WITH the federal election now set for September 14, the date is set for all Australians, including residents of the Hunter, to have their say on how the nation is run and who will run it.
While the two major parties will again dominate proceedings, the influence of the Greens in Australian politics has been very evident in the decisions of the current minority government. Remember the carbon tax we would never have under a Gillard government.
A number of the Greens’ policies threaten to undermine the strength of the Australian economy, with the potential for the flow-on effects to be felt across the nation.
This is particularly relevant for regions such as the Hunter, as the coal industry is firmly in the Greens’ crosshairs.
The most questionable of the Greens’ policies surround the mining industry.
Their mining policy is veiled within other policy areas such as natural resources, economics, climate change and energy.
But I believe the underpinning objective is to destroy the mining industry.
The economic and social consequences of such an absurdly simple view is breathtakingly naive.
Destroying any further development of the mining industry would also destroy our standard of living at every level.
Combine this with the Greens’ growing interest in a broader range of policy areas well beyond the environment and the outcome is a mish mash of conflicting and contradictory outcomes.
Because environmental policy areas have historically been the focus of the party, it has not developed the breadth of understanding of the major parties with regard to the potential ‘knock-on’ effects of changes in one policy area for other policy fields.
An example of such a contradiction and its associated undesirable consequences is what may occur in the Hunter region as a result of Greens’ policies.
The Greens believe that ‘strong support for local and regional economies is important as they contribute to a sustainable national economy by providing diversity and resilience’.
Yet they also want ‘to oppose the establishment of new coalmines and the expansion of existing mines’.
A 2011 report commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia estimated that this policy would reduce Australia’s GDP by $29billion to $36billion per year, and directly cause around 200,000 jobs to be lost nationwide, including more than 17 000 in the Hunter. It would also place hundreds of thousands more jobs in support industries in jeopardy.
The report also estimates a negative $6 billion impact on the federal budget through the loss of corporate tax revenues and increased welfare payment costs.
Overall the policy risks decimating the mining industry’s $120 billion annual contribution to the Australian economy, which includes $18 billion in salaries and wages and $21 billion in company tax and royalty payments.
That the Greens can claim to support a sustainable national economy while backing such a policy is, pardon the pun, unsustainable.
Hand in hand with their disregard of the consequences of the Greens’ mining policy is their climate change and renewable energy targets (RET). This policy calls for an increase in the RET, which is already predicted to be five or six per cent higher in 2020 than the intended 20 per cent, due to decreasing energy demand. By further increasing the target, the problems already associated with the RET such as increasing power costs, could be amplified further and may actually serve to impede the development of viable renewable energy resources and technologies.
In reality, changes to how we satisfy our energy requirements cannot happen overnight.
We will be reliant on coal-fired power for decades yet, even as we move toward a broader use of renewables.
In the meantime, it seems we are destined to witness the Greens railing against coal-fired power, using the electronic media that is, yes, powered by coal-fired power.
The irony of it is striking.
Think about the Maules Creek mine protesters occupying a small parcel of bushland sending emails and even hoax media releases from their laptops made in China with guess what? Coal-based energy.
If they were truly serious they would abandon all such technologies and for that matter anything else manufactured with coal-fired base load energy.
Many in the Hunter community accept to some extent the principles on which the Greens’ policies stand. Many are also realistic enough to recognise that the pathway to the future that the Greens, among others, aspire to is neither short term nor simple. Until a reasoned policy approach is a key platform of the Greens, they should not be given the keys to the Senate.
Professor Scott Holmes is pro vice-chancellor, research, and dean of graduate studies at the University of Newcastle. In lieu of payment for this fortnightly column, the Herald will make a donation to the Heal For Life Foundation. Sam Bright is a research officer at the University of Newcastle. ‘