Jul 13, 2015

Following the fossil fuel money trail: from Gunnedah to Canberra

In 2012, the Namoi Valley In

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

In 2012, the Namoi Valley Independent newspaper, serving Gunnedah and district in north-western NSW, ran a front-page splash under the headline: “A true community asset: Gunnedah Rural Health Centre finally a reality”.

The story says the Centre received “a huge financial boost” thanks to a $1 million donation from Shenhua Watermark Coal. The donation is also acknowledged on the Centre’s website, together with other donors including BHP Billiton, the Australian Government, Santos and The Manildra Group.

While not wishing to undermine the community spirit and hard-work of local fund raisers in securing the clinic, it’s timely to reflect upon the ethical questions raised by health services and organisations accepting funds from companies like Shenhua. (It’s telling that the link to the story is on the Shenhua website in its ‘media coverage’ section).

It’s particularly timely given widespread concern about the Federal Government’s go-ahead for the Shenhua Watermark mine in the Gunnedah district, at the same time as it escalates its “war on wind power”.

If you’re up for a debate on these ethical questions or want to know more about the potential health impacts of the Shenhua mine, head over to @WePublicHealth this week, where the guest tweeter is Dr George Crisp, a Perth GP, WA chair and a National Committee member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

There are of course many ways that money buys influence, and Bernard Keane reports on some of these in a Crikey article today, “The Coalition’s war on renewables: follow the money” (paywall):

 “According to Australian Electoral Commission’s donation disclosure data, the energy sector donates about $2 to the Coalition for every $1 it gives to Labor. Power companies like Energy Australia, resources companies like Woodside and Santos and fuel companies like Caltex together donated just short of a million dollars to the Coalition’s state and federal divisions in 2013-14, while donating just under $385,000 to Labor. In 2012-13, they gave $538,000 to the Coalition and $384,000 to Labor; in 2011-12 it was $658,000 to the Coalition and $332,000 to Labor.

That’s not as extreme a disparity as the mining industry — in the same three-year period, the mining industry gave the Coalition almost exactly $1.5 million in donations, and $149,500 to Labor, but it illustrates why the fossil fuel sector gets such strong and reflexive support from the Coalition.”

But while the Abbott Government’s approach to energy policy remains so fossilised, the rest of the world moves ahead.

The OECD is  joining the conga line that is “calling it quits” with the coal era, with an official recently writing:

“If there’s one thing that the biggest oil companies in the world and the smallest startup NGOs seem to agree on, it’s that coal is out. Although it’s not the only fossil fuel that we need to become independent from for a sustainable future, it’s finally looking like humanity is serious about cutting ties with that inconspicuous little black rock that’s causing immense damage to our planet.”

Meanwhile, on a similar theme, some analysts doubt the Shenhua mine will ever get underway (see comments towards the end of this article).







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One thought on “Following the fossil fuel money trail: from Gunnedah to Canberra

  1. Norman Hanscombe

    Melissa, it’s all very well to assert as you did that meanwhile, “the rest of the world moves ahead”, but there hasn’t been any worthwhile achievements which bring about the sorts of enforceable International Agreements that will make a difference, so why should Australian Citizens support a Government which disadvantages Australia without any tangible benefits to the Planet?
    I’ve raised this question on numerous occasions in the past without ever receiving more than superficial, irrelevant responses.

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