The latest squeal came this week in an appearance by the Minerals Council of Australia before the joint standing committee on electoral donations, which seems likely to reach a bipartisan consensus on banning foreign donations to political parties and other organisations that might influence the outcome of elections – including associated entities (like unions or fundraising foundations) and activist groups like GetUp.
While a ban on foreign donations is, in my view, a good idea, and broader reform of political donation laws is screamingly necessary if politics is to be saved from itself, the MCA seemed mostly intent on using the process to maximise the impact of any changes on environmental groups campaigning against new coalmines.
In its submission the MCA listed the declared political expenditure of Greenpeace, the Climate Institute, WWF-Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation in 2015-16 (just under $582,000 combined) and compared it with the MCA’s own political expenditure for the same period ($789,706). This conveniently omitted another $2.48m in political expenditure declared by ACA Low Emissions Technology (an associated company which grew from the coal industry’s fund for researching “clean coal” but which can now be used for “promoting the use of coal both within Australia and overseas and promoting the economic and social benefits of the coal industry”.) Then again, the appearance wasn’t really focused on self reflection about the political impact of the miners’ own lobbying efforts……..
most of the Mineral Council’s biggest members are multinationals, listed on Australian and overseas stock exchanges. Could their membership fees or fighting fund donations be used for the MCA’s political campaigns if foreign donations were banned? Should their individual contributions be revealed?
What about campaigns like the one a few years back by Peabody, then the world’s largest private-sector coal company, which teamed with the global PR firm Burson-Marsteller to produce a website and social media push targeting China, the US and Australia, called “Advanced Energy for Life”, with the stated aim of “educating and mobilising world leaders, multinational organisations, a wide range of institutions and stakeholders and the general public to end the crisis of global energy poverty” (by supporting the greater use of coal, of course)……..
And who would be caught by increased requirements for disclosure? The Institute of Public Affairs runs campaigns that are obviously political but doesn’t disclose its funders. The Australia Institute doesn’t make its donors public either. What about donations from the foreign-owned Adani itself?
But the miners appeared only worried about the greenies, having already helped convince a separate inquiry to recommend that conservation groups should have limits placed on the amount of advocacy work they can do (as opposed to on the ground “environmental remediation”) if they want to receive tax-deductible status……..
The political battle over the legitimacy of the coal industry is fierce, and the miners have, of late, been trying to stage a fight back – this week launching the sequel to their somewhat mocked “Little Black Rock” campaign promoting high efficiency coal-fired generation plants – TV ads, a website and a social media campaign under the new slogan “Making the Future Possible”.
It makes a whole range of debatable claims, including that the International Energy Agency forecasts Australia’s coal exports to grow by 18% out to 2040, which is true, but only under the scenario where the world does nothing more about climate change and warms by at least three degrees.
That kind of fact checking is all part of a proper public debate, where, despite the miners’ best efforts, the idea that coal really isn’t part of the long-term future appears to be winning.
It would be a terrible shame if electoral laws were used in a desperate attempt hobble that argument, and an even bigger shame if attempting it did anything to undermine a bipartisan effort to clean up politics. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/18/deep-pocketed-miners-dont-like-it-when-those-with-different-views-wield-clout