Coal, and Labor’s other affairs

Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
(Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1)

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?  

These well-worn questions [1] the federal wing of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) may well ask themselves. Again.

In early December of 2019, the week before Sydney’s worst day of air pollution on record, caused by the already massive New South Wales bushfires, Australia’s opposition leader Anthony Albanese went out on an extremely long limb. Albo, as he’s affectionately or otherwise known, at least among fans and fellow travellers, is a Labor stalwart who created a reputation for himself as a political warrior ‘fighting Tories’.[2] Albo argued that Australia’s very substantial thermal coal exports were not a causal factor in climate change. This is not what he actually said, of course. But if he had said this, it would have been absolutely clear what he was saying. What he did say was that demand for greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting coal is ‘not something that is driven by the export, it’s the other way around’.[3] Albo argued that stopping Australian coal exports won’t decrease demand because coal from other countries will takes its place. Moreover, in what he may have mistaken for a trump card, he boasted that ‘much of our coal is much better quality’ than the alternatives.

Globally, coal-powered electricity generation has more than doubled since 1990.[4] Coal is being burnt for 40% of the world’s power generation, and it has been estimated that there is enough coal available to keep up the current rate of usage for another 150 years![5] In 2018, the International Energy Agency (IEA) for the first time:[6]

“assessed the impact of fossil fuel use on global temperature increases. It found that CO2 emitted from coal combustion was responsible for over 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in global average annual surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels. This makes coal the single largest source of global temperature increase.”

Australia accounts for 14% of the world’s proven coal reserves, the third largest in the world after the USA and Russia and largest in the Asia Pacific region.[7] Australia’s production of coal has more than doubled since the early 1990s, and exports have grown strongly, making coal now worth 3.5% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP).[8] Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, accounting for around 37% of global exports.[9] The basic economics of supply and demand tells us that, all else being equal, less supply of a given commodity will drive prices up, reducing demand – at least until more supply comes onto the market. While economic reality is never that simple, a crystal ball isn’t required to see that stopping thermal coal exports from Australia’s whoppingly large global share would have a substantial impact on international coal markets, particularly in the nearby Asia Pacific region where most of it gets burnt.

Australia’s contribution to annual GHG emissions, of which CO2 is the main culprit, is 1.3% of total global emissions.[10] While this may not sound like a lot, the 392 megatons of CO2 and equivalent of other GHGs we spewed out in 2016 placed Australia as the 15th top emitter in the world in absolute terms, and second per capita behind Saudi Arabia.[11] When oil and gas are added into the mix, Australia is a top three global exporter of fossil fuels, this time behind Russia, and you guessed it, Saudi Arabia.[12] I doubt the irony was lost on everybody when NSW Liberal Environment Minister Matt Kean spruiked his confusing dream of Australia as the ‘Saudi Arabia of solar’,[13] having come out strongly in favour of climate action on 11 December 2019, the morning after the height of Sydney’s climate fuelled smoke epidemic.

Nor any drop to drink

Just as importantly, though, there is also a large international leadership angle to Australian coal exports. How can Australia effectively promote international efforts to reduce critically dangerous levels of GHG emissions, if it is, so to speak, selling the drug that is keeping the world addicted. Hydrocarbons are the opioid of the capitalist class. Labor is locked onto a Victorian-era industrial production ethic, in which jobs that are literally bad for everyone in the world are still jobs worth having, because jobs are what provide human dignity. A sorry distortion of Marxist humanism fed through the material dialectic wringer.

The bloody-mindedness of Albo’s position on coal becomes stark when he says: ‘I don’t see a contradiction between that and having a strong climate change policy’.[14] At that stage, 2.7 million hectares of forested country, an area the size of Wales, had already burnt.[15] In response, author and commentator Richard Flanagan showed us how unacceptable Anthony Albanese’s statements on Australia’s coal exports are, by offering much better quality words as an alternative: ‘Where is our prime minister? Where is the leadership the country is crying out for?’, protests Flanagan’s fictional Labor leader.[16]

The dire lack of Australian leadership in climate policy was on full display at COP25, the 2019 UN Climate Conference in Madrid, which ran from 2 December to 13 December.[17] Alleged Energy Minister allegedly Angus allegedly Taylor effectively argued that technology lags behind the political will to take climate action: ‘We can only reduce emissions as fast as the deployment of commercially viable technology allows’.[18] This fourth rate piece of sophistry was coupled with a bizarre if brazen attempt to carry forward emissions credits from the superseded Kyoto agreement,[19] and claim them towards Australia’s already woefully inadequate emissions reduction targets. All without doing anything in the real world to reduce Australia’s out of control GHG emissions.[20]

Under Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party, Australia is only aiming to reduce emissions in 2030 by 16% compared to 2005 levels, rather than the currently agreed 26%, with the ‘gap’ being covered by these abstract carryover credits espoused by the Liberal Government.[21] Calling this an ‘accounting trick’[22] is perhaps to denigrate the profession of accounting. Rather, it was a direct attack on bona fide international action to avert the worst of the climate crisis. On 10 December when Sydney’s air was at its most toxic, Australia was rated among the worst performers in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, earning 0 out of 100 points for climate policy.[23] On 12 December, the Australian Government was rewarded with a well publicised ‘fossil of the day’ award from Beirut based Climate Action Network International, ‘for using carbon market loopholes to meet its climate targets’.[24]

On the morning of 17 December, ‘megafires’ raged and UNESCO World Heritage national parks in the greater Sydney area were being devastated.[25] And if that wasn’t enough, scorchingly hot record-breaking temperatures were expected from coast to coast as a heatwave blasted in off the Indian Ocean.[26] Sydney, it should be remembered, also happens be the home town of potential future Where’s Wally replacement, Scott Morrison. However, with the Prime Minister for Tropical Tourism, Scott ‘Where-the-bloody-hell-are-you’ Morrison, taking an interestingly timed summer escape to Hawaii,[27] Australia’s retired fire and emergency chiefs banded together to demonstrate what leadership actually looks like. Led by former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner Greg Mullins, and representing 600 years of firefighting experience, the group had already delivered its wise and weary warnings to the Prime Minister in April 2019.[28]

This time, decrying the federal government for being ‘missing in action’ and lamenting a national leadership ‘on life support’, former fire chiefs variously described the current hypercatastrophic fire season as ‘unprecedented’[29] and the ‘new normal.[30] Directly linking the fires to anthropogenic climate change, they called for an end to the use of fossil fuels and announced a national summit.[31] In an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Mullins publicly excoriated Scott Morrison’s troublingly weak leadership on climate change and the bushfires:[32]

“firefighters and many others who work on the frontline have been warning that climate change is having a devastating impact. Prolonged drought, tinder-dry bush and extreme heat coupled with longer, overlapping fire seasons has made Australia an even more dangerous place.

“In the face of this, the leadership vacuum and misinformation has been astounding.”

This unprecedented intervention by former public officials in the nation’s affairs starkly demonstrated a level of incompetence displayed by the Morrison Liberal/National Coalition Government in a time of the country’s worst national crisis since the Second World War. Australia then recorded two days in a row of record average maximum temperatures across the country, reaching 40.9oC on Tuesday 17 December and then 41.9oC a day later, effortlessly but terrifyingly passing the previous average maximum of 40.3oC recorded on 7 January 2013.[33]

We need to talk about Labor

For the Labor leader of the opposition to come out in support of continued coal exports while the worst fires in modern Australian history were still raging in New South Wales was particularly baffling. In Albo’s hometown of Sydney, five million people were choking on toxic pollution from these fires, which was particularly bad in parts of western Sydney, known both for its lower socio-economic communities and as an electoral battlefield on which Australian federal elections can be won or lost. The question that returns to my mind in situations like these, generally, is whether it is a case of self-delusion or of strategic misrepresentation. Lying to themselves, or lying to us?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not blaming Labor for the manifold woes that beset this fine land. Not directly. They are not currently in government federally, and have only been the national government of Australia for six out the last 23 years. And in those six years, their stimulus package helped avoid a recession while the global financial crisis (GFC) wreaked economic havoc worldwide, they legislated a carbon tax, established the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the greatest social policy initiative since universal health care was introduced under Medicare, and apologised to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.[34]

What was, frankly, deflating and disappointing about Albo’s bad call on coal, is that just two days before that profoundly backward step, he produced a timely pro-democratic mini-manifesto that provided a well-needed breath of political fresh air.[35] Leaving aside a self-conscious appeal as leader of ‘a progressive Party, of modernisation, of aspiration, of growth, of jobs’, Albo’s key points in defence of democracy are worth reiterating:[36]

  • ‘a stop to the endless culture wars that are undermining rational discussion’ and to ‘rebuild our capacity to have national conversations about the big issues – because that’s the only way we’ll advance as a country’
  • ‘break down echo chambers’ and ‘take on fake news’ in the absence of action from social media mega-corporations
  • ‘enshrine in law protections for press freedom’ and ensure all Australians ‘can have their voice heard’
  • ‘restore public accountability in our politics and our politicians’, including a National Integrity Commission, real-time disclosure of donations and caps on electoral spending
  • an Indigenous Australian peoples’ Voice to Parliament, and an Australian head of state

The only modification I’d make is to leave a republic off the agenda for the time being, as it will certainly become a vulnerability as a target for conservative cultural attacks. The fact that, on a good day, Labor can still come up with the goods is both vaguely reassuring, and also what makes this all so psychologically painful.

In many ways, Labor’s loss of government in 2013 failed the Australian people. I think it is reasonable for progressive and moderate voters all around the country to feel let down by the ALP under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten. To be completely blunt about it, Labor squandered the chance of a generation. The Australian people have always relied on Labor to implement effective, progressive policies that move our country forward and stop it sliding backwards into rampant bigotry and arbitrary inequality. The two-party system prevalent in Anglosphere countries is founded on a grudging game of taking turns, a very English institution that helped ensure tired, old, corrupt and incompetent governments could be tossed out by the humble electorate. It is hard to get past the fact that Labor messed up their turn.

Federal Labor’s electoral loss in May 2019 was another nail in the cross of Australian democracy, ushering in an era of socially, environmentally, economically and politically destructive misgovernance. Already by 13 December, Morrison and his merry band had idly seen vast areas of unique animal and plant habitat burn up and release an estimated 250 million tonnes of CO2, around half of Australia’s total emissions for 2018.[37] Not only that, this government has also: helped to stagnate the economy through suppression of wage growth;[38] systematically and deliberately denied medical care to detainees living in a cruel political limbo of fear on Manus Island and Nauru; introduced legislation to legalise arbitrary discrimination on religious grounds by everyone from employers to doctors; and attempted to silence working people through political warfare against the union movement.

Bill Shorten’s unfortunate second defeat at the polls shouldn’t have, but did, come as a shock to many Australians with progressive views on a range of issues, this author included. But in failing to hold on to power in 2013 or to regain it in 2019, Labor has let slip the opportunity of a generation, which would have enabled them both to consolidate and build on the policy achievements of the Rudd-Gillard years, and, just as importantly, to prevent the devastation of Australia as we once knew it. Except for the questionable replacing of female deputy leader Tanya Plibersek on factional grounds for Labor right’s Richard Marles, the new federal Labor team under Anthony Albanese’s leadership is little changed overall. Nonetheless, they have shied away from the bold approach of Labor under Bill Shorten. However, this shell-shocked response to Shorten’s loss seems to me to stem from a failure to differentiate between strategy and policy at a number of levels.

The economic policies devised by Bill Shorten and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen had a reasonable amount of merit from a policy perspective. Yet, as political strategy, it was woefully off the mark, providing easy targets for a Liberal Party reinvigorated by a hot injection of right-wing tactical and strategic culture direct from the Unites States of America. This is epitomised by the successful adoption of ‘think-tankism’, with the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) in particular being an increasingly important driver of Liberal Party policy and culture.[39] Labor’s technically sensible and arguably necessary reforms to the tax treatment of franking credits, more accurately but less commonly referred to as dividend imputation, was a complex, and for most people esoteric, piece of policy reform.[40] However, for the Liberal Party it was a simple narrative of same ol’ Labor robbing Peter to pay Paul again, supported by a devious plan to distort parliamentary processes by effectively rigging a committee hearing process.[41]

It may almost seem like Labor is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Bill Shorten’s big, bold and fiscally responsible policies failed to win over the fickle Australian electorate. Yet the small target mentality that has plagued Labor since the days of Kim Beasley’s first loyal opposition (1996–2001) has paid little in the way of dividends. Kevin Rudd became prime minister in no small part because of his squeaky clean image (even being seen in positive light as too prudish to enjoy a New York strip club) and ‘fiscal conservatism’.[42] A key tactic in the Kevin ‘07 victory was the matching of incumbent Prime Minister John Howard’s tax cuts of $34 billion for personal income tax. The only problem was that this left a $34 billion dollar hole more or less in the federal budget, which plagued Labor in power under Julia Gillard, ending in a desperate but unsuccessful promise to return the budget to surplus ahead of the 2013 election. This misjudged strategy was a vain attempt to match the Liberal party’s mythical status as the ‘better economic manager’.[43] However, the Australian electorate evidently does not vote on the basis of facts about parties and their policies, but are persuaded by stories that appeal to their pre-existing prejudices.

The playing fields of Anglosphere liberal democracies are far from flat. Left-leaning or progressive parties have to do everything right to win government. In Australia, Labor has only won from opposition three times since the Second World War, and has ‘failed to win a majority in the House of Representatives in eight out of its last nine starts’.[44] For many Australians, the Liberal Party are the default party, essentially ‘born to rule’. Protected by the Murdoch press (consumed en masse in key electoral battlegrounds in western Sydney and southeast Queensland) and emboldened by the Trump-led global anti-democratic slide into illiberalism, the Liberal-National Coalition can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of the majority of Australian voters. Equally, however, many of these people simply do not trust Labor. As an anonymous Labor insider said about Shorten’s failure at the polls in the relatively conservative state of Western Australia: ‘WA elects us when we don’t scare them too much [but we] scared the s**t out of them this time around’.[45]

Since losing government in 1996, Labor has continually failed to build on its powerful legacy of social and economic reforms carried out in pursuit of equality and fairness for all Australians. My view is that for Labor to be successful, it has to be itself, if you’ll excuse the cliché. It is clear from the post-World War Two electoral record that Labor wins elections when it is bold, progressive and in touch with the values, interests and goals of the diverse range of Australians. Essentially, I am suggesting that Labor’s electoral strategy needs to be one of product differentiation, not, as we are seeing now, an inadvertent display of price leadership. At the end of the day, no matter how much self-delusion or wishful thinking to the contrary, conservative Australians will always paint the Labor Party their preferred shade of red should the mood take them.

The small target strategy was recently deployed by Labor’s climate change spokesperson, Mark Butler, who agreed with the Liberal line on ‘putting political disputes aside’ during bushfires, referring obliquely to the debate on climate change of course.[46] It was seen again in Albo’s folly about coal exports. Of course, this is also absolutely about the jobs vote. Which is also why the mega-destructive Adani mine is still inexorably progressing toward start of production. Without overt or even tacit support from Labor, especially in Queensland where the mine is located, the monstrousness that is the Adani coal mine would surely have stopped well before now.

Coal and gas are outdated technologies, from the Victorian era, from an era we should have long left behind, an era of Charles Dickens’ orphans and William Blake’s dark satanic mills.[47] Not only do Australian coal and gas extraction massively contribute to global GHG emissions, they are also a toxic blight on this unique, beautiful and ancient continent, sacred to the Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To add insult to injury, the Australian people are not even getting a good price for our foul fossil fuels, with critics claiming Australian governments are ‘giving away’ natural resources through poorly designed royalty regimes.[48] The continued use of coal and gas in the twenty-first century would be laughable if it wasn’t so threatening to the very survival of all life on Earth.

With this in mind, consider Labor Member for Hunter Coal Joel Fitzgibbon doubling down on Albo’s rallying call for the moribund coal industry. Reading directly from the coal lobby’s playbook, Coal Joel launched his confected plea to ‘Stop demonising our coal’ in an op-ed that was widely circulated by its proud author.[49] Joel has serious form being astonishingly out of touch, claiming in 2013 that some of his constituents were ‘struggling’ on $250,000 annual income.[50] Perhaps we should also spare a moment’s thought for the 90% of other Australian households on lower incomes.[51] Fitzgibbon sees the path to lower global GHG emissions as lying along the trade routes that carry Australian coal to China and India. Rather than advocating much needed changes to Australia’s policy settings on power generation and trade in fossil fuels, he tells us that the ‘big emitters’ in our region will need Australian coal to decarbonise their economies.

However, it is no longer clear that thermal coal will ultimately be phased out. In particular, China is building coal fuelled electrical power generation both within its borders and in a range of other countries as part of its global infrastructure building policy, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Building new coal fired power stations now implies the expectation they will continue emitting GHGs for decades, as they are expensive to build and typically have an operating life of about 40 years.[52] Australian coal will remain in demand for years to come, and is literally feeding the fires that are pumping out the CO2 that is cooking our planet alive.

The way and its power

We are like the frog in the water who was stoking the fire that was heating the water, and kept doing it even after it knew the water was going to get too hot if it didn’t stop, and now the water is too hot … it … can’t … seem … to … stop. Global neoliberal capitalism is an infernal engine that will consume all if not slowed down. The problem though is that it needs careful coaxing, like turning around a giant ship, and we just don’t have the time. We left it too late. Realistically, we are most likely going to hit the rocks. But that doesn’t mean we have to sink as well. Many of the animals and plants are already gone, but there is still time to save what is left. It may no longer be practically plausible from a political perspective to keep global warming under 2oC, but we bloody well need to try our damn best if we are to survive the climate crisis.

This means all political parties and elements that represent any dignity or decency must act on climate change, act now, and act for real. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a Canberra based, conservative leaning think tank, has called for bipartisanship on climate change.[53] The ASPI generally takes a resilience based approach to non-military security issues such as climatic and environmental disasters,[54] and in this case is arguing for a political approach to solving the collective action issue posed by GHG emissions.

This is important, as we should be wary of calls to ‘securitise’ the climate crisis, which aim to remove the issue from the political process and insulate it from public participation in the name of national security, effectively taking power from citizens and placing it in the hands of security actors or other technocrats. The securitisation of humanitarian migration is how, as a nation, we came to indefinitely lock up and torture asylum seekers in the former Australian colonies of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

I argued in my previous post that we need to embrace climate politics to steer our way through the current global general crisis. The climate emergency is a result of collective action, and collective action is required to change the status quo. Utilisation of existing political processes and creation of new ones are the best and only ways for citizens of the world to effect the deep and rapid change that is absolutely critical for preserving the liveability of our precious, lifegiving globe. Nonetheless, we will also need to face the reality that, for many of us, life as we know it has changed forever. There is no going back. We squandered that chance. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bath water either.

Disappointingly, the ALP’s National Constitution adopted in December 2018 does not mention the word ‘climate’. Not once. What we get instead are pleasant platitudes about the ‘use, conservation and enhancement of Australia’s natural resources and environment so that the community’s total quality of life, both now and into the future, is maintained and improved’. There is also a sorely overqualified ‘recognition of the need to work towards achieving ecologically sustainable development’ (emphasis mine).[55] While these are entirely worthy objectives, they do not a political party fit for the challenges of the climate crisis make.

On climate and environmental policy, Labor could and should do much better. It could and should have done better in the past too. Unfortunately, key achievements including the carbon pricing mechanism (also known as ‘the carbon tax’), introduced by Julia Gillard and operating from 2012 to 2014, and the plan for vast marine reserves introduced by Tony Burke as environment minister, were gleefully wound back under Tony Abbott’s wrecking ball approach to everything politics.[56] What’s more, gains made by Labor’s in the 2016 federal election are somewhat shadowed by the ‘Mediscare’ allegations around Labor’s election-eve campaign on national health policy.[57] This is despite Labor’s highly effective use of person-to-person based political organisation to reach out to a much larger audience.[58] Labor should start its journey of rejuvenation by rebuilding capacity for meaningful, relevant and successful strategy and tactics.

Labor also needs to invest in external alliances to maximise political leverage. To do this, they need to give a bit to potentially get a lot. A more pluralist approach was adopted by Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard (2010-13), while leading the Labor minority government. For example, the relatively successful Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) in 2010 to 2012 showcased Labor’s natural ability to work together with like-minded politicians and parties in the interests of the Australian community.

Labor again needs to find common ground with the Greens. To do this, Labor need to be less adversarial. At the same time, the Greens need to play better with Labor, to embrace compromise as the sublime art of politics. Equally importantly, Labor needs to work with ‘moderate’ Liberals, such as federal and NSW environment ministers Sussan Ley and Matt Kean, and city and country independents like Zali Steggall, the Member for Warringah, and Indi’s Helen Haynes. The reality is that Australian Labor’s right faction and moderate liberals have just as much in common with each other as with the rest of their parties: both represent centrist varieties of neoliberal capitalism with traditional liberal values of freedom, progress and individual responsibility.

Labor also needs to work better with the unions. Anthony Albanese’s move to expel the controversial Victorian chief of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU), John Setka, from the ALP needs to be placed alongside the cold reality of continued incidence of preventable deaths on building sites and other industrial and commercial situations.[59] Preliminary data for 2019 puts the number of workplace deaths across Australia at 157, up from 141 in 2018.[60] This is ethically, socially and politically unacceptable in a country with the wealth and values that Australia holds.

Ultimately, Labor needs to rekindle its confident, righteous and independent spirit that was a hallmark of the hugely successful governments of Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Strong external alliances across the liberal and social democratic spectrum and across public and not-for-profit sectors must be coupled with significant internal reforms to democratise the party from within and hand power back to members, workers and the public. This foundational and relational rejuvenation is required to provide a solid platform for confident and competent policy and strategy.

However, when faced with major electoral setbacks, instead of asking those well-worn questions about what Labor is and what it means, there is a tendency to avoid major reflection or introspection, to brush over the deep cracks, and to revert to old habits, including trying to emulate the Liberal Party’s modus operandi. Labor can never win by being like the Liberals. Why choose a pretend neo-liberal-conservative party when you can have the real one?

The ALP’s 2019 campaign review unsurprisingly found that:[61]

“Low-income workers swung against Labor. Labor’s ambiguous language on Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.”

But rather than kneejerk reactions propelling Labor toward the dark side of a coal fuelled future of environmental devastation and climate catastrophe, right now there is a desperate need for the ALP to go back to basics, to introspect, to find its real value in today’s critical state of affairs. Internally, Labor needs to tackle factionalism, including ending informally restricted preselection processes, so that the best talent and expertise can move into key positions, and more people can be attracted to the party, positioning the party to win future elections.

The ALP is playing out a self-imposed Sisyphean role: it keeps getting dragged back down the hill, but unfortunately never really manages to go back to the beginning and make a proper go of it.[62] Veteran political journalist Michelle Grattan has proposed that the question about Anthony Albanese is ‘whether as the election approaches he will be seen as representing Labor’s past rather than its future. The opposition could have opted for a new generation leader in Jim Chalmers’.[63] There are a range of sensible and straightforward practices Australian Labor can adopt to rediscover its identity in the midst of this readily predicted, but at the same time unimaginable, global general crisis. Labor needs to go back to basics and find itself, and what it stands for, again. It might sound lame, but it’s the only way forward.

* Updated on 2 January 2020 to correct Mark Butler’s role as Labor’s climate change spokesperson, which was previously incorrectly referred to as environment spokesperson.

Image: CSIRO

[1] Paul Gauguin, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?, 1897, painting

[2] Judith Ireland, ‘”Bleeds Labor”: Why Albanese has left nothing on the table’, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 2019, accessed 28/12/2019,

[3] Anthony Albanese, with Steve Price, 2GB Radio, 9 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[4] Michelle Cunningham, Luke Van Uffelen and Mark Chambers, ‘The Changing Global Market for Australian Coal’, Reserve Bank of Australia, 19 September 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[5] ‘Coal reserves in Australia and other leading Asia Pacific producers profiled’, NS Energy, 25 October 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[6] International Energy Agency (IEA), Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2019: The latest trends in energy and emissions in 2018, March 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,; United States Government, ‘International Energy Agency (IEA)’, Office of International Affairs, Department of Energy, accessed 27/12/2019,

[7] ‘Coal reserves in Australia and other leading Asia Pacific producers profiled’, NS Energy, 25 October 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[8] Michelle Cunningham, Luke Van Uffelen and Mark Chambers, ‘The Changing Global Market for Australian Coal’, Reserve Bank of Australia, 19 September 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[9] Daniel Workman, ‘Coal Exports by Country’, World’s Top Exports, 23 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[10] Matt McDonald, ‘How to answer the argument that Australia’s emissions are too small to make a difference’, The Conversation, 18 June 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[11] Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions’, published 16 July 2008, updated 10 October 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[12] Adam Morton, ‘Australia is third largest exporter of fossil fuels behind Russia and Saudi Arabia’, Guardian, 19 August 2019, Australian edition, accessed 26/12/2019,

[13] Matt Kean, ‘Stop the climate politics and let NSW become the Saudi Arabia of green energy’, Sydney Morning Herald,11 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[14] David Crowe, ‘Albanese says Australia should continue to export coal’, 9 December 2019, Sydney Morning Herald,accessed 26/12/2019,

[15] Kate Doyle, ‘NSW bushfires burn an area greater than Wales, the result of an exceptional spring, ABC News, updated 18 December 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[16] Richard Flanagan, ‘What Albanese could have said: we lied – Australian coalmines have no future’, Guardian, 12 December 2019, Australian edition, accessed 26/12/2019,

[17] United Nations, ‘UN Climate Change Conference – December 2019’, United Nations Climate Change, accessed 26/12/2019,

[18] Matthew Green and Jake Spring, ‘Australia’s climate stance sparks anger at U.N. summit’, Reuters, 14 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[19] United Nations, ‘What is the Kyoto Protocol?’, United National Climate Change, accessed 27/12/2019,

[20] Matthew Green and Jake Spring, ‘Australia’s climate stance sparks anger at U.N. summit’, Reuters, 14 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[21] Frank Jotzo, ‘Here in Madrid, the view of Australia’s tricky tactics is not pretty’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[22] Michael Mazengarb, ‘Australia silent about climate talks that will discuss its “dodgy” credit plans’, Renew Economy, 8 November 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[23] Jan Burck, Ursula Hagen, Niklas Höhne, Leonardo Nascimento and Christoph Bals, Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2020, Bonn: Germanwatch; Cologne; New Climate Institute; Beirut: Climate Action Network International, 17. Accessed 26/12/2019,,

[24] Climate Action Network International, ‘Fossil of the day’, 14 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[25] Harriet Alexander and Nick Moir, ‘“The monster”: a short history of Australia’s biggest forest fire’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[26] Daniel Keane, ‘Temperature record could be repeatedly broken as heatwave hits Australia’s south-east, BOM says’, ABC News, 17 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[27] Richard Flanagan, ‘Aloha, little Scotty from Marketing, is it resurrection you’re looking for?’, New Daily, 24 December 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[28] Greg Mullins, ‘Emergency Leaders: Australia unprepared for worsening extremes’, Climate Council, 10 April 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[29] Mark Saunokonoko, ‘Fire chiefs blame worsening bushfires on climate change, call for more leadership’, 9News, 17 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[30] Mike Brown, Former Tasmania Fire Service chief, quoted in Steven Trask, ‘Former fire chiefs challenge Morrison government to act on climate change, fires’, 7News, 17 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[31] Aine Fox and Steven Trask, ‘Ex-fire chiefs could go it alone on crisis’, Canberra Times, 17 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[32] Greg Mullins, ‘Come with me to the mega-blaze, Scott Morrison, and see what we’re up against’, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 2019, accessed 28/12/2019,

[33] Calla Wahlquist, Amy Corderoy and Michael McGowan, ‘Tahmoor coalmine evacuated as Green Wattle Creek blaze rages – as it happened’, Guardian, 19 December 2019, Australian edition, accessed 26/12/2019,

[34] Australian Government, ‘Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples’, accessed 26/12/2019,

[35] Anthony Albanese, ‘Speech – Address to the Chifley Research Centre Conference – Labor and Democracy – Sydney – Saturday, 7 December 2019’, accessed 26/12/2019,

[36] Anthony Albanese, ‘Scott Morrison wants silent Australians’, email, 7 December 2019

[37] Graham Readfern, ‘Australia’s bushfires have emitted 250m tonnes of CO2, almost half of country’s annual emissions’, Guardian, 13 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[38] Katharine Murphy, ‘Government’s mid-year budget update forecasts weaker wages growth’, Guardian, 16 December 2019, Australian edition, accessed 27/12/2019,

[39] Dominic Kelly, ‘With friends like these: Just how close are the Liberal Party and IPA?’, The Conversation, 7 June 2019, Australian edition, accessed 26/12/2019,;,8837

[40] Catherine Hanrahan, ‘Federal election 2019: Vote Compass finds Labor’s franking credits policy splits voters’, ABC News, 14 May 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[41] Christopher Knaus and Nick Evershed, ‘Tim Wilson helped write 20% of submissions to franking credits inquiry’, Guardian, 28 March 2019, Australian edition, accessed 26/12/2019,

[42] ‘Rudd in strip joint: “Oh no, this won’t do”’, ABC News, updated 21 August 2007, accessed 27/12/2019,; Adam Brereton, ‘An Australian politician walks into a bar … and things don’t always go well’, Guardian, 29 December 2015, Australian edition, accessed 27/12/2019,; ‘Rudd mouthing fiscal conservatism: PM’, The World Today, ABC Radio, 11 May 2007, accessed 26/12/2019,

[43] Greg Jericho, ‘New research: Abbott and Turnbull the worst economic managers since Menzies’, Guardian, 14 June 2016, accessed 27/12/2019,; Richard Denniss, ‘The Coalition says the silliest things about economic management’, Guardian, 3 April 2019, Australian edition, accessed 27/12/2019,

[44] Australian Labor Party, Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, 9, accessed 26/12/2019,

[45] Jacob Kagi, ‘Election 2019 shows why five seats may be high water mark for Labor in conservative WA’ ABC News, 19 May 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[46] Graham Readfern, ‘Q&A: Labor’s Mark Butler says climate debate should be put aside amid bushfires’, Guardian, 12 November 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[47] Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1837–39; William Blake, ‘Jerusalem’, 1804; ‘Notes & Queries: What were William Blake’s dark satanic mills?’, Guardian, 13 September 2012, accessed 26/12/2019,

[48] Charis Chang, ‘Tax and royalty systems for Australia’s gas and oil industries need reform, experts argue’,, 22 November 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[49] Joel Fitzgibbon, ‘Opinion Piece – Stop Demonising Our Coal – 12 December 2019’, media release, 12 December 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[50] Peter Martin, ‘Not rich? Why we’ve no idea what we actually earn’, 12 May 2013, accessed 27/12/2019,

[51] ‘How does your income compare?’, Matt Cowgill, 23 March 2018, accessed 27/12/2019,

[52] Jillian Ambrose, ‘China’s appetite for coal power returns despite climate pledge’, Guardian, 21 November 2019, Australian edition, accessed 27/12/2019,; Isabel Hilton, ‘How China’s Big Overseas Initiative Threatens Global Climate Progress’, Yale Environment 360, 3 January 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[53] Robert Glasser, ‘It’s time for bipartisan action on climate change’, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 18 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[54] Climate change related disasters should not be classified as ‘natural’ as they are at least partly the result of human activity

[55] Australian Labor Party, National Constitution, 18 December 2018, 5, accessed 27/12/2019

[56] Clean Energy Regulator, ‘About the mechanism’, Carbon Pricing Mechanism, 11 May 2015, accessed 27/12/2018,; Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions, ‘Australia’s Carbon Pricing Mechanism’, December 2011, accessed 27/12/2019,; Thom Mitchell, ”It Was This Big”: Labor Revives Massive Marine Reserves Plan Abbott Obstructed’, New Matilda, 10 June 2016, accessed 26/12/2019,

[57] Julie Bishop, 3 July 2016, video, accessed 27/12/2018,

[58] Mazoe Ford, ‘Election 2016: ‘Mediscare’ and other tactics from the Labor campaign handbook’, ABC News, 4 July 2016, accessed 27/12/2019,

[59] Michelle Grattan, ‘Grattan on Friday – Anthony Albanese needs some meat in his first ‘vision statement’ next week’, The Conversation, 24 October 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,; Amy Remeikis, ‘John Setka abandons challenge to his expulsion from Labor party – politics live’, Guardian, Australian edition, updated 23 October 2019, accessed 27/12/2019,

[60] Safe Work Australia, ‘Fatality statistics’, updated 23 December 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

[61] Australian Labor Party, Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, 8, accessed 26/12/2019,

[62] See a modern interpretation of the Sisyphus myth here:

[63] Michelle Grattan, ‘Grattan on Friday – Anthony Albanese needs some meat in his first ‘vision statement’ next week’, The Conversation, 24 October 2019, accessed 26/12/2019,

Published by Kurt Vall

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Kurt studied linguistics, philosophy and Asian history at the Australian National University and is currently a graduate student in international relations at the University of Melbourne. He has over a decade's experience in public policy and administration in Australian federal and state government.

One thought on “Coal, and Labor’s other affairs

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