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The Morrison Government’s coal addiction defies reason

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Our politics has been institutionally corrupted by the pushers from the vested interests of the coal-burning industry and their suppliers, writes David Ritter.

“And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?”
~ Mark "Rent-boy" Renton (Trainspotting, 1996)

LIKE IRVINE WELSH'S fictionalised Glaswegian anti-hero Mark Renton, Scott Morrison and other Australian politicians of his ilk see no need for reasons.

Who needs reasons when you are obsessed with coal — or, as it was once described by the pushers in the Minerals Council, the "amazing little black rock"

Relentlessly pushed on Australian politicians by the vested interests of the coal-burning power industry and its suppliers, the little black rock is taking a horrendous toll on people and the natural world.

In NSW alone 279 people die from coal pollution every year, while coal is the biggest driver of the climate crisis, generative of the catastrophic fire conditions that Australia experienced this summer.

The best available expert advice is clear. Unless Australian politicians rapidly give up their obsession with coal – and other fossil fuels – the collapse of global civilisation is likely.

As Professor Will Steffen said recently, in the midst of a global emergency, the first thing is to

put a ban on all new fossil fuel development of any kind. Just ban them. So that includes unconventional gas, coal, conventional gas. It doesn’t matter if it’s domestic or export, just ban every new fossil fuel development, that’s the only way we can possibly get the climate system back under control.

In the face of this clear advice, Scott Morrison’s love of coal is a matter of public infamy. And he’s not alone because, on the other side of the aisle, there’s Anthony Albanese dissembling, defending his own struggle with the little black rock. Labor is also very fond of the drug dealer’s defence, that ‘if Australia isn’t selling coal to export markets, someone else will”.

On the side of the Morrison Government, we’ve seen a whole range of destructive behaviour, including ignoring clear medical advice to stop, dishonesty, manipulation and blame-shifting. Over time, cherished conservative principles like the free-market, the rule of law, the scientific method and the sanctity of the agricultural estate, have all seemed expendable by politicians who can’t get enough of the little black rock.

The Morrison Government has also been pleased to accept the world’s charity with one hand, while paying for more of the little black rock with the other. 

With Australia in the midst of catastrophic fires, the global community was moved by our plight and the charity began to flow. The rock star, Pink, gave $500, 000. The tiny country of Vanuatu – one of the most climate-vulnerable countries on Earth and facing a range of social and economic challenges – generously gave $250, 000. In the U.S., the initiative of a nude model, who styled herself as "the naked philanthropist", went viral when she offered naked photos on Instagram in exchange for bushfire relief. Around the world, children moved by love, pity and compassion, emptied their money-boxes for burned Australian koalas.

So how has the Australian Government responded to this generosity? By continuing to burn public money for coal and other fossil fuels. Already, Australia provides $29 billion in subsidies to coal and the rest of the fossil fuel industry. And while the fires were still burning in Queensland and New South Wales, Morrison announced new money for gas extraction in NSW and millions for a feasibility study for a new coal fire power station in Queensland.

The Morrison Government’s allegiance to coal defies reason. Re-elected with a thin legislative agenda, it is as if the raison d'etre of the Coalition has become feeding the coal obsession at the expense of almost all else.

The obsession with coal is founded in political economy but also acts to defer a reckoning with contemporary ideological contradictions, as the real-world tensions between economic (neo)liberalism and social conservatism have become abundantly clear. Coal works as a kind of imaginary, an obsessional, surrogate to be irrationally defended in nihilistic substitution of any actual vision for what Australian society should be like.

Their destructive obsession with coal is the vice for a group of politicians whose contemporary political life would otherwise be anchored in no clear values, and whose vocation would have no coherent meaning.

All of which is why, last week, a group of Australians decided to stage an intervention.

The intention of the intervention is genuine and in good faith. Nobody wants a prime minister or a government that is presenting destructive behaviour, which is corrosive of democracy and will ultimately destroy all that we care about.

Our politics has been institutionally corrupted by the pushers from the vested interests of the coal-burning industry and their suppliers. But enough is enough. The Australian peoples’ intervention is on — our collective destiny will not be decided by a few politicians enslaved to a little black rock.

David Ritter is an Independent Australia columnist and CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, adjunct professor at Sydney University and an honorary fellow of the Law Faculty at the University of Western AustraliaYou can follow David on Twitter @David_Ritter.

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