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Issue #1699      August 26, 2015

Editorial

Corporate vigilantes

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has threatened to change the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) to prevent what is described as “ideologically-motivated”, “third party”, “vigilante litigation” or “lawfare” against mining projects. The PM, Cabinet colleagues and the Murdoch press have chimed in to “save jobs”, help the struggling economy and “restore balance” in the process for approval for resource sector ventures – or so they say.

The reason for the burst of strongly-worded statements from these Coalition heavyweights was the decision of the federal court to set aside approval for the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland backed by Indian billionaire Gautam Adani. The Mackay Conservation Group pointed out that the documentation about the proposed mine’s impact of the endangered yakka skink and ornamental snake was not provided. The federal government has six to eight weeks to provide the conservation advice. That is the action currently being branded “lawfare” by the pro-corporate vigilantes currently occupying the front benches on the government side of parliament.

“There has been a litany of challenges against a mine that in fact is going to power the lives of 100 million impoverished people in India,” Treasurer Joe Hockey said in question time recently. In fact India is aiming to halt the importation of thermal coal within three years. There are currently two challenges to the coal mine – the successfully settled one by the Mackay Conservation Group and a Queensland land court case involving the Coast and Country environment group. There were three challenges to now-abandoned plans to dump dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef and the Caley Valley Wetlands.

In all, there have been 27 challenges to the 5,500 projects referred to the federal Environment Minister in the 15 years since the EPBC Act was introduced by the Howard government. That’s fewer than two a year. The Abbott government has failed to point out how any of these challenges have been “ideologically-motivated”, part of a “deliberate campaign of economic sabotage” or contrary to the public interest, especially with regard to the environment.

The Adani mine typifies the cargo cult mentality of the federal government. It turns out the main obstacle to the mine is finance. Coal is on the way out as a fuel due to concerns surrounding galloping global climate change. The export price would need to double to make the project viable. Claims gobbled up by the Murdoch press that it would create 10,000 jobs are contradicted by Adani’s own experts who suggest (perhaps optimistically) 1,464 jobs would be created. There have been claims that the mine could be Queensland’s equivalent of South Australia’s Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine. The comparison is telling. The BHP Billiton mining centre is currently shedding jobs as the world makes its judgement on uranium as a fuel for generating electricity.

The federal government is a cheer squad and management team for capitalists seeking the biggest, quickest returns possible. Talk about wanting to restore “balance” between mining interests and the “environment” is so much deluded hot air. The “environment” is not a party who sits at a table and negotiates the extinction of species or the survivability of the planet. It is an externality that has to be respected by rational people possessed of as many facts as possible. We must face it that capitalism accepts no such rationality. Profits rule and workers and the environment that supports us all must bend to that rule.

The threat to gut the EPBC Act is not an isolated outburst. Hostility to environment and other groups resisting the corporate agenda is a theme running through the history of recent Australian governments and big business. There have been SLAPPS (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), the infiltration of environment groups and the disruption of their legitimate activities. There has been legislation to simply ban opposition to corporate vandalism. The Tasmanian government sought to enact mandatory minimum three-month jail terms for protesters who attempt to “prevent, hinder or obstruct the carrying out of a business activity”. Thankfully, popular resistance thwarted the move but Australians must step up their opposition to increasingly frequent manifestations of corporate dictatorship.

Next article – Solidarity with the CP of Ukraine!

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