Abbottalypse Now

Tony Abbott intends to trash Australia on behalf of the super-rich.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th September 2013

His views have changed, but don’t expect Tony Abbott to acknowledge this, let alone apologise to Australians for misleading them. In 2009 he maintained that manmade climate change is “absolute crap”. Now he says “I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution.” But he has merely switched from denying global warming to denying the need to act on it.

Abbott is following a familiar script, the 4 Ds of climate change inaction, promoted by fossil fuel lovers the world over. Deny, then defer, then delay, then despair.

His Direct Action programme for reducing emissions is incapable of delivering the cuts it promises, absurdly underfunded and surrounded by a swarm of unanswered questions. Were it to become big enough to meet its promises, it would be far more expensive than a comparable carbon trading scheme, which Mr Abbott has falsely claimed would incur “almost unimaginable” costs. But it won’t be big enough, because he refuses to set aside the money it requires. Direct Action is a programme designed to create a semblance of policy, in the certain knowledge that it will fail to achieve its objectives.

Why? The answer’s in the name. Coalition policies begin with Coal: getting it out of the ground, moving it through the ports, stripping away the regulations that prevent mining companies from wrecking the natural beauty of Australia – and from trashing the benign climate on which we all depend. The mining boom in the world’s biggest coal exporter has funded a new, harsher politics.

Like the tar sands in Canada, coal has changed the character of the nation, brutalising and degrading public life. It has funded a vicious campaign of mud-slinging against those who argue for the careful use of resources, for peace and quiet and beauty and the health of the living planet. Australia, like Nigeria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, suffers from a resource curse.

To those four Ds you can add an R: retreat. Like Canada, Australia is slipping back down the development ladder, switching from secondary and tertiary industries towards primary resource extraction. Note Abbott’s disparagement of what he calls a “restaurant-led economy” in Tasmania, and his intention to replace it with the businesses that preceded it: logging and pulping, mining and unregulated fishing. A 21st-Century nation is returning to a 19th-Century economy. It makes no financial sense, but mining and logging corporations are more powerful lobbyists than restauranteurs and eco-tourism companies.

That R also makes the difference between coal and coral. If, as we can expect, Tony Abbott allows a massive expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point, which means the dredging and dumping of 3 million cubic metres of material inside the Great Barrier Reef marine park, it would threaten coral, dugongs, turtles, dolphins and much of the rest of the reef’s profusion of life. If it happens, it will be a simple declaration that nothing – not even the Great Barrier Reef, on which so much of Australia’s image and revenue depends – will be allowed to stand in the way of extraction and destruction.

Abbott will dump coal onto the bonfire of environmental protection lit by some of the state governments. He intends to cut what he calls “green tape” – the rules that protect humankind’s common heritage from greed and selfishness – and withdraw the federal powers that are often the last line of defence against state governments captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.

None of this is to suggest that Labor has distinguished itself on these issues. The announcements of the past few weeks look like a last minute scramble to help voters forget its record of vacillation and cowardice. Labor’s failure to protect the natural world ensures that Abbott’s philistinism is harder to contest. As usual, it’s only the Greens who have consistently been advocating responsibility and statesmanship.

It’s been bad enough under Gillard and Rudd. If Tony Abbott is elected, the natural wonders that distinguish this nation will gradually be rubbed away until it looks like anywhere else: a degraded landscape and seascape, supporting just a few generic exotic species.

The country will be run exclusively for the class to which Gina Reinhardt, Clive Palmer and Ivan Glasenberg belong: the one per cent of the One Per Cent. Forget the pious rhetoric and nationalistic bombast. Abbott’s policies are really about removing the social and environmental protections enjoyed by all Australians, to allow the filthy rich to become richer – and filthier.