logging is uncontrolled, and reduce domestic manufacture to the status of a cottage industry.

The underlying assumption of its forestry policy is that the Australian bush should become wilderness and be managed “in accordance with the principles of intergenerational equity [and] biodiversity conservation”.

What this would mean in practice is that timber, a renewable resource, should be locked up, with the inevitable result that there would be a build-up of dead timber on the forest floor across Australia. It was this build-up which caused the disastrous bushfires which cost over 170 lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in Victoria just three years ago.

While the Greens’ policy has not been officially implemented, it has influenced the policy of both the major parties, particularly the ALP which has bent over backwards to accommodate the Greens and the green-left of the party. Labor governments, both state and federal, have implemented Green policy through the creation of World Heritage areas and national parks, where forestry is banned.

There are now 500 national parks across Australia, covering 28 million hectares of land.

The Greens’ policy towards the Australian fishing industry is equally damaging.

Under the pretext of maintaining sustainable populations and fisheries and minimising the environmental impacts of fishing, the Greens would further reduce Australia’s struggling fishing industry, lock up even more of Australia’s coastal waters in marine reserves, and ban all factory-ships from Australian waters.

These policies have not been fully adopted, but Labor governments have already implemented much of the Greens’ agenda.

Australia, despite having the largest area of coastal fisheries in the world, imports about 72 per cent of its seafood, according to a study by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) last January.

The report said that Australia produced only 241,000 tonnes of fish in 2009-10, less than half as much as New Zealand, while Australia’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, a third world nation, produced a million tonnes.

Nevertheless, the Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, announced in June a further major expansion of Australian marine parks where commercial and even recreational fishing is to be banned.

The announcement was made just in time for the Rio Earth Summit, where it provided a major photo opportunity for the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and was endorsed by environmentalists and the Greens.

The cost of all this is almost incalculable, and has put Australia’s future at risk.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.