The Coal Curse by Judith Brett – a brief review

Quarterly Essay No.70 2020 RRP $22.99

This essay, mainly economic history, documents the rise of the climate change deniers on the conservative side of politics. Brett states: “Australia has been cursed with a decade of poor national leadership on climate change, with our prime ministers lacking either the courage or the intellect to develop coherent policy responses to the threat…” (p.7)  and the proceeds to analyse how “climate change denial gain[ed] such a deadly grip on our political class”.(p.8)

Brett charts this long road to political dominance with the influence and actions of the big miners, and in particular the efforts of Hugh Morgan of Western Mining Corporation – from their opposition to land rights through to the rejection of the resources rent tax in 2010 and the decade of climate denial. In effect, this is really two decades with a brief interregnum of the Gillard minority government.

After the formation of the Lavoisier Group, of whom few will have heard, and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) holus bolus adoption of anti-science climate policies, the deniers had the ear of every conservative government since John Howard in 1996 – aided in many aspects by the Murdoch press. Brett notes: “After Howard won the 1996 election it became easy for the mining lobby to prevent action on climate change” (p.47) and “climate denial and scepticism spread through the Australian right”. (p.49)

Later under “Abbott the two decades of cultivation of a network of climate sceptics and deniers by the Lavoisier Group and the IPA paid off in spades. Abbott was openly and repeatedly sceptical about the science of climate change and, with his imprimatur, a hard core of climate sceptics formed inside the Coalition determined to stymie any policies aimed at reducing Australia’s carbon emissions.” (p.58)

Brett further adds that the “denigration of science has not only affected climate science it has undermined the nation’s commitment to research and development more broadly and to foster a silly hostility to new renewable energy technologies.” (p.59) “The National Party has become the party of coal…” (p.63) she adds and “Capital is deserting fossil fuels… (p.69)

Finally Brett points out that being the international pariah on climate change has its downside and substantial future risk, like countries adopting carbon tariffs to preference against our exports or the finance industry applying “global capital boycotts.” (p.70)  Hopefully the influence of these climate criminals, and their supporters in the IPA and the Murdoch media, will decline as their industry does. In the meantime, let us find outstanding conservative and/or centrist candidates to oppose every climate reactionary in parliament and hope the path Zali Steggall pioneered in Wahringa against Abbott will be followed by many others.