When we got back from Indonesia in the ‘80s, my parents moved us into a tiny 100 year old weatherboard cottage on 5 acres of land. We got a little dog called Snitch (she turned out to be half corgie which is not what we were told). Later, Snitch got a playmate – a black labrador /kelpie cross called Meeka. Soon Meeka was bigger than Snitch and, when they played, Snitch felt her disadvantage. Her strategy was to reverse into the game, avoiding Meeka’s sharp puppy teeth on her ears and nose, exposing only her tough little corgie rump.
It’s a common method, right? Australian governments seem to tend in that direction. Afraid of the teeth of big business on their campaign donations, they tiptoe backwards into issues. My husband learned recently that Australia’s power grid was not a project lead strongly by government. It began in a few small country towns who, for whatever reason, didn’t like the gas lighting which was popular in the bigger cities. These few towns decided they wanted electricity and they set up their own small grids, presumably powered by generators nearby. This was the beginning of Australia’s (now massively complicated) power grid. These days, instead of gas, it’s the same story with the transition away from coal. The government hides its face and, meanwhile, private enterprise recognizes the economic advantages of the new technologies and moves on. We are a market-lead country with a government that backs in later, trying to attach policies retrospectively. It’s messy but we’ve got away with it so far.
This morning I read a very depressing article in the Syndey Morning Herald comparing Australia to Germany. Germany closed down it’s last thermal coal mine last year after a 10 year transition plan in which no miner was left without a job or without training for alternative work. Admittedly, there was no mention of Climate Change as reasoning for this effort. Germany’s coal was getting harder and harder to access and, because of that, countries like Australia could sell coal much more cheaply. When asked if Australia could work to a similar program, Director of Global Affairs with the German mining union IG BCE, Michael Mersmann, said bluntly “No. One of the biggest problems Australia has is there is no existing relationship between employers, trade unions and states,” he said. “In your country you are rather heading towards a conflict, not a consensus. What we are trying to do here is have softer negotiations and find a solution at an earlier point.”
I suspect that’s accurate. But what’s more depressing is that the mining boss of Australia’s CFFMEU – Tony Maher – thinks it’s not even time to begin such negotiations. He admires Germany’s process but thinks we have another 20-30 years of “clean” coal to sell to Asia before the industry needs to consider winding down.
The other night P and I were discussing P’s workplace and we concluded that convenience and money are the main drivers of modern capitalist societies, even when a little planning ahead would demonstrate that a different path would save significant money in the long term.
Electric cars are a good demonstration of this. Five years ago when we bought our Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric, it was $10,000 more than the petrol option. A lot of people were put off by that extra initial outlay. But when you factor in that we haven’t paid for any fuel for daily use, that’s about $2000 a year we have saved. Even if you don’t have lots of solar panels and you’re paying for electricity, at current prices electricity is about quarter of the price per 100 kilometres. And the Hybrid is more efficient on the highway too by a good margin. When we bought the second hand Nissan Leaf, P did the maths including depreciation and the outright purchase of the car and it was still cheaper to buy the Leaf than to keep using my father-in-law’s old Verada.
Recently I listened to a podcast about a seaweed scientist. She was living in Ulla Dulla and she talked about how, when the government suddenly decided to make the waters around Jervis Bay a Marine Park, the local fishing industry suffered terribly and was very bitter. Their livelihood was taken away and they were given no alternative and no warning.
P looks forward. He thinks about the big picture beyond this year’s bottom line. The CFFMEU is not doing that. The Government is not doing that. And it won’t be the CFFMEU who suffers for it. And it won’t be the government. It will be the miners.
On Television, there are ads telling us to have a bushfire plan. Telling us that having no plan is dangerous. But where is the example? Our government is backing in, as always.
They will struggle in the bush-fire season.