One rainy night in Mullum
With the Bentley outcome a fresh momentary victory, the great big Green event, held at St John’s Hall in Mullumbimby last Saturday night, was a celebration of grass-roots activism.
The Echo asked questions of three Green MPs before their appearance, and the night’s bill included federal senator Scott Ludlam (WA), senator Larissa Waters (Qld), and NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
What’s your bet on a double dissolution if the budget is blocked?
MP Ludlam: There will most likely be a series of blocked bills that will just pile up month after month until these lunatics produce others. As long as Labor hold, we’ll be sending them back.
At some point they have to decide whether to abandon this disastrous budget or come and talk to us.
What’s your take on Clive Palmer and his ideas on taxation – do you agree that abolishing expected corporate tax earnings would inject billions into the economy?
MP Ludlam: Palmer’s whole policy platform is tax evasion for his mining companies. He ran on that platform, and his cleverness is being able to disguise that while saying he is standing up for mums and dads. That’s real political artistry. But you don’t know what’s policy and what’s been made up on the spot. There’s still an element of genuineness in there that is obviously resonating with people and we shouldn’t ignore that. My prediction is that they won’t last a year once Abbott tries to buy his senators from him with various bribes and break the parliamentary block.
Palmer’s policies have an interesting element of social justice – if he calls a press conference on the treatment of children on Manus Island, we’ll go and stand by him be cause he’s absolutely right. And he’s already proposing to block things in the budget.
Do you know why we don’t have domestic protection for oil and gas reserves like they have in America and WA?
MP Buckingham: What we don’t have in Australia is a national interest test. There’s no question asked by the government and the exporters about the triple bottom line: economic, social and ecological interests. [Mining company] Santos was recently exposed in one of their strategy documents when they were considering exporting. One of the things they recognised early on was that when they went to export they had parity to international prices. They could leverage their conventional gas off that export and get higher prices domestically. So what’s underpinned their business model from day one was higher domestic prices. They say more gas will put downward pressure on prices – well you can do that but it won’t make it cheaper.
Are you all fans of rare- earth mining, which produces solar panels, magnets and computer chipboards as well as considerable toxic waste? Australian rare-earths mining company Lynas moved their processing plant to Malaysia after all political parties rejected their application to operate here.
MP Ludlam: We met a number of times with Lynas, but they’re just going for the dollar. What Lynas tried to do was to export the high value jobs from their processing plants. They do the bulk mining in WA, then ship this radioactive sludge from Fremantle, which is very heavily populated, in plastic bags and it contains a lot of thorium.
So the rare-earth minerals themselves aren’t radioactive, but they tend to co-exist with toxic ones. When it arrives in Malaysia they immediately throw all the thorium and radioactive sludge away into these tailings dams next to the refinery.
And in Malaysia, they have had a real horror show with the rare-earth minerals.
They have basically been tipping the radioactive sludges into the fields. So that sparked a very substantial counter-movement in Malaysia and we’ve been doing everything we can to support them.
I’m not opposed to rare- earth mining, but that doesn’t mean your company should get a free pass on your social and environmental obligations.
MP Buckingham: Our view is that we need them, and we introduced a bill into the NSW upper house called the Responsible Mining Bill.
It recognises we need to keep making some steel and coked coal in the short term, but we need to be smarter about how we produce it.
And there’s certain areas where mining is just too much of a risk.
Meet one of only two politicians who doesn’t wear a tie in the federal senate: Tasmanian Greens MP Peter Whish-Wilson.
The scruffy economist, environmental campaigner, surfer and ex-wine maker replaced Bob Brown last year and was in town last week, meeting with marine conservation groups and trying to ‘tempt’ former NSW Greens MP Ian Cohen out retirement to help with the cash for container campaign.
‘Ian’s done a lot on this topic in the past and his help would be very valuable,’ he says.
Cash for containers
As an environmental campaigner, Whish-Wilson has focused his passion for the ocean on its preservation.
He says the biggest threat to marine life is our rubbish, and the way to address it is to go to the source.
Back in the 80s and 90s, Australia had the scheme in place; aluminium cans and bottles were returned to a depot for cash.
Fast forward, or perhaps rewind, and South Australia and the Northern Territory remain as the only states that recycle drink containers.
The container deposit scheme (CDS) has attracted a lot of recent alternative media traction; mainstream media recently refused to screen an advertisment which highlighted the destructive effects of plastic on marine life.
But at the heart of this battle are retail lobbyists who are desperate to maintain a somewhat twisted narrative: they say returning to a national container recycling scheme would be ‘inefficient and inequitable’ despite it being successful in two states.
Whish-Wilson says the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) lobby group represents special-interest groups Coca Cola, Lion and Schweppes and is the most vocal in opposing it.
Needless to say, Whish-Wilson says these lobbyists have never come to see him.
Instead he’s been working closely with the Boomerang Alliance (www.boomerangalliance.org.au) to get their message through about recycling the estimated eight billion containers produced nationally every year.
‘If you put a value on rubbish, it no longer becomes rubbish. What we are asking for is to add ten cents to a bottle’s price, then when recycled, the ten cents is returned. It’s a no -brainer that would decrease litter and create instant jobs.’
A senate inquiry he initiated on November 7 last year examined the connection between cash for container schemes and lower levels of marine plastic pollution.
According to the Boomerang Alliance, the inquiry ‘unanimously reported that the AFGC research was based on “weak methodology and poor data.”’
‘For example the Council assumed the ten cent deposit would not be redeemed by any consumers (when 80 per cent redemption is common) and that all beverage prices will rise by 20 cents (despite this never occurring in either state).’
The Alliance also claims the CSIRO mapped plastic debris and ‘reported there is far less plastic bottle litter coming off SA shores.’
Not all lobbyists are necessarily bad, but many are very close associates of politicans. Often they attended university together or have work-related connections. Many are former advisers or MPs.
And as Whish-Wilson says, ‘They wear out the carpets in politician’s offices.’
There are 595 registered lobbyists listed with www.lobbyists.pmc.gov.au, and they all operate under the Lobbying Code of Conduct.
Its preamble states, ‘The Lobbying Code of Conduct is intended to promote trust in the integrity of government processes and ensure that contact between lobbyists and government representatives is conducted in accordance with public expectations of transparency, integrity and honesty.’
The most powerful lobbyists in Canberra, Whish-Wilson says, are from the mining, pokie and beverage industries. ‘The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is also very influential’, he says, ‘obviously campaigning against same- sex marriage… but perhaps the slickest I’ve seen yet is the Food and Grocery Council, who primarily represent both Coles and Woolies.’
When asked if their duopoly would ever be addressed, he says that without a strengthened Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), there will be no changes.
It’s the ‘special interest effect’ that determines many political outcomes, he says.
‘A politician weighs up what will eventuate if they go with, or against, a lobbyist’s wishes.
‘It’s called the “special interest effect”, which also depends on “rational ignorance”.
‘That’s another term that refers to the public’s ignorance on a topic.’
Photo by Jeff Dawson