Category Archives: Australia

Blogging the days away. Day 1-3…


Right, so – flight. Not much to say I guess.  It was 5 tonnes of carbon into t’atmosphere…  Flew in an A380 the first leg, read a bunch of stuff from the Palgrave Handbook of International Political Economy and energy.  Very very good stuff it was.  Also read a lit review on transitions and public policy theory, also v. good, and the comments of one of my supervisors on one of my empirical chapters.  And then, brain saturated and grimy (Singapore Airlines does better hot face towels, just saying), I started watching a Hollywood schlocker called ‘Life’. The pitch must have been ‘it’s Jurassic Park meets Alien’).  Forty minutes in, not caring who lived and who died, I started skipping forward.  Yeah, it ended how I thought it would. Ho and hum, and only useful as several kinds of cautionary tale…  Mercifully short layover (this was one of the factors that got me away from SIA, but I won’t be back). Managed to blag a double seat at the very back, which made the 12 hour leg bareable for my too long legs.  I think the air steward took a shine to me – he kept bringing me beer unsolicited.  I am of course, old enough to be his da….  Having (I thought) run out of post it notes so unable to read more Handbook, I watched

  • The Maltese Falcon – total classic of course. So much nasty dialogue!!  It was the making of Bogart, after ten years of gangsters. Apparently George Raft (who he?) didn’t want to be directed by some new schmuck called… John Huston).
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – yeah, quite fun!!! The raccoon was great….
  • Gifted – child prodigy tug of love. Trying to do a female Good Will Hunting?  Not as bad as it could have been, actually. Strong acting, reasonable if entirely predictable script.
  • Three episodes of  some American TV show called Blindspot – clearly the pitch was ‘female Jason Bourne meets NCIS’.  Bravura opening – naked woman in Times Square, covered in tattoos that are a ‘treasure map’. Oh, and she has complete, chemical induced, amnesia.   The leads are strong, but the ‘geeky girl scientist who feeds everyone clues’ is such a fricking cliché.  And it exists in a world like the latest (terrible) Bourne film, where there are no consequences, no media and no paperwork.  I mean, these guys are having running gun battles every day, and nobody has to fill in ANY paperwork about discharging their weapon etc etc…

Right, through immigration okay (though Skynet couldn’t recognise me with a beard).  Parentals collected me, bless, and I forced myself to stay awake in the (vain) hope of getting a decent zonky night of shuteye.


Walked (sans backpack) down to the South Parklands and back.  Then watched ‘Insiders’ – a politics show chaired by Barrie Cassidy (who wrote a book about the 2010 election called ‘The Party Thieves’, which has some useful gossip).  Last week they had a spoof video of Theresa May and the Holy Grail that basically broke the internet in the UK, and justly so.  Guests were the estimable Katherine Murphy (whom I cite in my GBR work), David Marr (elder statesman journo, also cited re his stuff on Rudd and Abbott) and Gerald Henderson, right-winger/libertarian./whatever of the Sydney Institute (IPA offshoot/renegade outfit).  Stuff on Christopher Pyne whose indiscretions about the non-lunar wing of the Liberal Party and gay marriage had distracted the commentariat from the clusterfuck that is Australian climate and energy policy.  Also an interview with Lee Rhiannon of the Greens, who is suspended (perhaps) as part of the Federal Greens effort to overturn NSW Greens relative independence on policy making.

Then did a bunch of archiving stuff – methodically going through things already collected and making sure I know what I’ve got, and referencing it.  Tedious, but if I HAD BLOODY WELL DONE THIS TWO YEARS AGO I WOULD BE A LOT BETTER OFF.

Pumped up bike tyres and cycled off to the local shopping centre.  Then went and bought The Saturday Paper and also the latest Quarterly Essay, which looks mouth-watering.  Couple of hours at the fantastic local library, doing research for thesis and some writing.  Borrowed the following

  • Kelly, P. 2014. Triumph and Demise: The Broken Promise of a Labor Generation.  I read this thoroughly a year ago, and only intend to skim/dip in.
  • Swan, G. 2014. The Good Fight. Ditto
  • Crabb, A. 2016. Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull. Black Inc. Crabb writes brilliantly, and this will be a pleasure…
  • Patrick, A. 2013. Downfall: How the Labor party ripped itself apart. ABC Books; Skim for anecdotes etc
  • Tiffen, R. 2017. Disposable Leaders: Media and Leadership Coups from Menzies to Abbott. Sydney:  Newsouth Books; Skim, may include nuggets.
  • April and May 2017 issues of the Monthly
  • Corris, P. 2016. That Empty Feeling; Cliff Hardy!! Possibly one of the last, sadly…

Feeling pretty jetlagged and groggy, but got some reading done.  Then dinner with parents and neighbours plus brother and niece.

Forced myself to stay awake until 2130 and was as predicted asleep as head-hit-pillow.  But also woke a couple of times…


Walked around local oval, including press-ups and up and downstairs  times five.  Will do this daily with backpack of … logs (long story).

More archiving (see above) and a bit of writing (I figured out how to start my empirical chapters/keep my supervisors happy while walking around t’park.

Cycled into town, to bookshop.  Bought latest Arena magazine and also for five bucks a copy of a book that no library seems to have but will be super useful for The Thesis

  • Oakeshott, R. 2014. The independent Member for Lyne: A Memoir. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

There’s a great epigram

“In political activity, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel; the sea is both friend and enemy; and the seamanship consists in using the resources of a traditional manner of behaviour in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion.”

Then to an ‘Accelerating Entrepreneurship Adelaide’ event, complete with free lunch.  Will blog about it in due course. Have written something short  on spec for an outlet I love. Fingers crossed…

Then off to university library, HUGELY helpful librarian.  Managed to reserve a bunch of useful books, and track down electronic copies of super-useful theses and other stuff that I didn’t even know existed until yesterday.

  • Anon, 1991. Australia’s malaise in mining development policy. Mining Magazine, 164,.4, p248.
  • Ayers, C. 2006. Australian Intergovernmental Relations and the National Emissions Trading Scheme.  Melbourne Journal of Politics, 36-55.
  • Cass, V. 1998. Australia’s Greenhouse Challenge: An Industry-Government Cooperative Approach to Compliance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. PhD Thesis, University of California, Irvine.
  • Chambers, J. Miller, A. Morgan, R. Officer, B. Rayner, M. Sellars-Jones, G. and Quirk, T. 2013. A review of the scientific evidence underlying the imposition of a Carbon Tax or ETS in Australia.  Energy & Environment, Vol 26, 6, pp. 1013-1026.
  • Dodds, L. 2011. The virtuous circle of Gillard’s climate tax. Eureka Street, Vol. 21, 13, pp.  21-2.
  • Hodder, P. 2009. Lobby Groups and Front Groups: Industry Tactics in the Climate Change Debate. Melbourne Journal of Politics, pp.45-81.
  • Mildenberger, M. 2015. Fiddling While the World Burns: The Double Representation of Carbon Polluters in Comparative Climate Policymaking. PhD thesis, Yale University.
  • Sharova, N. 2015.  Australia’s Flirtation with Climate Policy: Role of Industry Groups, Environmental NGOs, Think Tanks, and Public Opinion, MA, Department of Global and Area Studies, University of Wyoming.
  • van Rood, S. 2000. The Heat is on – climate change in the new millennium. Habitat, August, pp2. 28-29.

Cycled home (bless my fluoro), did some thesis work (seriously, that is my life now)…
Watched a bit of some ABC news, now waiting for Q and A and Wimbledon…  (Goooo Roger….  (not playing until tmrw, I think)).

1973-5 warnings on #climate change #auspol

We were warned a very long time ago about climate change.  I don’t mean by the IPCC. I don’t even mean by James Hansen (bless him).  The warnings were there by the mid-1970s about what might be on the way.

In 1973, in the very first issue of Habitat carried an article by

W. Strauss (Clean Air, Options for the Future, 1, 1, pp.13-15.)

Here’s a screengrab-

1973 clean air strauss article page 15.JPG

The following year Habitat had an article devoted to the topic:

Mainwaring, S. 1974. Carbon Dioxide- Catalyst for Climate Change. Vol 2, 3, pp.20-22.

In 1974 John Coulter (later to be a Senator for the Democrats)\

1975 considerations coal coulter tcpa

Coulter, J.  1975. Considerations surrounding a decision to build another Coal Fired Power Station in Northern Spencer Gulf.  TCPA Newsletter no 45 , pp. 1-11.

And then there’s this, by  J. Bockris, J. Energy sources in a post-industrial society. again in the TCPA newsletter, from I think early 1976

1975 bockris in tcpa on coal climate

1975 bockris in tcpa on coal climate 2.JPG

We knew. Or should have.  We blew it. So it goes….

When you think climate change, think “dam”…. #3MT

Here’s me giving my spiel in the “Three Minute Thesis” heat at University of Manchester

Here’s the slide I used.

hoover dam3


And… I’m through to the Three Minute Thesis Final to be held on Wednesday June 7, between 2pm and 3:30pm in University Place Lecture Theatre A. You can register for a (free!) ticket



Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

#Keating and #climate – the longer Cabinet papers story

The 1992/3 Cabinet Papers have been released.  The Conversation let me (I badgered them) do the article on what we learn from them about the environmental policy battles.  It’s posted here, and I think they did their usual excellent job editing me.  Here is the full (much too long for their format) version, in case anyone is a geek like me…

Australian footdragging on climate has a long history

The Cabinet is having a fractious debate about climate change, emissions reductions targets and international obligations. The Treasurer and resources minister don’t trust the Environment Minister. They fear that Australia might over-commit at the next international shindig, and so damage some juicy export earnings. And look, the Americans might go soft on the whole global warming thing and let the Aussies off the hook.  Best, surely, to play dead and see what happens?

The Environment Minister is having none of it, saying  “Don’t you trust me, Griffo?”

“Cut the theatre, out”, he replied.

It is May 25, 1992, and the Keating government is wrestling with the upcoming Rio Earth Summit.  We know about this exchange not because of cabinet papers released today by the National Archives of Australia.  It turns out the cabinet notebooks, with all the the juicy stuff with who said what – remain sealed for a further 30 years, a decision agreed in .. July 1992. The information instead comes from Neal Blewett’s Cabinet Diary, published in 1999.

And that is indicative of this trove of papers –  there’s not much new or startling for anyone who was reading between the lines of the proper newspapers at the time, or who has read Clive Hamilton’s 2001 Running from the Storm, Dave Cox’s bleak 1997 book chapter “The road from Rio: multilateral cooperation gives way to national interest” or Joan Staples on the Keating and Howard Governments attitude to green issues and greenies.The ground has been covered in any number of academic articles as well (see here,here, here and here, to link but few.

Keating had inherited a mess, with the economy in the gutter thanks to the ‘recession we had to have.’  Liberal leader John Hewson was buoyant – the “Fightback!” policy (silent on environmental matters) – was getting a positive press.  Keating had yet to frame Hewson as the feral abacus, and  Cakegate not yet a twinkle in Mike Willesee’s eye.  Keating was hardly in a mood to go to the Rio Earth Summit in June, and he didn’t.

Domestic (lack of) bliss

Domestically, the Hawke government had thrown the environment movement, which helped it win the 1990 election by a narrow margin – a bone in the shape of the “Ecologically Sustainable Development” policy process.  Working groups made up of corporate representatives, environmentalists and bureaucrats had beavered away and produced hundreds of recommendations.

The radical ones (gasp – a price on carbon!) were weeded out between the draft reports (June ‘91) and final ones (December). These final recommendations then disappeared into a bureaucratic maw for six months. As John Coulter had warned at the time “There is a bureaucratic hostility to ESD which will only be blunted by direct community pressure, which requires a permanent ESD process to be set up” (Iffland, 1991).

The mid-1992 meeting at which they were supposed to be agreed was so disastrous that the environmentalists walked out and even the corporates felt aggrieved.

A 1999 history of the Australian Environment Movement observes that

“By this stage, conservation groups were so outraged at the gutting of the working groups’ recommendations that they boycotted the process. Even non-conservation groups were angered by the public servants’ actions. These bureaucrats were so attacked by industry, farmers, engineers and unions at a two-day conference in late 1992 that the second day was called off.

Several of the conservation representatives on the working groups later related that they often found industry representatives, despite their vested interests, easier to work with than the bureaucrats.”

Well, we now have two interim reports to fill out that picture, telling us exactly what we knew then.

The first interim report, in March  said that  ‘departments have not been able to identify a worthwhile package’. Cabinet waved the process  on, but only on the basis that ‘no regrets actions’ were all that was on the table, that is ones which ‘involve little or no additional cost, cause minimal disruption to industry or the community, and which also offer benefits other than greenhouse related’.

By May, Federal ministers were similarly informed that the states and territories were ‘not strongly committed’ to either ESD or greenhouse reduction strategies, and resented the pace with which the Commonwealth sought to settle policy positions that would have ‘substantial financial and economic implications’.

So, the State-Federal tango, was not going to be solved by the recently instituted COAG.  We will know in another 30 years if Graham Richardson, by now Social Security Minister, dredged up his threat of a referendum to wrest  environmental policy from the states.  I think it’s unlikely he did that- the moment had passed.

The policy process rumbled on after the walkout, and the final National Greenhouse Response Strategy contained only – surprise! – toothless voluntary measures, which proved ineffective in keeping emissions down to 1990 levels.

The November 1992 minutes mildly note that

“Most major interest groups have voiced concerns about their lack of involvement in the drafting of the NGRS document. Officials made provision for community input through the public comment process and a public consultative forum held in August. [The one the environmentalists walked out of] Reaction from conservation groups is likely to be negative, given the limited changes made to many of the responses in the revised strategy. They are likely to want to see more concerted efforts in areas such as fuel efficiency and renewable energy sources.” 


With equal prescience,  the document warns that coal producers and resource intensive industries (eg aluminium) may express concern about their prospects in the medium to long term.”

“Expressed concern” is certainly one way of putting it.  Creating a greenhouse mafia to control the policy process is another…

International threats

On the international question, the key point to understand is that the US had successfully resisted a push from the developing world and the European Union for specific emissions reduction targets and time tables – for developed countries only – to be included in the text of the UNFCCC treaty. Bush Senior simply threatened to not attend the Rio Earth Summit. The Europeans blinked, and the rest is history.

In a document discussing funding for environment and development negotiations the point is made – not for the first or last time that

“Australia is the only developed megadiverse country; it is a major user and exporter of greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and energy intensive products; it could be significantly affected by global environmental change”

In May 1992 Cabinet endorsed the principle of support for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,

There are three  ironies. First that it was a major concern that the media statement to accompany the Environment Minister’s signing should be amended to include  the fact that

“The Convention does not bind any signatory to meet any greenhouse gas target by a specified date.”

Secondly the minutes note that “A decision by Australia not to sign the Convention would be criticised by domestic environment interests and could also attract international criticism, particularly in the Pacific region.”  This was not something that, in later years, would keep John Howard awake at night.

Thirdly, its emphasis on assisting developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region to develop capacities for adaptation looks odd given there had been zero mention of greenhouse gas in the March 1992 discussion document of bilateral aid to Cambodia  (the country is suffering markedly now)

International Wiggle Room

Keating’s willingness to let Ros Kelly go and sign will  have been related to the following

“The Convention contains several safeguards which protect Australia’s interests. In the specific commitments section, allowance is made for “the differences in Parties’ starting points and approaches, economic structures and resource bases, and the need to maintain strong and sustainable economic growth, available technologies and other individual circumstances”. Additionally, Parties are obliged to take into consideration the situation of Parties with economiesthat are highly dependent on the production, processing, export and use of fossil fuels. These two provisions will give relevant countries, including Australia, flexibility in fulfilling their obligations under the Convention.”

And they probably thought they had more time than they actually did.  The May 1992 note argues

“It is likely to take some years to obtain the necessary ratifications to bring it into force.” When in actual fact it only took two…

The target of not having a binding target was safe – in December, just before ratifying the Bush-whacked UNFCCC treaty, Cabinet agreed (again) that there would be no commitment to firm, binding targets in advance of other developed nations. Ministers agreed in December 1992 that ‘our capacity to continue to protect Australia’s economic and trade interests’ remained the priority, particularly in arguing against ‘response actions’ that would fall ‘disproportionately’ on Australian economic growth.  They worried that “Industry groups will be concerned about possible negative impacts on Australia’s economy and trade competitiveness” and that “environment groups are concerned that current commitments under the Convention do not go far enough in curbing climate change.”

No. Change. There. Then.

What happened next

It was in these years 1992- 1994 that two groups with curious acronyms hit their stride – ABARE, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics – an ‘independent’ (and oil and coal company funded) department of the Australian government produced report after report which Australian diplomats used to try to secure Australia exemptions from emissions reductions and the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, a devastatingly successful, low profile outfit of industry lobbyists and head-hunted senior bureaucrats who helped shape and minimise Australia’s climate policy for well over a decade.

This theme would be aggressively picked up by the Keating government. In 1994 both the Foreign Minister (Gareth Evans) and the Treasurer (Ralph Willis) would argue that Australia might withdraw from the UNFCCC.

No secrets

At least with regard to climate policy, there are no real secrets worthy of the name. We have known that the Australian state quickly retreated from its already-hedged promise to take action, and they told us all along that this was because we had a lot of coal.  While Australia’s international credibility has flatlined (with a brief bump from 2007 to 2009), two other things have soared over the last 25 years- Australia’s coal exports, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.  Both look set to continue their upward trend.

Reading the documents it is striking how concerned the Cabinet is to minimise its financial commitments (unsurprising, perhaps, given the overall state of the economy at the time),and just how unimportant the issue was to them – a distant abstraction that most of them seem not to lose any sleep over. How times have changed.



UPDATE – researching something else, I came across this from Joan Staples’ PhD –

Economou (1996, pp. 17-18) may have described Keating as a ‘leading voice amongst the economic ‘hard-heads’ within cabinet’ against environmental action, but Labor advisors Balderstone (2008) and Emerson (2008) repeatedly claimed to me that Keating ‘was green’ and that his position as treasurer made it impossible for him to show his true colours. Judy Lambert also recalled that he supported Environment Minister Ros Kelly in the setting of very high standards for the approval of the Wesley Vale pulp mill that assisted in its demise4 (Lambert 2008). Despite the public antagonism between Hawke and Keating, Hawke (2008) told me that in relation to environment issues, Keating ‘was never a real problem’. Richardson (2008) also described Keating as ‘being pretty good’ in Cabinet environment debates during Richardson’s term as minister, with the exception of debates on Kakadu Stage III and climate change.

Balance schmalance- when the powerful do it is in the ‘national interest’

So, I am writing an article; a proper academic article. Got me a journal in mind and everything. It’s on incumbent strategies versus challenge(r)s, and uses multiple streams approach and defensive institutional work. Gonna have the sucker done (first draft) by the close of play on the 27th December if it kills me.

Reading some fascinating stuff, but also writing as I go along – it’s the only way, after all.

Anyway, I stumbled on a very useful article from the defunct Business Review Weekly.

Hooper, N. and Way, N. 1995. Canberra’s Green Berets. BRW, 20 February, p.36.

They (approvingly) quote the late Peter Walsh (climate denialist and “failed” (his words) Finance Minister complaining that

“The Environment Department should no longer be regarded as a component of the Commonwealth bureaucracy, but as a fully taxpayer-funded extension of the partially taxpayer-funded Australian Conservation Foundation propaganda machine.”

All because some of the bureaucrats thought that cutting down and digging up everything in sight and in site was short-termist.

Never mind that the Treasury, Energy Department, Resources, DPIE etc had been busy scuppering anything environmental for, well, decades.

What happened next? The Greenhouse Mafia ran the show for another 12 years. Then the fight broke out into the open, and the opponents of action won. And now we are totally stuffed. Oh well, so it goes.

“British Lord Vestey, and Vincent Lingari”… and Phillip Knightley

There’s a great Paul Kelly song From Little Things, Big Things Grow, about an Aboriginal Land Rights struggle.

It opens thus-

Gather round people let me tell you’re a story
An eight year long story of power and pride
British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri
Were opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle
Beef was his business, broad was his door
Vincent was lean and spoke very little
He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

Vestey of course was a self-made man.  No imperialist invasion by the state to set the conditions for his wealth.  No tax dodging by him to keep it. Absolutely not.

This leapt out at me from the good obituary of Phlllip Knightly.

A more individual triumph happened accidentally in 1979, when he took the time to listen to a Canadian economist visiting the office to speak to another journalist, who had gone to lunch. The result, after more than a year of research, was a piece that showed how the Vesteys, who were then one of Britain’s richest and best-connected families, ran a business empire that had been entirely structured to avoid tax. At its peak, Vestey cattle, Vestey ships and Vestey butcher’s shops supplied Britain with most of its beef, and yet, to take the example of the family’s Dewhurst butcher’s chain, a profit of £2.3m in one year yielded a tax bill of £10.

It was a fascinating life (took in the thalidomide investigation, and much much else.) Here’s how the obituary ends;

He was twice made journalist of the year in the British Press Awards. “I know now that the influence journalists can exercise is limited and that what we achieved is not always what we intended,” he concluded in his autobiography. “It is the fight that counts.”