Even for the Abbott government the inconsistencies in the latest “war on environmental vigilantes and saboteurs” are astonishing. And the slapstick nature of its attempt to use the issue as a political wedge is up there with Laurel and Hardy.
When an environment group successfully uses 16 year-old national environmental laws to delay a project, the Abbott government tries to change the law to prevent them from ever doing it again.
But if an anti-windfarm group can’t find a way to use existing laws and regulations to stop or delay a project, the Abbott government tries to change laws and processes to make it easier for them to succeed.
The first is called green “vigilantism” and “sabotage” and the second is, according to environment minister Greg Hunt, a reasonable response because “many people have a sense of deep anxiety, and they have a right to complain.”
The government calls regulations that stop fossil fuel or mining projects “green tape”, but a wind commissioner and yet another scientific committee to look at unsubstantiated health complaints regarding wind turbines is apparently no kind of “tape” at all.
Fossil fuel projects are judged by inflated assessments of the jobs they might provide. The prime minister and the treasurer keep repeating the claim that Adani’s $16bn Carmichael mine would create 10,000 jobs, even though evidence from an economist commissioned by Adani itself – Jerome Fahrer of ACIL Allen – given in the land court earlier this year said: “Over the life of the project it is projected that on average around 1,464 employee years of full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs will be created.
But when it comes to wind energy projects no claim seems too fantastic.
The government can hardly contain its fury that environment groups might aim to delay or stop huge new coalmines because they are concerned about global effects of climate change, but assists and applauds anti-wind groups who use every available tactic to stop or delay renewable projects because they are worried about the health effects of “infrasound”.
Here are some facts that might help more rational consideration of the issues at hand.
The biggest danger to the Adani mine is its own business case, not environmental legal cases, and the Indian energy minister has unveiled plans for a rapid expansion of domestic coal production, as well as renewables, and said India aims to stop imports of thermal coal within three years, which undercuts somewhat the idea that the Adani mine’s coal is the only thing that can possibly provide power to impoverished Indians.
And the tired old meme that says environmental protection and job creation are conflicting and contradictory objectives doesn’t fly any more. And it isn’t only “greenies” questioning the impact of mines and CSG wells, it’s farmers and rural communities as well. Ones often represented by the National party.
A recent Essential poll found that 50% of Australians believe governments should prioritise support for renewables over the coal industry, including 39% of Liberal voters. Only 6% thought governments should prioritise support for coal.
And the real reason the Adani decision was overturned was that Mackay Conservation Group identified a mistake made by the federal department of environment. It had failed to include “conservation advice” on two species that will be harmed by the mine. The minister did not have all the information he needed when he took the decision. The mistake can be fixed within weeks.
But imagine how many serious procedural “mistakes” might get made in commonwealth decisions if no one except immediately impacted landholders have a right to challenge them. It’s a high price to pay for a political diversion.