The Coalition government has restated its commitment to ensure major new coal projects like the Adani-owned Carmichael mega mine in north Queensland go ahead, to meet what it describes as soaring global demand for the fossil fuel that is inextricably linked to dangerous global warming.
The comments were made by the federal minister for trade and investment, Steve Ciobo, on ABC TV’s Q&A, which went into election mode on Monday night with a panel made up of representatives from the two major parties, the Greens and independents.
In response to a question about flagging industry and job loss in Queensland, Ciobo told the audience that Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition was focused on both expanding coal mining and boosting tourism as part of its plan to “transition” the state’s economy.
“What we’re focusing on is this exact issue about a transitioning economy,” Ciobo said. “The kinds of industries we’re talking about here are, one, we want to make sure that projects like, for example, Carmichael, go ahead.
“But secondly we also want to make sure that there’s opportunities, for example, in the tourism industry.”
When questioned about whether the government could actually do both of these things without further compromising one of Australia’s greatest natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef, Ciobo had this response:
“Global demand for coal is still going through the roof. …When you sit there and say you’re gonna (stop coal mining in Australia to) save the Reef, you want it to be done elsewhere in the world. That’s not gonna save the reef mate.”
Putting aside the reams of research that come to exactly the opposite conclusion – that the global coal market is in structural decline and that mines like Carmichael risk becoming a huge stranded asset – Ciobo’s comments make it easy to see why the Australian Conservation Foundation scored the Coalition so poorly for its environmental policies in its latest report.
The scorecard, released on Tuesday, rates the LNP, Labor and the Greens on their policies for clean energy, cutting pollution and protecting nature against the tests set out in ACF’s National Agenda. The scores were: Coalition, 11/100; Labor 53/100; the Greens 77/100.
ACF chief Kelly O’Shanassy described the Coalition’s 11/100 on the environment as “woefully inadequate” and said if the party was not prepared to lead on climate and nature, it was not fit to lead the country.
“It’s not as if conservatives can’t be good conservationists,” O’Shanassy said in a statement released with the report.
“Liberal cabinet minister Garfield Barwick was ACF’s first president; Robert Menzies signed the first Antarctic Treaty; Malcolm Fraser made Kakadu a national park; John Howard established the National Greenhouse Inventory and the National Water Initiative.”
The report scored the Coalition particularly poorly in terms of cutting pollution, giving it a total mark of -3 for its efforts to transition Australia’s economy away from coal mining and power.
O’Shanassy said that Labor – which also scored poorly (zero out of 5) for its policy to ensure no new coal mines or coal mine extensions were approved, and for its efforts to stop fossil fuel subsidies (another zero) – while ahead of the Coalition, still had room for improvement.
Labor has also backed the development of new coal mines in Australia, but the party’s representative on the Q&A panel on Monday night, the federal member for Brisbane Terri Butler, said she did not “personally” support the Adani venture.
“This year’s mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is a stark reminder that climate change is hitting Australia hard, and we must get out of the coal business quickly,” O’Shanassy said.
“That means phasing out Australia’s coal fired power stations, turbo-boosting clean energy, helping affected communities with the transition and definitely not approving any new coal mines.
“With a whole month still to go before polling day, there is time for all parties to improve their scores.”