Bobbing its blue-grey head and cackling, ecstatically, as it greets its mate, the Southern Black-throated Finch, (Poephila cincta cincta) whose rufous wings and cinnamon body evoke a tiny, tan Driza-Bone coat, is fighting to survive.
Only one-eighth of its natural habitat remains in North Queensland. Even that remnant is under threat as habitat-clearing continues. Should seventeen proposed new Galilee Basin mines proceed, we’re all in trouble.
Twenty years ago, we made laws to help. Our Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was lauded as a way to preserve endangered species. Queensland’s own Vegetation Management Act was set up in the same year to regulate the clearing of vegetation. Neither has succeeded. The fate of the gregarious and plucky black-throated finch illuminates the failure of our attempts at environmental governance.
The EPBC is fragmented, decentralised and inconsistent among states. It is unclear what is state and what is national responsibility. Compounding all, is a lack of accountable federal leadership. On cue, Sunday, ScoMo does a runner. He declines an invitation to appear on ABC The Insiders. Josh Frydenberg appears instead. He lies about,
“… why we take our Paris commitments seriously and why we’ll beat our 2030 target, just as we’ve beaten our original Kyoto target and on track to beat our 2020 target. We have $25 billion in renewable investment currently under way in Australia – a record amount. And we are one of the most attractive destinations in the world for renewable energy. We’re also investing in Snowy 2.0 to become the big battery on the east coast of Australia. But you shouldn’t see climate change as a zero sum game, as a binary choice between doing something and doing nothing.”
Frydenberg should tell the truth. We fudged Kyoto by including land clearing. (LULUCF). Article 3.7, The Australia clause, was added to the agreement by Howard’s environment minister, Robert Hill. It allows countries with net emissions from land-use change, usually land clearing, to include those emissions in their baseline calculation.
Barrie doesn’t call him on it. The lie is repeated each time a Morrison government minister trots out the day’s talking points. Hill’s fiddling the books greatly benefited Australia. In 1990, when the baseline was determined, Australia was land clearing massively. After 1990, a Hawke Government initiative saw land-clearing cut sharply.
The resulting credit was big enough to allow Australia to boost emissions, especially from electricity generation and transport fuels while sticking within its rigged Kyoto-con emissions limits. Yet the credits have run out now and a useful question for the Coalition, sadly not asked on Insiders, is how do we plan to meet our target now?
Given our LULUCF credit has now expired, what cuts will be made in which other sources to meet even the lame 26-28 per cent reductions we committed to in our signing the Paris Agreement? Or why is ScoMo shying away?
What is clear is that the PM won’t appear, Barrie Cassidy explains, until after the election. Morrison’s pathological fear of scrutiny, his love of secrecy and his contempt for accountability are entrenched. As Immigration Minister he’d walk out of his own press briefings. A reverse space invasion. Then he abandoned briefings altogether.
Poorly led at federal level, our attempts to protect our environment are maladministered; open to abuse. Above all, nowhere do they factor in climate change, flaws writ large also in The Murray Darling Basin scandal.
Last October, the UN gave all of us twelve years to curb catastrophic climate change. In March, it called for ambition, urgency “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” warns General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, “climate justice is intergenerational justice.”
If we don’t curb our carbon emissions to 45% by 2030, zero by 2050, keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels expect more droughts, floods and heatwaves; more extreme, freak weather.
Hundreds of millions of us will be forced into poverty. Yet nowhere in our phony election campaign is climate change seriously addressed. Only school children demonstrating, it seems, grasp the reality; the urgency.
Instead a coal-puppet Coalition ignores its role in increasing carbon emissions; brazenly lies that we’ll meet our Paris targets “at a canter” when, in fact we’ll miss our modest target of 26 per cent by 2030. Our current policies are more consistent with a scenario of four degrees warming. Disastrous. And it will be expensive.
University of Melbourne’s Professor Tom Kompass sums up, “The severe falls in GDP in the long term will put many governments in fiscal stress. Tax revenues will fall dramatically and increases in the frequency and severity of weather events and other natural disasters, which invoke significant emergency management responses and expenditures, indicate that pressure on government budgets will be especially severe.”
Modelling from Brian Fisher of BAE Economics, a coal-lobby stooge, who never met a climate plan he didn’t like, is used as a diversionary dead cat on the table. Labor’s carbon abatement will be hideously unaffordable – causing GDP to drop by “up to” $542 billion by 2030. The diversion is taken up by MSM, now, while Morrison delights in pretending that Labor can’t cost its policy or it’s hiding the true cost. For ScoMo, it beats trying to save the planet.
What is unaffordable is doing nothing. No coalition MP acknowledges the $130 billion PA, The Australia Institute (TAI) calculates doing nothing would cost our annual GDP. Our climate debate is deficient on three points:
- The cost of inaction on climate change is huge – Australia’s GDP would average $130 billion per year lower if the Paris Agreement is not achieved according to a prominent study.
- Under the carbon price period, Australia successfully reduced emissions by 2% while the economy grew by 5%.
- Economic literature suggests the economic impacts of climate policy will be minor.
For the Coalition to claim we even need modelling to show we can’t afford carbon abatement is a monstrous lie.
“In just two years Australia reduced emissions by 2% and grew the economy by 5% under a carbon price and the sky did not fall in. In fact, employment grew by 200,000 jobs,” writes TAI Research Director Rod Campbell.
The nomadic black-throated finch once foraged for fallen seeds and the odd spider, termite or ant from Inverell in northern NSW to Cape York in Queensland. Today it’s lost the southern two-thirds of its former range. Yet such is the incoherence of our ineffectual environmental protection systems that it is all too easy to play politics
The vast, grassy woodland, the finch once grazed, is now, mostly farm paddock. Clearing for Adani’s massive Carmichael mine would tip the gregarious bird into extinction. Yet this week, the Queensland government puts Adani on hold because its plans to protect the endangered finch do not meet the miner’s approval conditions.
Howls of outrage erupt from Adani and its claque. It’s “a massive blow”. Adani won’t be able to start construction for another five years, “a spokesman” tells The Australian’s Charlie Peel who joins Michael McKenna, in public handwringing, promoting the Coalition lie that state and federal Labor MPs are delaying and politicising Adani’s approval because the mine is unpopular with voters in “inner-city electorates”.
Helpfully, Federal Resources Minister, Barnaby Joyce’s protégé, Matt Canavan, tells The Australian that Labor has caved in to pressure from the Greens and from inner-city electorates. “The Labor Party has to answer why they are listening to anti-coal academics in Melbourne and not the workers of central and north Queensland,” he says. Canavan could tell workers the truth. Opening Adani or any other new mine will put existing jobs at risk.
Research by The Australia Institute estimates that developing the Galilee Basin would reduce coal mining jobs by 9,000 in the Hunter Valley (NSW), 2,000 in the Bowen Basin (QLD) and 1,400 in the Surat Basin (QLD), compared to a scenario with no Galilee mines out to 2035. With declining world demand for coal, each new mine opened in The Galilee Basin will cause layoffs and closures in Australian mines elsewhere. And jobs in the industry are scarce.
Across Australia, coal mining accounts for half of one percent of all jobs (0.5%) or half a job out of every hundred. Even in peak coal-mining territory, North Queensland, coal mining represents only four percent of all jobs. Twice as many jobs are to be found on reef regions, jobs which Adani’s Abbott Point pollution has already endangered.
“If Adani can’t safely operate Abbot Point, how can it be expected to safely operate a giant coal mine?” asks ACF’s Christian Slattery.
The Stop Adani convoy which began in Hobart just before Easter, arrives in Canberra today and in a rally on Parliament House lawn, Bob Brown tells thousands that they can’t rely on divine intervention to prevent the Adani coal mine. He also explains that the journey has not always been cheered on by fellow Australians.
“We had rocks thrown at us, we had people spat on, some people were actually physically abused.”
Writer and Booker-prize winning novelist, Richard Flanagan makes an impassioned speech. MPs are patently insincere when they profess to care about workers, Richard Flanagan, who grew up in a coal town, says.
“If they cared wouldn’t they be advocating to end black lung disease, a 19th century industrial disease now returned, because of unsafe working conditions, to kill Australian coal miners in the 21st century?”
If they cared wouldn’t they be speaking out about the increasing casualisation and pay stripping of coal miners, supported by the Morrison government?
And if they cared wouldn’t they question whether Adani is an appropriate business to employ Australian miners? Adani, such a friend of the working man that, when building its giant Shantigram luxury estate in India, it housed workers in conditions so appalling that there were 15 recorded outbreaks of cholera.”
As the canary is a type of finch, the black-throated finch may be the canary in our national coalmine. Perhaps its fate will receive such publicity that it will serve to alert the nation and its leaders to the need to act on climate.
Adani may never act. Despite its epic “gunner” political theatre, Adani may do nothing but endlessly re-announce that work is beginning. A lot of care goes into the performance. “Gunner start” “before Christmas” the latest reveals planning. “Gunner start.” Presto! A yellow grader appears. Workers in Hi-Vis vests clear scrub. But that’s it. Adani, clearly, has no intention of beginning unless it can get funding or compo from our government.
It’s likely to be a long, slow, wait. Environmentally catastrophic, financially unviable yet outrageously oversold, Adani’s Carmichael Mine is surreal performance art with a hefty price tag. Last July it failed to pay $18.5 million for 12.5 billion litres of water, a fee to take water from the Sutton River. No matter. It gets another year to pay while world demand for coal continues its four-year fall. Public subsidies and freebies could sustain it forever.
Currently, thermal coal fetches up to US$90/tonne for top quality Newcastle coal but prices are declining. Carmichael, which has inferior coal, is a basket case unless it can earn over US$110/tonne.
Adani is hanging on, partly to disguise booking a loss of $3bn on its accounts, spent acquiring the mine and partly in hope its lawyers can persuade an Australia government to compensate it for breach of contract.
University of Queensland economist John Quiggan reminds Guardian Australia readers that the current price of coal is enough to prevent Adani’s Carmichael Mine or Clive Palmer’s or Gina Rinehart’s or any of the other mines from ever opening. Adani has no intention of investing its own money. It would take a massive ongoing government subsidy. For every new Adani worker employed, another job would be lost by a competitor.
But it’s art with a hefty price tag. Adani will string things out until it’s told to go away or long enough to demand compensation from the federal government. John Quiggan suggests that a claim is possible under the investor state dispute settlement system (ISDS) which applies despite the lapse of our free trade agreement with India.
An emblem for every living, sentient being on our planet ark, the tiny finch is, at best, granted a stay of execution.
“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” David Attenborough warns the UN. Action, of sorts occurs late in the week on Adani’s plans.
Despite invisible Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, ticking the box, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science, (DES) spurns Adani’s offer of a cow paddock as an adequate bird management plan. With seventeen coal mines proposed for the Galilee Basin, Adani may be banking on the finch’s inevitable demise. On the other hand, with coal-mining increasingly uneconomic, the government may be banking on Adani stalling.
Yet we live in a land where coal barons own politicians. Not to mention a media cheer squad. Even ABC 24 anchor Ros Childs asks an expert guest if the creature’s plight is not just “an Adani stalling tactic”. Our national broadcaster plays into mainstream media fictions; false narratives about how noble coal-barons create jobs and prosperity but their mission to boost our prosperity is thwarted by the pettifogging impediments of Green lawfare.
In fact, miners’ bulldozers and land clearing for sugar-cane farms and apartment buildings have razed vast tracts of the black-throated finch’s North Queensland home, its last refuge after pastoralists’ land-clearing and overgrazing led to the species’ extinction in NSW in the 1990s. Solar farms are proposed. Adani and Palmer’s and Rinehart’s proposed giant open cut and underground coalmines, should they proceed, will inevitably spell the end.
A sleek but thickset bird that seeks only to forage for fallen seeds in an undisturbed natural habitat is locked in an heroic battle for survival in a week of dirty electioneering, in which neither science nor nature, nor environmental law has its champion – the southern black-throated finch assumes iconic status; a type of national emblem.