Thursday 27 May 2010

Sovereignty risk?

Miners are worried about Australia’s sovereign risk. I’m worried Australia’s sovereignty. While the Government stumbles in its efforts to provide some clarity about the amount of tax paid by miners, one thing is clear - they pay nowhere near enough. And the best evidence of this is the scale of the campaign they are mounting against our elected officials.

The big miners have been accessing Australia’s mineral wealth at bargain basement prices while pushing the resale price of those assets to unprecedented levels. And now they are using the excessive profits obtained from that lucrative exercise to bombard us with dubious propaganda about a tax that is far more intelligent both than the case the government has made in its favour and the distortions of the mining industry’s generously rewarded spokespeople.

We’re told the miners are flooding the Liberal Party coffers in the countdown to the election. Imagine if this industry - irrevocably founded on the short term exploitation of non-renewable assets - was able to determine the outcome of our next election?

Rio Tinto’s Tom Albanese’s performance on Lateline on Wednesday was that of a man incapable of containing his sense of self importance. While he was persuasive in his case that Rio’s profit line and Australia’s national interest were one and the same, he couldn’t resist the threat that Rio would be looking to invest elsewhere should the elected government of Australia enforce a tax that trims his profits - a claim that is widely doubted.

Mr Albanese may shrink in the company of unelected Chinese officials but he feels no compulsion to show regard for Australia’s elected leaders and their policies. His Chairman told the AGM that he was “personally offended” by our government’s actions.  He and his cohorts show contempt not just for our government, but for us. All Australians. They are too big and they are too powerful. Let’s hope they continue to overplay their hand and the Australian people see them for who they are.

Note: I wonder why Tony Jones didn’t use the opportunity to ask Tom Albanese about the Stern Hu case? 

Monday 24 May 2010

A globe warmed by Annabel and Tony, chilled by Ross, Tim, Clive and Bill

Annabel Crabb's session with Tony Abbott at the Sydney Writers' Festival was a great missed opportunity.

I could easily have exited the Sydney Writer’s Festival last weekend thinking there were two planets - one inhabited by people who seem to spend their lives obsessed by the threat of climate change. And another inhabited  by those who remain blithely unconvinced that the the world two decades from now will look substantially different from how it does today.

On Friday, I joined a packed session at the Town Hall where Bill McKibben, Tim Flannery, Ross Garnaut and Clive Hamilton gave a grim but measured update both on the state of global warming and on the national shame that is this country’s approach to it.

On Sunday I heard Annabel Crabb conduct an all too cosy fireside chat (minus fireside) with Tony Abbott. It felt more like she was interviewing a curious, cuddly, blokey Hollywood star than a prime ministerial candidate. Lost was a rare opportunity for an  interrogation of Abbott’s political heart - and his views beyond the immediate political horizon. It was wet and cold outside and Crabb chose to make it warm and cosy inside. Didn’t want to stretch Tony. No asking him about the medium and longer term challenges facing the country. No questions on which credible scientific organisations were informing his views on climate change? Or how he might ready Australia for an era of surging Chinese global influence? No probing on the real moral basis of Abbott’s asylum seeker campaigns either.

Yes, I wanted to see Abbott challenged. And I would have expected that and more of a session with Rudd. But he wasn’t.

I didn’t need Annabel and Tony to make me feel warm. And I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know.

But that wasn’t the case at the global warming session on Friday. I was a little embarrassed by the number of things I heard that night that I had not previously heard. And while Annabel and Tony’s session may have generated enough warmth to raise the climate, there was a distinct chill in the air at the global warming session.

Yes, I did know that we were the worst per capita emitter on the planet (something we still don’t hear often enough). I was also aware that our carbon habit has excesses of both abuse and distribution.

I wasn’t aware however that our gross emissions rank not near as far behind much larger European nations like Italy and the United Kingdom as you might expect. I was also surprised, encouraged and shamed by the news that China, Indonesia and other developing countries, are adopting ambitious measures to curb emissions. Ross Garnaut described Australia as a global "laggard" on climate change.

No, Australians are not lesser moral beings. These countries have simply worked out what the future looks like and decided they need to embrace it. Australia’s unique addiction to carbon abuse and distribution and the powerful lobby behind that addiction still determines our policy.

Bill McKibben pointed out that so called global warming scepticism is confined mainly to Australia and the United States. It is a vanquished force in the most other nations. Yes, Lord Monckton continues his campaign but enjoys more enthusiasm in Australia than at home. Britain’s new coalition government with its distinctly Tory tinge is committed to strong climate action he said.

Pity Annabel missed Ross, Clive, Bill and Tim. It was a moving session. It did lack that high emissions energy that Annabel and Tony had. A good thing too. Australia’s record is bad enough.

Monday 10 May 2010

Best and brightest?

“It’s abhorrent and it should be eliminated immediately.”  “We wouldn’t all be here if Canberra had told the truth. If Canberra had said that this is a nationalisation of 40% of the mining industry, and the first step towards where the despotic economies go when they start nationalising industry.”  
Andrew Forrest, CEO Fortescue Metals Group

This outburst from an excitable Andrew Forrest last week left me confused. What the hell was Australia’s wealthiest man getting at - apart from the obvious point that he didn’t like the new “super profits” tax? Was he really proposing that Kevin Rudd was leading Australia down a slippery slope of nationalisation and despotism? It was a big call. And it came from a man who you might expect to be capable of mounting a more meaningful defense of his industry. A man that should know a despot when he sees one. 

But something else struck me then. I started thinking about Australia’s richest men. The three that sprang to mind, Forrest, Frank Lowy, and James Packer didn’t leave me feeling very inspired. No Messrs Gates, Jobs, Buffetts or Serge / Larry combos there.

I knew very little of Forrest prior to his media foray last week - but need I know more after that? I also should acknowledge that I'm a big fan of the work of Frank's Lowy Institute.

Still, it's probably not ideal that the triumvirate at the top of our rich list are a miner, a property / shopping centre magnate and a casino baron. These industries are more about commercial opportunism than they are about creativity, innovation and dynamism. Essential industries no doubt - except gambling - but not the stuff of great entrepreneurial inspiration - unless money is of itself a source of inspiration.

They are emblems of a country obsessed with minerals, property, gambling and of course the accumulation of wealth. And I suppose that’s perfectly apt.

Abbott's science class

The Australian reported on Saturday that last week Tony Abbott gave an impromptu science lesson to a group of primary school students in Adelaide. The Opposition Leader encouraged the young students to be sceptical about climate change referring to recorded changes in climate over many centuries and arguing “It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays.”

Mr Abbott was calling for a very selective scepticism however since he did not suggest the students query the veracity of the scientific claims referenced by him about past climatic patterns - some of which have been questioned today. He also referred to the existence of the Ice Age - an event that does seem to enjoy near scientific consensus.

Mr Abbott seemed not to recognise any contradiction in his full embrace of scientific data on the existence of an Ice Age and his profound scepticism towards the modern scientific community’s projections on anthropomorphic global warming. It is the same scientific community providing the data and there is a near consensus in both cases.

The Ice Age is itself the subject of debate at the distant fringes of science and society - the group from whom Abbott takes his views on global warming. Many fundamentalist Christians would dispute that the Ice Age ever occurred since in their estimation, the planet was only created a few thousand years ago. Abbott saw no need to alert the eleven and twelve year olds to this debate. Presumably he thinks this issue is settled. Yet he warmly embraces the distant fringe view when it comes to his position on climate change.

Saturday 8 May 2010

ABC's US indulgence

The ABC (Australia) either has too much money or is spending what it has very poorly.

Last week, three ABCTV US correspondents filed stories on the same subject - the Goldman Sachs hearings - to three programmes, the News, 7.30 Report and Lateline. They used the same footage and they added no "Australian" perspective of note. I doubt any of the correspondents were present at the hearings either - meaning that their pieces could have been filed from a studio in Sydney.

Why does the ABC need three expensive US correspondents to cover the world's most well covered stories? As far as I can tell, these stories were very ably covered by the BBC, CNN and no doubt many others. Are there not similarly important stories closer to home, with unique Australian significance - in Asia for example - where the ABC's resources could not be put to better use?