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May 09th 2016 print

Michael Copeman

Prosperity Blocked By Green Rubble

It was ten years ago that Bill Shorten jetted into Beaconsfield on what was the first public leg of his long march toward what he hopes will be his occupancy of The Lodge. Today it is renewable energy, not miners and their jobs, that excites his passion, much like the man he hopes to replace on July 2

shorten press mobThe Tasmanian mining town of Beaconsfield was once the more down-to-earth “Brandy Creek”.  Townsfolk changed the name in 1879 to recognise a Prime Minister who was conservative in some ways but radical in others. Sound familiar?  Back then it was Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield.

Today, Beaconsfield is linked in public memory not with a maverick PM but the mine collapse that, ten years ago, took one miner’s life and trapped two others for two weeks. Another would-be PM, Bill Shorten, also owes his  prominence to Beaconsfield. With an eye for ambition and the TV cameras, he borrowed cardboard tycoon Dick Pratt’s jet to reach the town and its media legion in a hurry. Pratt, who sometimes referred to Shorten as “my union advisor — no decisions until Bill signs off” was happy to oblige. He must have been tickled pink by all those poppet-head media conferences and the speculation that here was a PM in the making.

At the time, Shorten was secretary of the union to which the miners belonged.  Now he leads the Labor Party into a once-in-a-generation election of both houses of the federal parliament.  That election was triggered by defeat of a Bill aiming to re-instate a permanent commission into union activities in Australia’s burgeoning building and construction sector. With the passing of our mining boom, it is arguably the strength of the construction sector that has kept Australia out of recession.

The Beaconsfield mine closed in 2012, putting 150 miners out of work.  The domino effect has seen the withering of the town itself, exemplified by the closure of two of the town’s three pubs.  What remains of the town is now dependent largely on tourists who come to see where the tragedy and triumph unfolded.

Yet, Beaconsfield’s loss of a heavy industry, and part-replacement by unreliable tourism  could be a metaphor for the wider fate of Australia. Since 2006, we have begun to lose car manufacture, steel production and refining of other metals.  Now Labor, with the help of the Greens, would have us shut down our huge coal mining sector too.

Ten years ago, Shorten was good at coming on TV at all hours and expressing sympathy and angst about the tragic, tense, hopeful situation unfolding at Beaconsfield.  He couldn’t offer any concrete strategy to overcome the immediate obstacles and problems the trapped miners and their rescuers faced. Nor, in the longer run, did he have any strategy that would have enabled the blighted mine to stay open and the many members of his union employed, producing gold that would, in turn, earn Australia export income to pay for its needed imports.

Likewise now, does Mr Shorten have any real strategy for developing gainful, export-producing employment in Australia? The wind turbines and solar panels, those expensive and inefficient power producers on which Australia’s future is said to depend — will likely all be imported. The ALP has a target for 50% renewable energy sources by 2030, so not too many jobs there. In the meantime, many other exporting mines will have to close.

The reason that Mr Shorten gives is that we must lower the world’s temperature.  Yet the measures he champions to do so are not proven, are very expensive, will take years to implement, and (most importantly) come at the cost of shutting down much of Australia’s resource-based economy.

If Australia wants to build renewable, zero-emission capacity rapidly, the only real option is to construct new dams up and down the Great Dividing Range.  Plans for many of these dams exist, but have been shelved as “environmentalists” made them impossible to construct.  (How piquant it is that these protests have resulted in Australia remaining dependent on fossil-fuels.  Contrast Norway, where hydroelectric schemes supply most of the nation’s electricity.) One only has to recall the ALP’s own “Biggles”, aka Senator Gareth Evans, back in 1983 ordering an Australian F-111C to spy on whether Tasmanian government-sponsored work to construct the Franklin hydroelectric scheme was proceeding, to realise that the ALP has form here.

Whenever Labor starts to worry that its inner-city seats (often occupied by high-flyers, up-and-comers and ministerial candidates) might be lost to the Greens (with the help, sometimes, of Liberal preferences), then you can be sure that the ALP will embrace greenie policies wholeheartedly.  No dams? Done!  Let all asylum seekers ashore?  Settled!  Do away with Australia’s coal industry?  In time, of course.

Bill Shorten is on the horns of a dilemma if he states to the faces of unionised miners that mining must end.  These are people who have often voted Labor all their lives, as did their families before them, in the Hunter Valley in NSW, in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, and increasingly in the large coal basins of Queensland.  Yet, their livelihoods and towns are to be sacrificed to help inner-city ALP heavyweights and others get themselves elected.

(Yes, yes, but in the long term, it is all for the greater good of the world.  Really?  Even if the world’s five largest nations — China, India, America, Russia and Indonesia, containing between them almost half the world’s population — continue to develop industrially, based largely on fossil-fuel use, until 2050 at least.)

Contrast Shorten’s dilemma with the view on the other “side” of contemporary Australian politics, where Mr Turnbull is also on record, back in 2009, as stating that an emissions trading scheme was not only a good thing for Australia (and the world), but inevitable and sustainable.  (Ho, ho!)

No matter who gets elected, what hope have Australian workers whose jobs are dependent on our fossil-fuel resource sectors?  More to the point, what hope have the rest of us Australians, who  pray that Government receipts from the resources sector continue to pay the tax we can’t or won’t?

Without ongoing development of our vast fossil-fuel resources, Australia’s economy seems set to slide into that once-in-a-generation recession that Howard/Costello’s financial prudence, or perhaps Rudd/Swan’s cash splashes, or the wisdom of Glenn Stevens at the RBA have avoided for us.  (Only the Netherlands, where there are always dikes to be built, has avoided recession longer than Australia.)

This time around, all Australians are effectively stuck down a mine, with both political exits blocked by green rubble, and no white knight ready at the surface to drill down to rescue them.   Where, you might ask, is our Lord Beaconsfield to salvage us?

The as-yet-unennobled Mr Benjamin Disraeli didn’t become British PM until he was 63, and then only for some months.  When he finally became PM again at a venerable 69, his focus was on shoring up Britain’s international trade, including purchasing an expensive share in the Suez Canal.

That fast route to and from the Orient was a major factor that allowed Britain to flourish industrially in the latter Victorian Era.  The Commonwealth of Australia is only, as we would say today, a spin-off from that venture.

How greatly now do we need an Australian leader of Lord Beaconsfield’s stature, one who can recognise and seize opportunities to develop this country’s potential?  Unfortunately, the miner’s canary and the Spycatcher’s lawyer who lead our main parties are unlikely to lead us anywhere but down.

Comments [13]

  1. pgang says:

    At a presentation given by the Beaconsfield mine manager we were told that at the height of the crisis Shorten marched into the manager’s office to demand better conditions for the workers. No thought was spared for the dead or missing, or their rescue. For God only knows what reason the two men apparently became friends.

    This issue of coal mining isn’t just a federal government problem. In January the NSW state government signed off on a planning non recommendation, contrary to the advice of its own department, for the Drayton South coal mine project in the Hunter Valley. They did so through the abomination that is the PAC, an official vehicle for corrupt planning decisions (as opposed to the corruption coming directly from the minister’s own hand). This is a Liberal government, forcing the 500 workers of Drayton mine out of their jobs, giving up millions in taxes and royalties, and sending the local communities effectively into receivership. The reason being to protect the vested interests in the horse stud industry, which pays pretty much no tax, no royalties, and no salaries in comparison to mining. There is no hope.

  2. Lawrie Ayres says:

    I have a contractor son working in the Muswellbrook mines. The slowdown there has seen many houses put on the market and the local economy slowed almost to a stop. The Greens are euphoric yet fail to realise their largely taxpayer funded salaries are at stake when the productive sector ceases to be profitable and therefore taxable. The ALP is keen for power but has no real ability to exercise it for the benefit of all Australians. In normal times the solution would be to simply vote for the Conservatives who would apply logic and pragmatism thereby creating the means to create wealth. Today with this leader and his wimpish liberals our choice is not so clear. Turnbulls policies are not much better that Shortens and the outlook for Australia is grim.

  3. Jody says:

    Examine your own roles in all of this, bagging Turnbull and the Coalition so consistently the way you have. This is the price we pay. And pay dearly we most certainly will. Every minority and vested interest in the planet will be holding out their paws and the middle class are the new ‘golden soak’.

  4. Bran Dee says:

    Welcome back Jody. Where have you been?

    • Jody says:

      I’ve found some of the comments on Malcolm Turnbull so vile that I couldn’t read or contribute here. Now that the election has been called I cannot help revelling in the role anti-Turnbull sentiment right here at “Quadrant” will play in the demise of the Coalition. I don’t say you are one of these but some execrable rubbish has been written about Malcolm Turnbull. He’s a populist, sure, in a culture where populism trumps (pun intended) rational economic narratives. For that the electorate needs to hugely look at itself.

      Cheers!

  5. pgang says:

    Jody those are Turnbull’s policy positions – always have been. What does that have to do with Quadrant or any other critics of those policies? The Coalition would have easily won the election under Abbott, albeit after losing a few seats. It’s not really about Abbott or Turnbull, it’s about Australians wanting to feel secure in their government. Political assassination at the very top does not make people feel secure.

    • Jody says:

      Delusions 101.

        • Jody says:

          I meant it was deluded to suggest Abbott could have won the election; possibly one of the most reviled men in Australian politics for decades. Keating was an effective treasurer and PM but was thrown out because of arrogance. Labor has a history of having unstable people at the top in its party – Jim Cairns, the bawling Hawke, Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd. Now they just have nasty little class warriors – Dreyfus, Wong, Gillard and Jenny (Taking-me-money-off-me) Macklin.

          God help us all.

          • Jody I do not wish to enter into a ‘war’ with you, not even a war of words. MT replaced TA with a snide and underhand campaign, because he was supposedly a ‘better communicator’. I would ask you to politely tell me the questions I asked at the AUSTRALIAN today.:-
            Where is there ANY evidence of MT’s supposed ‘communication skills’? Instead of waffling interminably why won’t MT get just a little bit aggressive or even just assertive and hammer home a few economic truths? Here is a start:-
            1. If it is/was possible to legislate for prosperity why has it never succeeded/been done anywhere in the world, ever? Venezuela is just the latest country to implode its economy into absolute poverty by trying to vote/legislate for prosperity. Only a few years ago Phillip Adams and other leftists were lauding Venezuela’s efforts and were going to take groups on ‘tour’ there to ‘experience’ it. There has been little to no mention of this collapse anywhere by Australian ‘journalists’ recently. Why? If the USSR couldn’t do it even when it had a truly frightening army of secret police and others to enforce their policies it can’t be done.
            2. What makes BS think that his ‘education election’ will have any more success than Julia Gillard’s ‘education revolution’? Again, the USSR at its peak had far more PhDs than did the US. Why did the ‘benefits’ from all this supposed ‘investment’ in education fail there? Even allowing that the ‘science’ of the USSR was more politicised than that occurring in the west [hard to believe when we have 'climate change' and 'animal fats are bad', but they had Lysenko and worse] the USSR’s education ‘advantage’ did NOT result in prosperity. Free markets are the ONLY essential needed for prosperity, and even then can’t guarantee it.
            3. MT please ask BS to explain what is ‘fair’ about Cuba, Venezuela etc. If no ‘journalist’ will do it, ask Thomas Sowell’s question on this matter – “What is your ‘fair share’ of what somebody else has worked for or created? I would add what should be the ‘fair share’ allocated to those who actually earn or create the wealth that the socialists want to ‘re-distribute’?
            Please harden up and get REALLY serious Malcolm, or quit now and let somebody else have a go at fair dinkum attempt to defend our current prosperity, our future prosperity and our way of life.

          • Nezysquared says:

            Your first sentence is pure conjecture – you cannot possibly know how such an election would have panned out and to state that Tony Abbott was one of the most reviled men in Australian politics is absurd. In your previous comment you even stated that you “found some of the comments on Malcolm Turnbull so vile that I couldn’t read or contribute here”. QED. Whilst I am no great fan of career politicians and would agree with your general characterisations, I like many others find MT totally untrustworthy – a defining metric for any aspiring leader. That he lacks vision, commitment, principle, conviction and any sort of leadership quality has been recognised by the many “delcons” within the Liberal party and after a lifetime of voting Conservative/Liberal I find myself unable to do so again whilst he is leader of the party. Is Australia ungovernable with the options put before us at the next election? Probably. For those of us who have spent a lifetime in wealth creating jobs (I am an engineer with mining, oil and gas experience) it would be interesting if voting rights were given only to those who have worked and paid tax during the term of a sitting government. After all, we are the ones with most to lose from bad government and poor leadership.