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Federal Politics

Dec 12, 2009

'Carbongate' The Great Carbon Heist

Exclusive to Crikey - Possibly the greatest  Scandal of this decade "Carbongate" - the theft of billions of dollars in Carbon Credits.

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Exclusive to Crikey – Possibly the greatest  Scandal of this decade “Carbongate” – the theft of billions of dollars in Carbon Credits.

Over the coming week Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will attend the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and be hailed as one of the world leaders on climate change action. The PM attends the meeting with Australia being one of a handful of developed countries to have met their Kyoto Treaty obligations. Australia’s Kyoto commitment was to limit the Nations Carbon Dioxide emissions to 108% of 1990 levels.

The Carbongate “Trick”

The “trick” is how Australia, with a rapidly growing economy over the last two decades, has been able to achieve this. Emissions from energy and transport have increased by 23% over 1990 levels. Australians might wonder how with our rapidly growing population and economy over the last two decades, as a nation we seemed to  be in a position to claim that we only increased our total emissions by 9%. Well, we haven’t. Our emissions have increased by 30% but thanks to the “carbongate” swindle we can claim it’s only 9%.

Here is the “trick” and it is not PM Kevin Rudd’s “trick”, it was actually the Liberal / National Coalition Howard Government’s master stoke. At the Kyoto negotiations in November 1997 Senator Robert Hill was able to negotiate into the agreement what controversially became known at the “Australian clause” .  Clive Hamilton documents the trickery of the Coalition’s bargaining that brought about the inclusion of the Australia clause in his book “Scorcher”. Indeed he devotes a whole chapter to it – Chapter 6 Drama at Kyoto. From page 72:

“As emissions from land-clearing had decline sharply since 1990, their inclusion in the base year would give us a cushion of ‘free’ emissions reductions. our fossil-fuel emissions would be able to increase to at least 120 percent of 1990 levels by 2010 while still coming in under overall target of 105 to 110% . The Australia clause represented a loophole in the Kyoto Protocol that a couple of Bulldozers with a chain between them could drive through.”

The brilliant “win” for the Federal Government at Kyoto was  only the first part of the “trick”. To make it work the Howard Government then had to stop private property owners land-clearing. Not only did they have to stop them but  as private property it had to be done at no cost to the Commonwealth. This in the face of the Constitution which states that if the Commonwealth takes a private citizen’s property for its’ benefit it must compensate the citizen on “just terms”.

The Howard Government then set about having the Carr and Beattie State Labor Governments introduce  Vegetation Management laws that effectively locked up 109 million hectares of privately owned land into the world’s largest privately owned carbon sink. The “trick’ is with the Native Vegetation laws being passed by State Governments Under the Constitution the State Governments have no obligation to pay private landholders compensation. Brilliant, they’d created the world’s largest carbon sink – at no cost to the Commonwealth.

With the “trick”  now in place Australia’s Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 22% when you add back in the 83.7 millions tonnes of CO2 that was not emitted from land that may have been cleared at no cost to the Commonwealth. This and this alone has allowed Australia to meet its Kyoto Protocol Treaty Obligations and in doing so has saved the Commonwealth tens of billions of dollars in compliance penalties by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Australian family farmers have never been compensated  for this Kyoto “free kick” that the nation and in particular the energy and transport industries have received.

That is how the Liberal National Coalition government effectively  “stole’ what has amounted to 83.7 million tonnes of Carbon Credits from private individual landholders and is the sole reason that todays Labor Prime Minister can be heralded as a true warrior of climate change with Australia having met its Kyoto obligation – cost free.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong being interviewed in Copenhagen on the ABC 7.30 report admitted that the only reason Australia was able to claim it had met its’ Kyoto commitments was thanks to the blanket ban on broad scale land clearing.

“I think what you’re referring to is the way we account for emissions from land clearing, which was agreed at the Kyoto Protocol. And Australia did respond to that. We did reduce our land clearing. We took active steps, particularly in Queensland, and Queensland is to be congratulated for fact that the reduction in land clearing in that state and also NSW has reduced Australia’s national emissions.”

The effected Australian family farmers are not celebrating their contribution.  The impact on the relatively few citizens who have been asked to bear this enormous burden should outrage each and every fair minded citizen of this country.

The lock-up of their land has caused great hardship and driven many devastated landholders to desperate measures including suicides. A symbol of the despair and desperation felt by those carrying the Nation’s entire Kyoto burden is New South Wales farmer Peter Spencer who is in the 20th day of a hunger strike on a two metre platform high up a 300 foot tower on his property just outside of  Canberra. See Video ACA interview with Peter Wednesday 9th – Dec – day 18 of Peters  Hunger Strike.

Peter says that Federal Government has declared his 5,385 hectare property a carbon Sink without compensating him. Peter had never wanted to clear his land, but under the vegetation management act the entire property is rendered off limits to any form of development.

These effected Australian farmers have been responsible for virtually the entire burden of the Nation’s greenhouse gas emission reductions but their efforts worth billions of dollars have not been recognized or financially rewarded.

These farming families have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 70 million tonnes since 1990 and by 2010 the saving will be about 83.7million tonnes. To put that into context that is equivalent to eliminating the entire annual emissions of New Zealand or Ireland. Over that same period of time emissions from energy and transport have continued to skyrocket.

Hide the takings

Peter’s hunger strike has gathered support from grassroots people from Australia, the US, UK, Pakistan and Malaysia. On the Peter Spencer Hunger Strike causes site over 150 people have been lobbying frantically to  get the mainstream media to cover the story and for politicians to intervene on Peter’s behalf.

Peter’s supporters have been bombarding State and Federal Labor, Liberal and National Party Politicians and the mainstream media to bring attention to his cause.

But Peter’s story is being stonewalled by the mainstream media and Politicians of all colours and creeds. So far they have managed to have Peter’s story covered by 2GB’s Alan Jones with a live interview with Peter Spencer and his barrister Peter King by mobile phone on Tuesday morning and one with Alastair McRobert who is at the property with Peter on Thursday morning and a 5 minute spot on Channel 9’s A Current affair on Thursday night (the video above).

Fairfax Media, News Corporation and the ABC have steadfastly refused to run the story except for The Telegraph which ran a small piece last Sunday on page 42 titled He’s the Darryl Kerrigan of Climate Change. There has been a small amount of coverage in regional media –  see a full list here. The group knows that the mainstream media is stonewalling the story because a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald was due at the property Tuesday   – but the story was pulled without any reason offered by the papers editor.

Peter’s supporters have contacted by phone or email or in many cases both, Andrew Bolt, Laurie Oaks, Miranda Devine, Paul Kelly, Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones and every major metropolitan TV, Radio and Newspaper with no result. You can read all of there efforts on the Peter Spencer Hunger Strike group wall.

The response from politicians is equally frustrating. Liberal and National politicians for obvious reasons are ducking for cover, not wanting to get involved and saying it is a matter for the Rudd Government to sort out. The Prime Minister has referred Peter’s letter to him to the Federal Police. That is the extent of his response and Labor politicians State and Federal everywhere want nothing to do with the issue.

To his great credit one Federal Liberal Politician Alex Hawke the member for Mitchell was one of the earliest people to join and show his support.

Peter Spencer’s peaceful protest has the potential to embarrass a great number of politicians from all sides of politics , State and Federal, who have been  complicit in the “Carbongate” great Carbon Credit theft. They are all keen to “hide the takings”.

How is it that they can all condone the taking of billions of dollars of benefit for the nation from private citizens, yet look at paying the huge polluters billions of dollars of compensation to cut carbon emissions through the Rudd Government’s proposed CPRS? “Carbongate” – is truly an incredible blight on our democracy  and an embarrassment to our nation.

Peters supporter’s, the majority of whom are from urban areas and from all walks of life, are desperate as time runs out for Peter. This comment shows the diversity and the depth of feeling from one of Peters supporter’s:

Comment by Leith Carnie on December 10, 2009 at 1:11pm

“I would just like to say I am a Tree-Hugger. I am a part of an environmental activist group, I have close friends who sit in trees to stop them being logged and end up arrested etc (I’m even Vegetarian).

I’m not here to debate whether Peter should or shouldn’t have the right to clear his land (from what I’ve read he doesn’t!) I’m here because of the violation of Australia’s Constitutional Rights. I will back Peter’s Right to compensation via that constitution.

This is not about Tree-Huggers V’s Loggers for me. I will stand beside Peter all the way.
After this is over, and WE have won, if Peter decides to clear his entire property I may very well be lying in front of his bull dozer! 😉 But that is an entirely different kettle. The people of Australia should be together to defend our rights.”

There are hundreds of other such comments on Peter’s site, including heart felt messages of thanks and support from Peter.s family.’

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