Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Clash of Two Ministers

The Federal Government’s green paper on emission trading highlights the dichotomies that plague many of our public policy decisions. It’s the differences between facts and beliefs, between those who promise and those who have to deliver, perceptions and reality, leadership and politics, what we would like to achieve and what we can achieve.
Australia faces two major challenges that are certainly not complementary. One is how are we going to attract the massive long-term investments we will need, particularly in the energy industry, to maintain our economy in face of rapidly growing international competition? The other is how are we going to reduce our carbon footprint?
The green paper shows that, for the time being at least, the Rudd Government wants to remain in “Opposition” mode and keep these issues away from each other.
While Energy Minister Martin Ferguson's report, Energy in Australia 2008, outlines the energy challenge and pays little attention to the emissions challenge, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong’s paper deals with the emissions by dancing around the energy challenge.
The language of the green paper reeks of the tired old assumptions that we will have to jettison if we are going to make any attempt to seriously tackle global climate change.
Number one is this concept that society is divided between big (bad) corporations on the one hand and the community, the battlers, working families on the other.
The green paper encourages the deluded view that significant emissions cuts can be achieved without major costs to the community. It’s a dream where our way of life will be saved by propellers and mirrors and petrol we can practically grow in our gardens. Emissions trading will force the “big polluters” – the carbon mafia, the bastards in the boardrooms – to switch over to the alternative, clean energy sources that up until now they have been conspiring to suppress.
In reality is there is no conspiracy. As Fergusons’s report makes clear, there are no quick-fix clean energy alternatives to switch to.
Furthermore we do not live in a divided society. We are all in this together.
You see, maintaining our standard of living requires major long-term investments. Business leaders make their investment decisions in the interests of their shareholders. To a rapidly increasing extent, those shareholders are "working families". Workers' super funds account for almost a quarter of the wealth on the Australian stock market. But these funds are not restricted to Australia. We have about $450 billion in funds under management invested here and around the world.
When business leaders make their investment decisions, it is helpful to remember they are investing to maximise our retirement income. Major corporations invest for long-term sustainable returns, rather than trying to make a quick buck.
This green paper seems to miss this point entirely. It is a document built around election-cycle timelines rather than investment outlooks. It has short-term provisions to assist some companies that have already made investments in energy and manufacturing, but it has very little to encourage the new, long-term capital investments we are going to rely on for our future economic growth.
The energy we are using today is provided as a result of major capital investments five, 10, even 20 years ago.
According to Ferguson's report we are going to need almost 40 per cent more energy than we currently use by 2030, despite dramatic improvements in efficiency, and fossil fuels are projected to account “for around 94 per cent of primary energy consumption in 2029-30".
Meeting this demand is going to require billions of dollars in investments in fossil fuels starting from now. There is no recognition of this in the green paper.
The green paper makes several references to the need for investments in "clean energy". But it does not say what this clean energy is. It comes close on page 72 where it says: "Carbon capture and storage, solar and geothermal technologies have been identified as strategic priorities for Australia." But none of these even rate a mention in Ferguson’s forecast to 2030.
The fact is that right now "alternative" energies are about as prepared to take over the role of fossil fuels as alternative medicines are to take over the emergency rooms in our major hospitals.
You see, when it comes to understanding the energy industry you really only need to know two things – how much, and how much? How much can you reliably provide, and how much will it cost?
With so-called clean energy alternatives the answer to the former is inevitably "very little" and the answer to the latter is "heaps".
For example, the fastest growing alternative source of power generation is wind. Yet, providing the energy needs of our aluminum industry alone would require a one kilometer-wide windfarm stretching from Melbourne to Brisbane.
It’s all about scale and cost. Minister Ferguson's report says our electricity demand will increase by more than 60 percent by 2030. Wind, it says, will be providing just 1.3 per cent of electricity 20 years from now. Coal, on the other hand will have to provide 70 per cent. In the absence of carbon capture and storage in that timeframe this is going to dramatically increase our carbon dioxide emissions from energy.
It will be interesting to see Ferguson and Wong united when the Government finally releases its projections for emissions. Projections have to be based on facts, whereas targets can be whatever you want them to be. That fact is the politicians setting the targets won’t be around to answer for the fact they will not be achieved.
So the question for us is, should business leaders be investing our super funds to get the best return, or should they forgo our profits and invest in Australia for the good of the nation? Those in favor of investing for the best returns say aye, those against nay – I think the ayes have it.

Leonard McDonnell is a freelance journalist and speech writer. His clients include major oil companies.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Throughout National Reconciliation Week a great deal has been said about how we can help turn around the disadvantage experienced by many Aboriginal people.
But we never seem to talk about what Aboriginals can do to heal the malaise permeating our western way of life.
In the interests of this year’s theme: “Reconciliation: it’s all our story”, this is a good time to reflect on what is wrong with our community and how, perhaps, the essence of traditional Aboriginal culture can help us.
The Aboriginals, like many of their native counterparts around the world, have something we seem to lack – a sense of belonging.
We have lots of belongings, but we don’t belong anywhere. In fact our whole world revolves around the insatiable accumulation of belongings – land, a bigger house, a newer car, larger TVs and the perpetual pursuit of fugacious fashions. If we all woke up and decided that “now I have enough, I have everything that I need”, it would be a disaster, our economy would collapse into recession.
And yet we don’t seem to belong here. As English philosopher Alan Watts said: “We have been brought up ... not to feel that we belong in the world. So our popular speech reflects it. You say 'I came into this world.' You didn't. You came out of it.” (
We talk about the environment as if we are aliens on this earth. The environment is something we need to appreciate, respect and protect. We don’t see the environment as something we belong to, as something we are a part of. We’re just passing through on our way to where we really belong – Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, amid a harem of celestial virgins, wherever.
But the Aboriginals belong right here – along with their ancestors.
They never owned land, they belong to the land. They listen to its language, the poetry of place, the songlines of the country – the changing seasons, the changing climate. They changed with it, because they are part of it. Over the past 40,000 years they’ve experienced climate swings from ice age to extreme warming. They have witnessed the oceans rising up over 100 metres and flooding the continental shelf.
They live in the land, not off the land. Terra nullius – the land belongs to no one.
We on the other hand, we claim the land in the name of the Crown, we buy and sell the land. We build borders, and fences, walls and boundaries.
However, treating the land as just another commodity has consequences.
As American columnist and anthropologist Joan King puts it: “Once land becomes ‘mine’ I no longer have much interest in protecting ‘yours’.” (
Borders, by their very nature, lead to conflicts, division and neglect across the globe. They are irritations on Mother Nature’s skin.
Now I know we are not going to pull down all our fences and start communes, or go back to being hunters and gatherers, but we need to change the way we perceive boundaries. They are just artificial lines necessary only for administrative purposes, like time zones or the lines on a writing pad.
They don’t define who we are and they certainly don’t warrant the level of emotional investment we have in them at the moment.
Let’s not forget that right now we have thousands and thousands of sophisticated nuclear weapons – enough to destroy life on earth many times over – with the sole purpose of protecting a few of our precious lines on a map.
Joan King again: “All other problems pale in comparison to a very real and growing danger of a nuclear exchange between nations or non-state entities, yet no one really talks about it.” (
This sense that we don’t really belong leads to all sorts of negative feelings, not least of which is fear and all its destructive associates. “I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.” – Alfred Housman
In the last 45 years worldwide suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent ( In his book Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman says that severe depression is 10 times more prevalent today than it was 50 years ago and, through suicide, claims as many lives as the AIDS epidemic.
On the plus side we have actually achieved a great deal that we can be proud of in our modern world, particularly in the arts and sciences, and we have enormous potential if only we could develop a sense of self awareness – if only we could stop being so afraid and find our way home to where we truly belong.
We said sorry to the Aboriginals and that was a giant leap in the right direction. Now, rather than bickering over whether or not they can be trusted to oversee their own communities, we should be pleading with them to intervene into our way of life.
We desperately need the Aboriginal elders to help us achieve reconciliation – with them, with ourselves and with our environment.

Leonard McDonnell is a freelance journalist and speech writer. His clients include major oil companies (