Reflecting on when the Prime Minister rang to ask him head the Government’s COVID-19 Task Force Nev Power said he couldn’t refuse the PM – reacting as any responsible citizen would.
He would also have been comfortable knowing he would be surrounded by colleagues from the fossil fuel industries. Although he apparently didn’t feel the need to ask why the majority were representatives of industries –resources and manufacturing – which even combined are not as significant a part of the Australian economy as construction.
Nev did feel the need to negotiate some expenses – a quick $267,345 for six months which, to be fair, may include the cost of flying his private jet around the country as you do. Not that it would seem much research was going to be needed as his early comments made it clear there no doubt in his mind what needed to be done.
Nevertheless, it seemed to be a bit off. During WWII the heads of the big US manufacturing companies signed on for the duration at salaries of $1 a year – not $267k for six months. While the defence spending ultimately brought the US economy out of the Depression, and conferred riches on their companies, the CEO’s had a keen eye for the appearance of the situation in contrast to Nev’s tin ear.
He didn’t seem troubled by the fact that the PM and the responsible Minister, Angus Taylor, had some preconceived ideas about what needed to be done although he would have been reassured that remarkably enough they mirrored the policies he would advocate even before he got too far into his independent appraisal of the situation.
He was apparently also not bothered by the fact that everything Taylor touches turns to dross and political scandal.
Instead he got right down to work setting some parameters. First there would not be any nonsense about climate change. Climate change would be there after COVID-19 and climate could therefore wait. Second, he described suggestions that money be spent on building social housing for poor people as an absolute last resort.
The preliminary suggestions are the same old same olds we hear from Queenslanders like him, adopted west Australians like him, West Australians more generally and the Liberal-National Party.
The hymn sheets are depressingly similar – turn the rivers around, build big dams, relocate industries to the west or north and or build massive pipelines to take the energy to other coasts.
It’s actually a bit reminiscent of the Whitlam era when Minerals and Energy Minister, Rex Connor, got sucked in by a dodgy character Tirath Khemlani, who offered to help Rex fulfil dreams of using loan funds to transform the Australian mining and energy industry. It ended in a nightmare when Rex and the Treasurer, Jim Cairns, lost their jobs for lying to Parliament a story recounted by Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz, in a Monthly article (October 2013).
But the big difference between then and now there is that there is no need for Middle Eastern money – much of it is going to come from your pockets to make sure there is none to be wasted on the unemployed, the arts, the ABC or even in absolute last resorts such as doing something for the homeless.
As much of the revenue will go to the gas industry not much of it will come back to us Australia’s ridiculous resource tax laws are such that we receive next to nothing from our LPG exports even though they have recently surpassed those of Qatar – the world’s previous biggest LPG exporter.
There is a very slight glimmer of hope even if a positive outcome is still extremely unlikely. The organisation’s CEO is the widely respected and highly intelligent Peter Harris. Greg Combet is also a member but given that these are flanked by Mike Pezullo (who needs no introduction); Phillip Gaetjens head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and a former Morrison Chief of Staff who all presumably subscribe to the Prime Minister’s directive that Ministers decide policy and public servants merely implement it they may not have much influence beyond cheering for what they know their political masters want.
But what is perhaps most amazing is both the number of fossil fuel people involved and their absolute lack of doubt that they know best. Indeed, the industry has devoted more time to spreading doubt about climate change and the impacts of their products on it than they have questioning their own certainties.
Admittedly, the fossil fuel industries’ obsession with coal has passed a bit as banks, investors and others are either refusing to fund new projects or pressing companies to divest. The troglodytes on the Coalition back bench might still get angry but the Powers and other have moved on to frame gas as a cleaner form of energy even though it is a major environmental disaster with wide-ranging impacts on climate change.
We know we can’t trust the Morrison Government which goes to extreme lengths to maintain secrets and has Ministers like Peter Dutton who are using the pandemic to distract attention from the introduction of even more draconian and restriction of civil liberties.
But we also know can’t trust the fossil fuel industry and in the next week or so we will look at some new books and research on what they have been up to in the past seven or so decades and throw some light on one of the rare occasions they told the truth and how it is now coming back haunt them.