Responding to Canavan on Adani and climate change

Bob wrote this piece in response to Matt Canavan's address to the Sydney Institute in August 2019.

The Minister for Resources Matt Canavan wants to see who else in India, besides Gautam Adani, will mine Australia coal. Ignoring the 64,000 jobs dependent on the Great Barrier Reef’s dying coral, his rallying cry is “How good are coal jobs!”.

At the Sydney Institute on Tuesday night (6th August), he condemned “inner-city elites ”who “do not understand regional Australians”. Canavan is a product of the Brisbane private education system but, having been a staffer for Barnaby Joyce, he moved to Toowoomba to win his Senate seat in Queensland for the Nationals.

Here is a bright young fellow who won’t confront the climate emergency.

Instead, he has fallen into manipulating regional sentiment by vilifying people who have the intellectual integrity to advocate a fossil-fuel-free future for life on Earth.

In the United States in the 1980s, a combination of shooters, loggers, miners and other exploiters of nature came together in the ‘Wise Use’ movement aimed at smashing environmentalists. Pretty soon the movement’s leaders realised that they could not win the public debate about the need to protect nature. They came up with a two-pronged strategy: argue for nature’s ‘wise use’ (eg ‘culling’ of native wildlife); and attack environmentalists themselves.

Matt Canavan exemplifies this strategy of avoiding the issues and shooting the messengers.

Two years ago, in Canberra, I helped set up the Stop Adani Coalition of 39 environment groups campaigning to stop Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s mega coal mine in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin. I was invited on to Fran Kelly’s ABC RN Breakfast following an interview she had had with Canavan about the mine. Before my interview had ended, Canavan was on the phone demanding a right of reply to my reply - and he got it. What impressed me most about this man, besides his pizazz, was his deliberated failure to grapple with the reality, let alone the cause, of global heating.

His method of conflating the conflicting interests of miners and farmers, as a homogenous rural sector under attack from ‘inner-city’ elites, was evolving.

So I was not surprised when, at the Sydney Insitute this week, he concentrated on vilifying me and the millions more who are advocating urgent global action to meet humanity’s existential crisis. As The Age headline succinctly put it: ‘Loud Australians’ drown out country voices: Canavan.

As a boy from the bush, I find this city-bred man’s strategy transparently that of the huckster. Here is the National Party’s up-and-coming leader promoting coal mining against farming interests while avoiding the climate emergency and attacking environmental advocates instead. Sure, mining and agriculture both occur in the bush but when it comes to extracting fossil fuels, they are antagonistic, not complementary. Canavan knows this and, for example, has ignored my challenges to debate him on the issue.

Yet, while Canavan was writing his speech for the Sydney Institute, the second great drought in consecutive decades had overtaken rural Queensland and New South Wales. It is intellectually difficult to ignore or reject the reality that global heating, which means every second of every day and night is now one degree Celsius hotter than a century ago, has not worsened this drought, but Canavan is up to the task.

This is not just a matter of human misery in the Outback. Due to the historic burning of coal, billions of dollars in drought relief are being diverted from taxpayers’ expectations that more should be spent on public education, hospitals and police stations in both the country and the city. Later this century, 20% of taxpayers’ funds may be needed to mitigate the impact of global heating.

Because of unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases being injected into Earth’s atmosphere from burning coal, gas and oil and, crucially, the destruction of natural forests, the future looks very grim indeed. No wonder that millions of young people (for Canavan, more ‘inner-city elites’) are rallying around the world, demanding action.

There are erudite estimates that half the Murray-Darling Basin’s irrigated productivity ($7 billion per annum) will be lost by 2050 and that, unless we urgently change tack from polluting Earth’s atmosphere, 90% will be gone by the end of this century.

I was at a rural airport recently when a burly man came up and asked, “are you Bob Brown?”. After confirming this, he surprised me by saying he was a cattleman from western Queensland and that he agreed 100% with the Stop Adani Convoy. He is one of many.

Canavan is right in saying that rural voices are “failing to be heard” over a “din of loud Australians” but it is the din of the loud-mouthed coal industry which is the problem.

A station near Broken Hill has sold its last sheep because it is now too hot for them to thrive there: this is the awful face of things to come.

But the Nationals’ Canavan wants more coal mines, gas fracking, oil wells in the Great Australian Bight and logging of our nation’s remnant native forests. Rather than directly defend this suite of policies, he is in the inner city demanding that Australians must work harder to remove “some of the poison affecting modern democracies” ie. those who advocate feasible and prudent action to rescue the future for both town and country.

On Monday, 72 risk-taking citizens were arrested in Brisbane taking part in Extinction Rebellion’s campaign which includes stopping the Adani mine. This caused shock for commuters delayed from their pressing daily tasks. It gained little more publicity nationwide than the protesters at the Adani mine who, the following day, held up the machinery destroying the Black-throated Finch habitat in preparation for strip-mining the coal underneath and, consequently, as Canavan wants, the extraction of the whole Galilee Basin coal lode.

Homo sapiens is in a self-made existential crisis. This is alarming people in the bush every bit as much as in the city. We - all eight billion of us - are in this together. We will either take the urgent action required or suffer the consequences together.

Matt Canavan told the Catholic Leader newspaper “My favourite bible verse is Matthew 7:1, ‘Don’t judge others as you will be judged. What you use against them will be used against you’.”

That’s good advice. As this Australian Minister for Resources is attracting more Indian investment to unearth Australian coal, he might ponder judging, instead, whether the young people of both rural and urban Australia should be heeded. Thousands of them are calling on him to end the burning of fossil fuels, beginning with leaving the huge lode of Galilee Basin coal in the ground.

At the Sydney Institute, Canavan said “I don't see Bob Brown and his likes visiting the mines of (China) ... campaigning against them, because they would only go to gaol in China, they are not going to do that". I am banned from China for having spoken up, as a senator, about Beijing’s repression of Tibetans and the gaoling of Chinese advocates for democracy. But, more importantly, does this minister of the crown not understand that going to gaol is increasingly on the mind of good-hearted people around the world who are otherwise being coerced into silence as the planet goes to Hell?

Canavan would do well to listen to the climate-striking students of rural Castlemaine, or those young people who were arrested for bravely obstructing the clearance of the Adani mine site on Wednesday. There is a rising tide of popular outrage against political complicity in the climate crisis which all the gaols on Earth may not contain.

Bob Brown

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  • Janet Murphy
    commented 2020-10-15 06:19:32 +1100
    Well said Bob.