'Tip 2' for Direct Action: Ending the fossil fuel licensing loophole

This is the second part in a series of 'Tips for Direct Action'. Read the first part here. 

Back in the days when tobacco control measures were just coming in and almost half the population smoked, the wheeling and dealing of politics produced a very perverse and utterly disgraceful situation – which is being repeated today.

In many of the countries where the tobacco industry had a base, governments were on one hand 'promoting' (subsidising) plantations, processing and manufacture on the supply side while, on the other hand, adding control measures such as mandatory warning labels, advertising restrictions and excise levies on the demand side. Today, anyone looking back at this ludicrous situation would think it absurd. However, it happened and now, in Australia, we’re seeing a repeat with fossil fuels. But the situation is far worse and the stakes much higher than with tobacco.

State governments – acting like naughty children

Greedy state governments (namely Queensland and NSW) are literally falling over themselves to issue as many fossil fuel extraction and exploration licenses as they can to (barely) prop-up state revenues which have fallen since the GFC hit consumption-linked GST and other revenues.

This almost desperate, extraordinary growth in fossil fuel licensing has been occurring at the same time that legislation to restrict human created sources of carbon has been on the table or passed into law, as it is today.

Unhindered licensing of even more fossil fuels – such as coal, oil and gas and coal seam gas – is a giant loophole that is undoing and preventing serious action on climate change in this country. Carbon lasts 500-1000 years in the atmosphere, it’s an extraordinary long lifetime and every extra bit we release today and tomorrow will have devastating effects for our climate. It’s a giant loophole so big more than double of Australia's annual emissions could fit through each year.

Extreme coal and gas expansion is in fossil fuel exports

Some of the predictions for coal and gas mining expansion are out of this world (though, more recently, a bit of realism has been injected) including 22 hungry LNG trains fed by vast industrial mining operations across prime agricultural land and costly coal mines far inland from ports and well away from transport infrastructure, such as Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine in the Galilee Basin. If these projects come to fruition as a group, upon combustion of these fossil fuels they will release far more carbon than the entire Australian economy does today, or will do, any time in the next 50 years.

So what good is a carbon tax, emissions trading scheme or direct action levy if the biggest source of emissions dwarfing everything else we do will be in the growth in extraction of fossil fuels for export? Getting our priorities straight, we need to nip this in the bud.

Time to pull the states into line

A more important policy, a direct action policy which will improve the federal budget in the long run, is to legislate – using the EPBC act or anything else at the government’s disposal – to enact a complete cessation in the licensing of new fossil fuel mining. 

The states are misbehaving, they’re behaving like greedy children that want to eat every last lolly. They’ve been warned that they’ll become morbidly obese, they’ve been warned of a plethora of health problems that will occur but they still insist on doing more and more damage to themselves and those around them. Tony Abbott and his government now have the responsibility to discipline the states and pull them into line. He has the proven constitutional powers to do so and he can still run the same deficits that he predicted, prior to the election, that he would run.

Giving the signal for a better growth trajectory

This sensible restriction will result in geologists, developers, capitalists, industrial chemists, engineers and all the other professions involved in the sector to turn their attention to 21st century minerals. 

Foot off the gas before you take us over the coalface

By taking the foot off the fossil fuel boom accelerator (it’s clearly Tony Abbott’s foot now) the Australian economy will be able to develop with much more resiliency as multiple sectors simultaneously move from strength to strength on the back of a more stable dollar and better labour conditions. Thirteen million working Australians are not involved in fossil fool mining and their future is being held to ransom while minority miners have the run of the place.

Matthew Wright is the executive director of Zero Emissions Australia.

Note from the author: As we all know, the Liberals have been heavy on campaign rhetoric, which is all very well when you are in opposition. But being absent and underweight in deliverable policy doesn't fly when you're in government. When it comes to climate rhetoric Abbott and his protégé Hunt are in their element.  Every time Hunt fronts a camera he is mouthing direct action, but now he has to front the house with a deliverable. I know he is short, so I'm here to help in turning direct action rhetoric into deliverable action. These tips aim to provide meaningful and measurable infrastructure on the ground that will make a difference and beat Labor and the Greens at their own game.