Raising Hell: Issue 52: Politicians Hate Me Because Of This One Simple Trick!
"When you’re not winning, you’re losing," - John McCain, US Republican Senator on Afghanistan, 9 July 2017.
On the way out the door, as I waited in line at the coat check to collect my bags and make a dash for the airport, I overheard a tall, rake-thin man in a blue suit telling the man next to him that “it’s all bullshit”.
He said it with passion, leaning into the second man as he spoke. Until that moment those gathered for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference at the Brisbane Convention Centre had made a good show of writing themselves into a bright future. The event, a nexus of power and wealth within Australia, attracted politicians from both major parties who told the industry how they were essential and how oil and gas could look forward to a long, prosperous tomorrow.
Over the course of three days — technically four and a golf tournament but Monday was a “soft opening” — industry figure sin the oil and gas supply chain, analysis and those in the corporate hierarchy at companies like Exxon, Chevron and Shell sat through a run of panels and breakout sessions on a range of subjects that flagged the industry’s served to reveal the industry’s biggest concerns at this point in history.
There were presentations on the economics of hydrogen, on how the industry is decarbonising its own emissions by putting solar panels and batteries on oil rigs, on how gas will lay the foundation for a transition to fossil fuels, on how the war in Ukraine made their business matter now more than ever and what to do if you became the target of a class action over climate change. Having spent a good half century denying climate change, the industry was now scrambling to rebrand itself as an “energy” industry and insist it was “part of the solution” through a process of “decarbonisation, not defossilisation”.
In short, they wanted to be the good guys.
But if the conversation between those two men at the coat check revealed anything, it’s that it was mostly skin deep. For all the talk about moving into the future, the fundamental belief remained that oil and gas were forever. The price of petrol was well over $2 a litre in parts of Queensland and with Russia engaged in an act of colonial expansion into Ukraine, competing powers were now begging — in their view — for oil and gas companies to produce more. Therefore, as one panel participant told the conference in the final session, net zero was dead.
A few days later Australians went to the polls in the 2022 federal election. Until that moment the press pack travelling with Labor leader Anthony Albanese had written him off as a dud in charge of a failed campaign. Morrison was too good of a campaigner, the reasoning went. He was a genius at manufacturing made-for-TV moments, a man made of Teflon that seamed impervious to even the greasiest truth. Twelve hours later they were proven wrong when Labor emerged victorious.
The apparent convergence of these separate stories came together the Sunday after when APPEA put out a statement to the media congratulating the new government, saying. After some guff about how the “industry has a track record of working constructively with all government”, acting chief executive Damian Dwyer got to the point:
We urge any new administration to continue to recognise the critical role of gas in the future decarbonised energy mix and the development of our region, as well as focusing policy efforts on improving the competitiveness of the nation’s investment environment.
These were words that echoed those of Santos CEO and former APPEA chair, Kevin Gallagher, when he appeared at the conference during a panel on the future of technology in the industry. During the following panel discussion, Gallagher told the audience that he wasn’t worried about the outcome of the election as “energy security is going to be important, no matter who’s in power”.
“My request is that there be no big kneejerk factors, that there’s no big Biden-type policy announcement on day one, in closing things down, because I think that’d be very disruptive,” he said.
There were several things wrong with that statement — like the false idea that the Biden administration had actually tried to shut anything down — but the key takeaway was what Gallagher had been signaling to his audience.
In a nutshell, he was saying: Don’t fuck with us.
It was also a line that makes clear how the fault lines of our politics are likely to breakdown down over the next three years. Media commentators may now be claiming the election of Anthony Albanese and the centrality of climate change as an election issue puts an end to the climate wars, but really the reverse is true. Climate change was barely discussed over the course of the election and Labor have already made steadfast commitments to the resources sector saying that it absolutely, positively understands the importance of coal and gas to the economy.
And as the price of petrol prices the people who are going to feel it most are those who need action on climate change the most, but who may not be able to afford the solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles that would free them of the inevitable spiral. Without a clear social program directed at improving access to these innovations — for the country, for renters, for those in apartment blocks — there will be friction for the Labor party.
The tension here should be obvious. Any leftwing coalition in the Australian parliament is already likely to be fractious around any number of issues, but all those new independents and Greens members who want ambitious climate action will now have to deal with a Labor government that has embraced austerity-lite as its politics (for more, go back and read what Jim Chalmers has been saying over the course of the campaign about the national debt and the need for fiscal responsibility).
None of this, by the way, is an original thought with Ketan Joshi among the first to offer a clear-eyed view of how the next three years could very well play out:
And with the right wing spoiling for a fight — the takeaway from the Australian Christian Lobby and media commentators on the far right is that the Libs need to move further right — what we’re looking at is a re-run of the fight over the Mineral Resources Rent Tax, except this time with and oil and gas sector that refuses to die and bigger, existential stakes thanks to a collapsing biosphere.
For the Fortnight: May 11 to May 24
Where I recap what I’ve been doing this last fortnight so you know I’m not just using your money to stimulate the local economy …
‘‘World leaders respond to Anthony Albanese’s Australian election victory” (The Guardian Australia, 22 May 2022).
“Australia’s oil and gas regulator criticised after chief hands out environmental ‘excellence’ awards at industry dinner” (The Guardian Australia, 19 May 2022).
Remote NT community not told about $5m contract to fix uranium in water supply (The Guardian Australia, 16 May 2022).
“Dominic Perrottet rules out Sydney congestion tax after confidential plans leaked” (The Guardian Australia, 11 May 2022).
Cracking COVIDSafe - An examination of the machine that made the COVIDSafe app, a piece of software made by people who wanted to hack the pandemic (complete).
Laramba’s Water - Laramba is a remote Indigenous Community in the Northern Territory which has been drinking uranium-contaminated water since 2008. We tried to find out what why (on-going).
‘High levels of uranium in drinking water of NT community’ (NITV, 31 July 2020).
‘Company remains shtum on plans to filter Laramba's contaminated water supply’ (NITV, 21 October 2020).
‘‘It makes us sick’: remote NT community wants answers about uranium in its water supply’ (The Guardian, 18 October 2021).
Remote NT community not told about $5m contract to fix uranium in water supply (The Guardian Australia, 16 May 2022).
You Hate To See It
A dyspeptic, snark-ridden and highly ironic round-up of the news from our shared hellscape…
Thinking Of You
Our colony may have changed government, but the future monarch of this fine continent really wants you to know the top priority of the English crown is to “ease the cost-of-living for families”. Of course, the future king of Australia made this announcement while literally sitting atop a gilded, golden thrown studded with an assortment of rare gemstones.
God Bless The U.S. of A.
There are only a few universal constants: death, taxes, gravity and the late capitalist nightmare that is the US healthcare system. Take, for example, the experience of one chronically ill woman who was charged $40 for crying in a doctor’s office. The charge was labelled as “BRIEF EMOTIONAL/BEHAV ASSMT” on the form.
Thoughts And Prayers
To Australia now where the election proved to be a funeral pyre for the ambition of rich, white men and boy howdy did the tears flow. There was the sullen face of Josh Frydenberg, long regarded as a future Prime Minister as he sort-of conceded his seat. There was Scott “I do believe in miracles” Morrison’s tears shed during a Hillsong service the day after and of course Tim Wilson who refused to mention Zoe Daniel’s name when he conceded his seat on Sunday. Others joining them include Dave Sharma, Craig Kelly, Pauline Hanson and Kristina Keneally, who once came out swinging in support of a program to force refugees to pay the cost of their incarceration. By far the best the best story of the night, however, was Clive Palmer who sunk $100m into the United Australia Party. Guest to the billionaires election night party were greeted by Palmer playing the panel and at least one television in his Sovereign Island mansion was tuned into the ABC’s election night coverage with Laura Tingle, so he “could keep an eye on her.”
Let Them Drink Uranium
All eyes may have been on the sideshow that was the six-week 2022 election but out in the middle of the desert, the community of Laramba learned that, after decades of drinking uranium water, they would be getting a treatment plant. The catch? The NT Labor government has so far refused to provide the 300 or so people — who are some of the poorest in the country — with free bottled water until the planet has been built in December.
Crash Or Crash Through, AMIRIGHT?
There is something in the conservative heart, a cold, calculating will to power that emerges when they eye a small child on a sporting pitch. In that moment, they are overcome with a need to induce a concussion in them. This is true of Boris Johnson who knocked over one child in a rugby match in 2015 and now it is true of Scott Morrison who, in the closing days of the 2022 campaign, appeared to rugby tackle seven-year-old Luca Fauvette during a soccer game.
Where we recognise and celebrate the true stupidity of the rich, powerful and influential…
Days before the election, the leading lights of Australia’s oil and gas industry gathered under one roof for their annual conference. On the third day, they partied in the main ball room of the Brisbane Convention Centre. The room was showered in blue light — the blue of petrol, the blue of burning natural gas, the blue of “blue hydrogen” — where they chowed down on steaks, awarded themselves trophies for environmental excellence and listened to Vanessa Amarosi.
But who was present on stage during this award ceremony? Who did the industry bring in to hand out these awards? We here at Raising Hell were shocked to find none other than Stuart Smith, the outgoing chief executive of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. We wish Smith will in his future endeavors, which we assume will be well-remunerated.
Good Reads, Good Times
To share the love, here are some of the best or more interesting reads from the last fortnight…
If you have any interest in weird Cold War stories, Casey Michel writing in Poltitico has a good one about the battalions of Eastern European refugees the CIA trained up and parachuted into Ukraine to foment a guerilla movement against the Soviet Union. Unbeknownst to them, their operations were so compromised nearly every single participant was shot on arrival.
Before You Go (Go)…
Are you a public sector bureaucrat whose tyrannical boss is behaving badly? Have you recently come into possession of documents showing some rich guy is trying to move their ill-gotten-gains to Curacao? Did you take a low-paying job with an evil corporation registered in Delaware that is burying toxic waste under playgrounds? If your conscience is keeping you up at night, or you’d just plain like to see some wrong-doers cast into the sea, we here at Raising Hell can suggest a course of action: leak! You can securely make contact through Signal or through encrypted message Wickr Me on my account: rorok1990. Alternatively you can send us your hard copies to: PO Box 134, Welland SA 5007
And if you’ve come this far, consider supporting me further by picking up one of my books, leaving a review or by just telling a friend about Raising Hell!