You are here

Brave new Australian coal mines

Queensland, beautiful one day, black and ruined the next

Queensland Treasurer, Andrew Fraser, has been talking about what a great investment Queensland coal is. On the 19th of September 2010, for instance, on Channel 2's, The Investigators, he said how it was guaranteed to grow, and boasted about Queensland's huge coal haulage capacity - the biggest in the world.

Because of the need that China and India will have for coal, for the business community and a government keen to dig itself out of its debt, coal mining expansion can be marketed to a furious public as a 'wonderful financial investment opportunity'! For Fraser and the narrow thinking team he advises, it seems that the only important thing is digging the stuff up as fast as possible in order to promote financial investment in Queensland. This is the state with a huge debt because of its 'investment' in chaotic and resented population growth, the infrastructure for which it is now unable to attract finance.

What a lemming philosophy!

lemming cartoon author unknown

It strikes one, listening to this celebration of massive expansion of exploitation of a finite commodity, that it can only come from the blinkered idiocy of economic railroad-thinking. Railroad thinking is a term for a rigid way of thinking that can only go along a line, oblivious to wider implications. Apparently it has not occurred to Fraser that, along with rapid economic growth - for a while - he is hastening Australia and the rest of the world towards coal depletion simultaneously as we face declining oil. When we have significantly run down these conventional fuels, there will almost certainly be widespread famine and suffering in Australia and throughout the world. This may happen within the next thirty years, to read Seppo Korpela's timelines for coal depletion in The Final Energy Crisis.

When people are cold and hungry and the roads are deserted and the factories still, no-one then will look back and say, "Wasn't it great that people invested in digging up all the coal and Queensland managed to slightly reduce its insane debt?"

Survivors then will seem little different to those remaining on the destitute nation of Nauru. Once one of the richest, most beautiful and fertile islands in the world, Nauru is now completely devastated due to having excavated and exported its entire bounty of phosphates in a very short space of time. Of course, the Nauruans were conned and coerced by big business and so are Queenslanders.

Queensland, beautiful one day, black and ruined the next. Queenslanders hate the expansion of coal mining in their once-beautiful state, particularly those who have to live with the despair of watching helplessly as their immediate landscapes are defaced. The more widely educated world fears the pollution.

Newspeak from the BCA on population numbers

Relatedly there is the question of bringing in skilled immigrants to make over-exploitation of our coal resources possible. This has required ongoing propaganda from the growth lobby via its chief mouthpieces in the mainstream press. On September 18, 2010, in
The Australian, Michael Stutchbury quoted some sublime newspeak from the Business Council of Australia's president, Graham Bradley.

Bradley complains that the big pressing structural issues - energy, tax, population and infrastructure - were not given "mature" attention during the election campaign. The population debate, including Gillard's rejection of a "big Australia", did not recognise Australia received only 140,000 permanent immigrants on the latest annual figures. And the large numbers of temporary migrants are mostly foreign students who form Australia's fourth largest export market worth $18bn a year. [and therefore presumably should not count?]

"Mature" attention is code word for the inaudible level of debate that occurred before population growth finally hit the mainstream as a serious issue in the last 18 months," writes Ilan Goldman, energy and population critic. "The BCA just wants us to shut up (i.e. be "mature"). Pointing out that we only had 140,000 "permanent immigrants" is one of a few recent ploys contrived to minimize the obvious ballooning of our population. Bradley acknowledges foreign students as another component of population growth, not just formally defined "immigrants". All the other various visa categories that make a difference to overall population growth are pretty much ignored in this editorial piece in its pretense of some kind of sophisticated quantification."

BCA's Bradley, along with so many others, is fighting a carbon tax because it will increase the price of coal and might decrease the rate of sales overseas:

"The BCA's Bradley similarly warns that Australia faces losing its competitive benefit of cheap coal and gas energy."

Stutchbury also writes that BHP Billiton's Kloppers maintains that exploiting the China boom requires "extra sources of skilled labour." But relatively few people are employed in resource extraction industries, and the mining boom will dry up along with the minerals. Then what will we do with all those unemployed and their children, not to mention, without any income or coal for fuel? The resource extraction industries should not be cited as a reason for high immigration. And we should not be using up all our coal just in order to benefit a few financial investors. We need to conserve it.

Australia's population would still grow for a few more decades even if immigration rates broke even. Our current super-charged 2% growth rate means population doubling within 35 years. As Henry notes, Australia will still experience a "sizeable" population increase even if migration falls to "historically very low levels". He calls for "informed" population debate, according to Stuchbury.

"Informed" debate is, of course, another code-word for debate narrowly based on the growth lobby's limited world view that is focused on the profitability of its members.

"Population concerns have been inflamed by a generation of poor planning and infrastructure under-investment," BCA Bradley says, in a breathtaking confusion of cause with effect.

A child would surely recognize that population growth concerns relate to the current high levels of increase in numbers and the resultant impacts. Calling it "Underinvestment in infrastructure" is just a perversion of the symptom of overstretched infrastructure. But, hey, emperors don't really have to wear clothes. The mainstream press isn't going to call the growth lobby masters to order. It suffices that the populace just keep their eyes closed and that children keep quiet if they cannot help looking.


We will never have a "mature" debate on population because our government uses GDP - and tangible indicators of growth - to measure their success. Government terms of office are generally for 3 years, and politicians' political careers are too short to consider any long-term implications of their policies. They are addicted to short-term-ism, so any "mature" debates are prohibitive and inconvenient.

Economists will tell you GDP is an accurate measure of what it's intended to measure - "market production and national income". There are many more dimensions to human life and communities than production and national income! The economy is a tool, the oil, to keep our system of supply and demand operating to support our way of lives. However, it has become an end in itself, to our detriment, and has lead to the destruction of habitats, wildlife extinctions, loss of native forests, pollution, over-consumption and anthropogenic climate change.

Our political leaders make policies for the term they are in government, or in opposition. However, survival on our planet, and protecting our way of lives, and protecting the ecosystems that support us, have intrinsic elements and are long term considerations, too abstract, and outside their terms of reference.

Escalating crime is a indication of social dis-ease!

We need national tragedies and/or crisis to keep a balance in our thinking, and to appreciate that our life on this planet is fragile. Unfortunately, the abstract and intrinsic worth of human lives, our environment and native species, is usually ignored by economists, corporations, and only given lip-service by our government.

Our democracy is a myth, a thin veneer, and once in office, governments allow little transparency or public debate. At election time we are basically given vague promises, ambiguous slogans and personalities to vote for. The big issues are decided for us, whether we agree or not!

I fear Vivienne (on September 21st, 2010) the veneer has worn completely through already.

The outrage that almost all our news media, including "our" ABC has ignored is that Andrew Fraser has never been given a mandate by the rightful owners of Queensland's coal freight railway lines, that is the Queensland public, to sell them. Opinion polls have shown that 70% of the Queensland public, at the very least, have consistently opposed this sale, yet Fraser and the Queensland Government are determined to proceed with the sale.

How can it considered other than theft to sell an asset against the clear wishes of its rightful owners? If the newsmedia, including "our" ABC and most of its journalists, refuse to remind the public or the politicians and business leaders they interview of this indisputable fact, then how can they be considered other than willing accomplices to this crime?