Menu lock

Uncategorized

Apr 29, 2010

Pity the coal lobbyists are more powerful than the tobacco lobbyists

Prime Minister Rudd today took leadership. He grabbed an issue by the horns, took on powerful and hugely cashed-up lobby groups and a non-cooperative opposition, and announced a poli

Prime Minister Rudd today took leadership.

He grabbed an issue by the horns, took on powerful and hugely cashed-up lobby groups and a non-cooperative opposition, and announced a policy which, though popular with some, will seriously piss off a not insignificant number of Labor voters.

In announcing the plain packaging and price hike for cigarettes, Mr Rudd said:

“We the Government will not be intimidated by any big tobacco company trying to get in the road of doing the right thing for the health of working families and the right thing also for long-term funding of our health and hospital system.”

Oh how I wish we could hear those words ever so slightly tweaked:

“We the Government will not be intimidated by any big coal company trying to get in the road of doing the right thing for the climate, for the health of working families and the right thing also for long-term funding of our critical sustainable energy and transport systems.”

Mr Rudd also made the clear point that:

“The Government will not be paying any compensation to any tobacco company anywhere.”

Instead we have craven policy developed which bends over backwards for the polluters, putting in place incentives to continue with our current polluting economy for years to come and holding back the transformation away from coal. And then, when it becomes clear that a ‘my way or the highway’ approach won’t work, the attempt to get a carbon price in the market is dumped for three years.

What is going on here?

People have long drawn parallels – quite explicit links, in fact – between the PR campaigns by tobacco lobbyists and those by coal lobbyists. Check out George Monbiot’s work on this for eye-opening revelations, if you don’t already know them.

But what has clearly happened now is that the coal sector has eclipsed the tobacco companies in lobbying power.

There are a few reasons for this, as far as I see it.

Where tobacco and coal are both ingrained in the American psyche, in its mythology, if you will, only coal holds that place in Australia. Although you could argue that even for coal the mythology is far less powerful here in Australia, tobacco certainly has no hold here. Cigarettes are popular, but the industry is all overseas. Australians still see BHP as the big Australian, even though most of the miners are now wholly or largely overseas owned.

There is also the question of electoral mathematics, as the Labor party sees it. Sure, there are plenty more smokers in Australia than coal miners or aluminium smelters. At least an order of magnitude more, I would have thought. But I would hazard a guess that they are spread reasonably evenly across seats – perhaps with a slight slant towards outer metro suburbs, but perhaps not. I hope Possum looks at that soon! Coal miners are in very specific seats, most of them Labor held, and wide open to a closely targeted campaign which scares the pants off Labor.

But I suspect the largest issue is that the campaign against big tobacco has been going longer and, in a very real way, they companies have lost their social licence here in Australia. Who in the mainstream media is going to run their lines in the way that the media have happily run the scare-mongering and rent-seeking from the coal lobby and other polluters?

This is one of the key challenges of the environment movement, in my opinion. Alongside running a positive, inspiring campaign that makes people want to sign up for the zero emissions transition, we need to remove the social licence of polluters so they can never again get away with the campaign they have run so successfully in recent years.

We must aim for the second, imagined statement to become a reality in the next term of government.

Let’s go!

We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola

6 comments

Leave a comment

6 thoughts on “Pity the coal lobbyists are more powerful than the tobacco lobbyists

  1. Bellistner

    Unless you are rich you simply can’t choose to not use grid generated electricity.

    If you could get a 3kW PV system, and some SHW, you are effectively ‘banking’ an electricity price for the next 30 years at todays rates. We all know electricity rates are going up.

    Of course, the ‘non-rich’ could always just use less. Chest freezers and fridges, for example, is an order of magnitude cheaper to run than uprights, because all the cold air doesn’t spill out every time you open the door. We can use curtains, open windows, fans, insulation, jumpers and heavy blankets to cope with hotter or colder temperatures. We can turn devices off at the wall when they’re not being used.

    Unfortunately, energy conservation seems to have some sort of negative connotations associated with it. “Poor people have to do those sorts of things, not us.”

    I can’t even convince my parents, or my partners family to turn stuff off (let alone invest in PV or SHW, so I don’t hold out much hope for wider society. people would much rather bitch then act.

  2. EnergyPedant

    Two fold issue.

    As you point out Tobacco is all overseas companies. Whereas coal is all local jobs concentrated in a small but significant number of electorates.

    Second point you didn’t raise so much. Smoking is easy to portray as “a bad personal choice”, not dissimilar to binge drinking, gambling, drugs, etc.. all being individual choices which are known to be bad for you.

    Unless you are rich you simply can’t choose to not use grid generated electricity. If you live in certain parts of the country you either work for the coal industry or in an industry related to it or in a town that relies on coal $$.

  3. kuke

    Smoke all you want, but thermal coal is the number #1 danger to the future of civilisation. Few know this or care, or worse, know and don’t care.

    Time to start wearing a “Coal killed your grandchildren” t-shirt methinks. I’d be tempted to add “lobbyists” as the second word, but it loses its edge.

  4. The Real Ewbank

    You raise some good points here Tim. I think your analysis underscores the need to build business interests that benefit from climate mitigation and sustainable development. An Australian sustainable business lobby will reduce the relative power of the fossil fuel lobby. Our government will continue to give away billions to carbon intensive industries, as outlined in the recent analysis of the Grattan Institute’s assessment of the CPRS, unless the political landscape is changed.

    Climate policy should be investment centred in the short term. It should focus on building a national renewable energy system and complementary low-carbon infrastructure like the Greens’ recent proposal for high-speed rail between Melbourne and Sydney. Then next step will be figuring out how to pay for these investments. This sets up a situation when Australia can debate whether to pay for it with our common wealth or to charge the polluters Who do you think they will pick?

    Also, you might like to read my op ed published by the ABC yesterday where I explore some of these issues: http://therealewbank.com/2010/04/29/australia-needs-a-solar-snowy-mountains-scheme/

    Cheers, Leigh

  5. Tim Hollo

    Which is why we have to make it happen in two or three years instead of twenty or thirty…

  6. kdkd

    Well, it you take the long view – a decade or two, or three – then the coal lobby and its hangers on will go into decline, and then we’ll be able to get off the teat, and onto some serious policy making. However, this will be long past peak oil, well into some pretty nasty consequences from global warming and might be only just in time to save civilization, given the contingency that the negative feedback effects in the climate system , that there is very little evidence for to date kick in and buy us 25 years time or so.