Direct investment in renewables: dare the Greens mention this heresy?

A spectre is haunting Australia. The spectre of direct government investment in renewable energy.

Well it should be anyway.

As Tony Abbott gallops around the parliament shouting “I’m the king of the castle team Australia”, tearing up the carbon tax (aka the carbon price), demolishing what remains of the welfare state, demonising refugees and muslims and making a mockery of himself of the world stage, a new debate has quietly emerged amongst progressives and climate activists about whether we should ‘change tack’ when it comes to climate campaigns.

The Greens federally seem happy enough to rally people around a revival of emissions trading. As has been covered in Green Left, here, here, here, here and here, we reckon it’s a fairly open and shut case that carbon trading is rubbish.  So what is the alternative?

The title of this article is a hint. From the outset, it is important to note that counterposing direct state investment in renewables to carbon trading as ‘our only choice’ is a false dichotomy. Regulating coal fired power stations, coal mines and unconventional gas out of existence is another action the state can take. Expanding the mandatory renewable energy target is another option. Nationalising and phasing out mines and power stations is another tool at the states disposal – if the political will existed.

Outside of what the state is doing there is the realm of direct action: activism in the streets; climate camps, pickets like at Bentley and Leard forest; walks against warming, climate emergency rallies, trade union climate campaigns, town hall meetings; the establishment of co-operatives such as the earthworker co-op, and renewable energy co-ops. Rebecca Pearse harks to the crucial role of the grassroots here

There is a whole world of stuff outside of what the Government does and says that is super important to creating genuine, deep going, lasting political change. But State and Federal policy remains an important area and is something the aforementioned grassroots movements can and should seek to influence in a strategic manner as part of their campaigns.

Now back to carbon trading. Apart from being ineffective, even if it did work *exactly* as intended carbon trading is also painfully slow. Slow as in it doesn’t have much effect over the course of a three or four or six or even nine year term of government.

So you can implement some sort of whiz-bang carbon trading scheme that will (In theory at least) decarbonise the economy in thirty or forty years, but if it gets dismantled after the first three or six or even nine years then it won’t have done much good.

Direct government investment in renewables by contrast is something that can be done quickly. We know wind farms in particular are quick to approve and build.

The question of how to fund such a project (other than by simply adding to government debt) of course rears its head. Such a project could be paired with a double digit rise in both the corporate tax rate and the personal income tax rate on those earning over $180,000 per year. Sound unrealistic? Maybe so in the current political climate, but of you think that you can neatly avoid this issue by drinking a few tall glasses of carbon-trade-kool-aid, its high time you reassess the relationship between class and climate. Taxing (or expropriating from) the rich and stopping dangerous climate change are intrinsically linked. Singing the greenhouse mafia an ETS lullaby and hoping it will quietly cease to exist is delusional.

Now, if we are to assume that the asbestos lobby and the horse drawn cart industry group are not as politically influential as they once were due to the fact that they no longer have much of an economic base, could we then also conclude that actually getting renewables built is what will diminish the power base of those who would seek to overturn and unravel climate policies, be they strong or weak?

Put simply: if a progressive government builds a hundred billion dollars worth of publicly owned wind farms in six years – which we know will knock out a heap of coal fired plant due to the merit order effect – what is a right of centre government going to do if it gets elected? Pull down the wind farms? Not likely. But more to the point, the fact that those wind farms are operating will have significantly diminished the actual power, the actual revenue base of the fossil fuel lobby.

Now those who follow climate and renewable politics will know that Abbott is on the wrong side of history and zero-fuel-cost renewables will inevitably dethrone coal as the dominant source of electricity. But those who follow the waxing and waning of the polar ice caps would also know that the pace at which renewables are displacing coal – even given its impressive momentum – is nowhere near fast enough to prevent a very high risk of runaway warming, a world six degrees hotter with decimated food production and rising sea levels.

And here enlies the problem with the ‘market will save us with cheap renewables’ approach espoused by reneweconomy and co (whose work I respect and enjoy, don’t get me wrong).

Are ‘green capitalists’ concerned primarily with trench warfare against the old guard (the fossil fuel mafia) to slowly capture market share? Or do they want to decarbonise the global economy quickly enough to stop runaway warming? Because the two are not necessarily the same.

Moreover, would ‘green capitalists’ be content to let the Australian government invest in publicly owned renewables (and thus capture a big slab of precisely the new market they are aiming to control) if it meant that the inevitable demise of the fossil fuel mafia in Australia happened a decade or more earlier than if market forces alone drove the shift?

Who cares what green capitalists want, I can hear a bunch of socialists say. Fair question. Not me, they can go jump. But I reckon the Greens do. Because the Greens stand at a crossroads. They could feasibly be the parliamentary representatives of this new emergent group of capitalists. Thats certainly how Greens leader Christine Milne pitches some of her rhetoric, couching renewables policy in terms of competition. Clever wedge politics, or the actual game plan of the Greens? It would be naive to think the Greens don’t seek the opinion of Australia’s fledgling renewable capitalists when developing policy.

What if next time the Greens control the balance of power in the senate, they made it a condition of forming government that there was a major project of public investment in renewables. An ‘NBN of renewables’. The longer this government stays in, the closer it takes us to 100% renewables via direct investment in renewables. On one hand the ‘green capitalists’ would miss out on some market share – perhaps even a lot of market share –  and the politically dangerous example of what direct government investment in renewables can achieve will be like a genie released from a bottle. The idea might take root elsewhere, heaven forbid. But on the other hand, from the perspective of ‘green capital’ a future government might just privatise the wind and solar parks, and at least one strategically important corner of the ‘evil empire’ of global fossil capital – Australia – will have had a giant hole ripped out of its power base.

How much time do we spend going ‘one step forward and two steps back’? Will we have an alternating cycle of gently pro-renewables government followed by a term of fossil mafia dominated government that undoes the previous government’s market mechanisms, all the while green capitalists holding off on investment because of all the darn uncertainty, and at some point around the year 2035 the balance finally shifts decisively in the favour of just keeping the latest useless ETS in place?

Why not cut to the chase and smash out a big renewable public works project starting in 2016?
Direct public investment is where all our coal fired plants came from and its where the Snowy Hydro scheme came from. These were not built by revolutionary socialist governments (but could have been; concrete and steel don’t discriminate). They were built by the state. By capitalist state governments. 

I look forward to seeing a considered response from at least one or two Greens regarding this. You do some good work Greens, I work alongside your activist members, I work with them, and I respect them. But by golly you have got precious little to say about direct investment in renewables. Why? Are you that scared of rocking the boat of neoliberal ‘the market knows best’ ideology? You rock the boat in other ways, why not in this realm?  

Its one thing to not want to be seen as being too radical or revolutionary or anti-capitalist. But you could at least do a proper job of being left social democrats when it comes to your renewables policies.

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Media Relase: Show us the evidence, Tim…

Zane Alcorn, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the state seat of Newcastle in 2011, has called upon member for Newcastle Tim Owen to produce copies of printed election material which clearly state that if elected Owen would seek to have the rail line cut.

Mr Alcorn said that fellow Socialist Alliance member and Mayfield resident Niko Leka had written to Mr Owen regarding the plan to cut the line at Wickham.

Leka was told that the MP had “sought a mandate as part of the election campaign in 2011 to change the city of Newcastle in terms of getting the Mall renewal back on track and the replacement of the heavy rail with light rail in the city of Newcastle”

“That’s nonsense” Mr Alcorn said. “I clearly recall that printed leaflets from Owen skirted around the issue of cutting the rail line without ever directly saying that that was the plan”.

“Saying that you want ‘decisive action’ is just vacuous politician speak” Mr Alcorn said. “That could be in regards to anything – graffiti, corruption, ineptitude.”

“Show us any of your printed election materials from 2011 that clearly state, in plain English, that a vote for Tim Owen is a vote to cut the train line”.

Mr Alcorn also said that at a candidates forum hosted by the Throsby Villages Alliance at the Hamilton Station Hotel in 2011, Owen had claimed that the Liberal party had “no plans for job cuts or privatisations”.

Mr Alcorn recalled that his response at the candidates forum was to suggest that “the tooth fairy” would be the Liberal governments “minister in charge of not sacking people and not selling off public assets”

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Objection to the revised 4th coal loader proposal (aka ‘lipstick on a pig’)

I’ve been a bit slack updating this blog, but better late than never I figure.






T4 PPR submission

Zane Alcorn­­­

November 22, 2013




Various other submissions will eloquently make the case, quite compellingly, that Newcastle needs a fourth coal loader like it needs a hole in the head. T4 would add to particulate pollution, worsening the already existing health issues stemming from coal and mining dust. It would facilitate the further decimation of farmland, horse studs, ecologically unique forests, and entire rural communities. The extra mining that would feed T4 will trash the aquifers that the aforementioned communities (and countless future generations) need. It will wipe out some of the most ecologically significant migratory bird habitat on the east coast of Australia.

Rather than addressing these issues all over again I want to focus on two key issues.

Number one, the slow but steady shift from coal to renewables, and the implications for T4. Worldwide investment in renewables overtook investment in fossil fuel fired power stations in 2011 and the gap only widened in 2012 and 2013.  The current pace of change may not be enough to stop six degrees warming, full arctic collapse and the decimation of food and water supplies worldwide. But it is most certainly enough to wreak havoc upon the global coal industry.

The nature of renewable energy is that even at small levels of grid ‘penetration’, cheap energy is fed into the grid at ‘inconvenient’ times, commercially speaking, and starts to displace coal and gas fired power from some of the most lucrative daily selling sessions that the ‘baseload’ business model relies upon. Put it this way: coal fired generators do not make their money in the middle of the night when they are wastefully generating a massive oversupply of energy. They serious coin is made in peak demand periods. To have renewables delivering cheap power at these times is bad for coal.

It is in this context that PWCS are seeking to build a fourth coal loader. Why? The port of Newcastle already has about sixty million tonnes per annum of spare coal loading capacity. Meanwhile, Deutsche bank projects global steaming coal demand may only rise by thirty million tonnes to 2020!
T4 is a relic of a bygone era. It is a relic of pre-GFC ‘economics on steroids’. It is a relic of the heady days of bold assumptions that China would spend the next few decades vacuuming up every last ounce of available coal, in an exponential frenzy of coal fired power station building.

T4 is also a symbolic project. To walk away from a new loader here in the world’s largest coal port is to acknowledge the party is over – for now at least, if not permanently. In a corporate world built so heavily around intangible “confidence” and front, to take the logical step and walk away from an unviable and unnecessary project is unacceptable. Perhaps a CEO or three may even speculate that flooding an already oversupplied world market with yet more coal may be preferable to admitting that renewables are starting to put the pinch on coal.

The second point I want to cover regards climate change.  Attaching the label ‘scope 3 emissions’ to the massive carbon footprint of the coal T4 will ship – and then denying any responsibility for this aspect of the approval – is as absurd as it is sinister. Ten, twenty and fifty years from now the excuse that those responsible for approving this project were ‘technically not instructed to look at the greenhouse gas emissions of those 70 million tonnes per annum of coal’ will be seen for the utter tripe that it is. Fucking wake up to yourselves. Seriously.

Coal v renewables in Europe – net reduction in coal

I really like this graph and I wanted to share it with you all because it is an excellent example of what is happening in Europe and what awaits the rest of the world. It is from the European Wind Energy Association and looks at new build power stations, Europe wide, for calendar year 2012:


That’s right. You are looking at 31GW of new renewables and a net reduction of 2.4GW of coal. Bam.

Cheap renewables are here to stay and are driving a stake into the heart of the coal industry. According to the UNEP, there was $244billion of investment in renewables worldwide in 2012-13. Notably, $112billion of that investment occurred in the global south versus $132billion in developed countries.


I shan’t dwell on China other than to say suffer in your jocks, coal merchants. Smokestack pollution is a massive issue in China and prompted authorities to announce earlier this year that coal usage would peak in 2015 and then start to decline. And with that, the dream of infinitely expanding coal exports to China was unceremoniously felled. China is also the worlds largest producer of wind turbines and solar panels.

The left wing environmental think tank Citibank had the following to say in a September report titled “The unimaginable – peak coal in China”:

‘Put simply, if non-coal generation growth outstrips power demand growth, which is

already slowing, coal use is set to plateau or decline. This outcome could have

significant repercussions across multiple global commodity markets, and we believe

it now needs to be priced-in into any global energy forecast at a much higher

probability than markets currently anticipate.’


Barnett: coal in ‘long term structural decline’

Seeking to delineate the oversupply plaguing east coast thermal coal exports from Western Australian iron ore exports, West Australian premier Colin Barnett went so far as to describe thermal coal as being in a “long term structural decline” earlier this year.

Now either Colin is doing some “deep entry work” in the Liberal party, and is actually a greenie,  or even those who are friends of the coal mining industry can see the writing on the wall.

India – saviour of Australian thermal coal exports?

Maybe India will be the saviour of Australia’s export coal industry? Not according to this October 4 article in India’s Economic Times. The headline says it all:

“Over 30 big power projects on block, big companies uninterested”.

The article describes that there are 35-50Gigawatts of new coal fired plant “at various stages of construction” for sale. But no one wants to buy them.


Does the PAC wish to be complicit in facilitating further oversupply?

As mentioned earlier in this document, Deutsche bank has stated that thermal coal is likely to experience only very modest growth between now and 2020 and that the thermal coal market “will remain oversupplied this decade”.
The coal industry may try to offset the low prices that are a product of this oversupply by trying to further ramp up production (i.e. to sell more at a lower price). This may also be seen as a means of delaying the rise of renewables by artificially lowering the price. This is a risky strategy.

It is one thing for coal producers to deliberately inflame the existing oversupply of coal in order to try and regain some semblance of profitability. The more logical means of achieving this however is to cut production and slow the rate of bringing new mines online, instead of flooding an already oversupplied market with vastly more coal.

Regardless,  it is not the role of the NSW planning department nor the PAC that will assess T4 to facilitate a speculative coal bubble.


Rio Tinto’s woes

To correctly assess the context of the T4 proposal it would be remiss not to look into the situation of

the single largest shareholder in PWCS: Rio Tinto. An October 26 article in the Australian stated that

Rio Tinto holds an 89% stake in Coal & Allied.

An April 7 article by chief Newcastle Herald coal industry reporter Ian Kirkwood claims that Coal &

Allied is a stakeholder in PWCS to the tune of “about 35per cent”.


Multiplying 35 by 0.89 we can thus extrapolate that Rio’s share in PWCS is just over 30%.


Why is this relevant to T4? Well, we have already looked at the state of the industry. In Europe and

the USA, the rate at which coal fired power stations are being closed down is greater than the rate at

which they are being built, and the new plants also use less coal to generate a given amount of

electricity. China has announced a cap on coal usage. Renewables have overtaken coal as the



In the recent past, Rio Tinto could wear tens of billions of dollars of debt as a badge of honour.

The more debt the company was carrying, the logic goes, the greater the extent to which they were

gearing themselves up for future profits.


And you would hope so. A February 26 article quoted rating agency Standard & Poors who

stated that “Rio’s gross debt rose to US$26.7bn from US$21.5bn in the year to December 2012” and

that an adjusted gross debt figurewas in fact more like “US$33bn, which takes into account asset

retirement costs, pensions and leases”.


Fast forward a few years though, and with thermal coal selling at $88per tonne instead of $140, and

with serious questions about whether the flattening off of demand for coal is perhaps not ‘cyclical’

but ‘structural’, and all of a sudden $30billion of debt… is just $30billion of debt. No sugar on top.


To make matters worse, Rio’s massive Bingham canyon copper mine in the USA suffered

an epic pit wall collapse in April.


A commonwealth bank article stated that the mine “was expected to contribute around US$701m net profit or 6% of total earnings in 2013”.

Image from

A September 16 article at reported that there had been a second landslide at the pit during cleanup operations, and said that it would take until the end of 2015 to remove the 98 million cubic metres of rock and dirt mobilised in the April landslide.

According to the article “it is estimated the mine will see a 50 per cent reduction in output as a direct result of the first landslide.”

Coincidence? Or something more?

Something pretty funny happened back in April – just prior to the Bingham canyon collapse.
On April 3, an article in the Wall Street Journal reported that Rio was “seeking a buyer for up to 29% of its Coal & Allied unit as it moves to cut costs and boost shareholder returns”.

According the article, Rio Was seeking to reduce its stake in C&A “to as little as 51%” and said “analysts [had] speculated that London-based Rio Tinto would need to sell or close some operations to meet a target of slashing costs by more than US$5 billion by the end of next year”.

How peculiar. On the one hand Rio Tinto has about a 30% stake in PWCS, who are looking at building a multibillion coal loader. That’s an expensive undertaking. Yet on the other hand Rio has massive debts and is trying to “slash costs”.

So it was a little coincidental – to say the least – that on April 9, just six days after the Wall street journal story broke, an article appeared in the Newcastle Herald saying T4 “might be shelved if the coal slump continues”. PWCS chief executive Hennie Du Plooy of PWCS told a coal industry conference that the company “was considering expanding its existing Kooragang loader as an alternative to T4”.

Herald Journalist Ian Kirkwood reported that “figures Mr du Plooy provided to the conference made clear, PWCS’s customers are now shipping almost 20per cent less than they are contracted to provide, and the gap is widening” and said the new loader would not be up and running until 2018 at the earliest.

For such announcements to appear so soon after the Wall Street Journal article on Rio’s coal selloff shows how closely the fate of PWCS is tied up in the fortunes (or lack thereof) of Rio Tinto.


Is Rio seeking to ‘tart up’ the slab of C&A it is seeking to sell by trying to get a ‘turnkey’ approved 4th coal loader on the books?

The urgency with which an approval is being sought for T4 is plainly not consistent with the actual need for a new loader. Reputable commentator Deutsche bank is on record projecting global thermal coal demand to experience net growth of just 30million tonnes between now and 2020 – meanwhile the port of Newcastle alone has spare capacity for some 60million tonnes more exports (between PWCS and NCIG).

Even if Deutsche bank is underestimating demand growth, it is undeniably the case that demand growth is nowhere near what was projected a few years ago. And it was precisely this massive projected growth that made T4 seem necessary – even as NCIG were still constructing the massive T3 operation.

Now, were this a cyclical downturn in the coal industry (as opposed to structural, i.e. symptomatic of the rise of renewables), and were Rio Tinto not so bothered by its debt situation, it is entirely feasible that the plans for T4 would genuinely be shelved until such a time as the loader was actually needed. Shelved as in application withdrawn.
Sure, PWCS have spent a bunch of cash designing T4 and engaging in the approval process. But thats loose change compared to the construction costs for T4. So we arrive at the somewhat bizarre situation of PWCS stating that whilst the loader will not be necessary for at least 5 years, they still want an approval now.

Whilst it is not possible to conclusively prove that a T4 approval has ceased being about averting a supply shortfall and is now in large part being pursued as a ‘sale sweetener’ for Rio’s stake in C&A, it would be remiss of the PAC not to consider this dimension of the proposal.


Godwin’s law

I don’t usually like to invoke Godwin’s law but if ever there was an example in which this was justified, it is the case of planning bodies approving new coal loaders in 2013 and claiming that they aren’t responsible for considering the climate impacts of such approvals.

What a patently ridiculous notion.

Just like we are able to look back in hindsight and say that it was not good enough for German military officials to claim they were ‘just following orders’ when they murdered thousands of people, so too it is simply not acceptable to ignore climate change when deciding whether to approve new coal loaders at a time when the arctic ice cover is collapsing, and methane is pouring out of the arctic tundra, superstorms are hammering the Philippines, early spring bushfires are smashing NSW, and temperature records keep being broken worldwide.


‘Scope 3’ emissions

This idea that ‘it is not up to us to consider what they do with the coal once they buy it’ is absurd. What do you think they are going to do with it? Make industrial quantities of coal flavoured muffins? Use it to soak up radioactive water at Fukushima? Plough it into cropland perhaps, and try and grow coal trees?

Thermal coal has one use: being burned. In power stations. Which emits heaps of carbon dioxide.

By not approving T4, a massive amount of carbon dioxide emissions can be avoided.


Global warming and T4

The burning of an additional 70Mt of coal a year will add about 174Mt of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Although not part of Australia’s formal commitments under the UN climate change convention (UNFCCC), this equals 30% of Australia’s total annual GHG emissions. The International Energy Agency predicts that to limit global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius, global coal demand must peak in 2016,[1] at least a year before PWCS indicates T4’s will begin operation.

The RS/PPR from PWCS states that the climate impacts of T4 “need to be viewed in the context of the human development and poverty reduction benefits that will come from the broader availability of affordable and reliable energy supplies” and claims that “this is considered to be a balanced view”.

Anthropogenic warming is perilously close to triggering feedback loops such as the collapse of the arctic ice cap (which will turn reflective sea ice into dark ocean that absorbs heat) and associated release of methane from the arctic tundra, as well as causing increased ocean acidity which reduces the capacity of ocean plant life to metabolise carbon dioxide out of the air. These ‘feedback loops’ will lock in a further four to six degrees of warming, which will decimate global food production and water availability, result in the deglaciation of the Himalaya, and will lock in collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, ultimately causing the flooding of cities such as Manila, New York, Melbourne, and vast (and densely populated) portions of Bangladesh.

A 2013 report in the journal Nature estimated the cost of climate impacts from continued ‘business as usual’ fossil fuel use at upwards of $60 trillion over the next century alone.

The idea that six degrees of warming (which is what the approval of projects like T4 will lock in) is in any way offset or ‘balanced’  by the questionable notion that those in the global south will benefit from a bit of cheap coal is patently absurd. It is like weighing the benefit of not replacing the oil in your car, thus saving you the cost of a few litres of oil,  against the cost of replacing your engine. It will be those who have least in this world and who have contributed the least to warming that will hurt most from it.

The RS/PPR from PWCS references the International Energy Agency (IEA) world energy outlook 2011, saying that this report “indicate[s] that coal will continue to supply a significant proportion of energy needs into the future”.

The RS/PPR fails to mention the more up-to-date 2012 edition of that same publication. This is notable, because the 2012 version, in contrast to the 2011 version, states:

“Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. Our 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc.

If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time.”
Furthermore, the IEA released a special report in April 2013 (five months before the release of the RS/PPR), in which the organisation’s executive director Maria van der Hoeven uses unusually strong language, stating that:

“We built our civilisation by harnessing energy, which is at the core of economic growth and prosperity. But in 2012, in a weak world economy, oil prices soared and carbon dioxide emissions from energy reached record highs. The ways we supply and use energy threaten our security, health, economic prosperity and environment. They are clearly unsustainable. We must change course before it is too late.

On the one hand, members of the public have been given two months to respond the the 1500 page, five volume RS/PPR. Yet on the other hand, despite having numerous paid staff working full time on the RS/PPR, and despite climate change being a highly topical aspect of the controversial proposal, PWCS have referenced an out-of-date 2011 report from the IEA instead of responding to the most up-to-date commentary.


In conclusion:

–          It is not the role of the NSW Planning department nor the PAC to approve projects if it could reasonably be determined that an overwhelming motivation of such an approval was to ‘value add’ to a private companies asset sales rather – than serving an actual need.
This possibility should be seriously considered by the PAC.


If the proponent does not seriously intend to build the project anytime soon, they need to withdraw the proposal. Otherwise the planning process becomes captive to speculative proposals rather than necessary and viable projects.


–          It is not the role of the NSW planning department nor the PAC to facilitate risky and highly speculative ‘volume strategies’ in the thermal coal market which threaten to implode, causing massive job losses.

If a robust case cannot be made that T4 will service actual demand for thermal coal in overseas markets in the next few years then it should not be approved.


–          That PWCS and the NSW Department of Planning would seek to put the label ‘scope 3’ on the emissions cause from burning this coal and subsequently deny any responsibility for these emissions is outrageous and completely unacceptable.

Approving this coal loader is a massive step in the wrong direction at a time when we cannot afford any more idiocy of this nature. Wake up and smell the vast quantities of methane coming out of the melting arctic tundra and seafloor you fools.

 The utter contempt for current and future generations of the human species that a T4 approval would constitute is nothing short of criminal.

Zane_Alcorn_T4_PPR_Objection <<Click to download the .pdf



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IPCC head Pachauri: working class ‘humanity’s only hope’

The working class is humanity’s only hope in the battle against global warming, the world’s top climate expert declared today as he presented the most overwhelming case ever made that capitalism is responsible for artificially prolonging (and expanding) the use of fossil fuels.

Rajenda Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said his organisation’s latest report provided “unequivocal” evidence that since 1950 the atmosphere and oceans had warmed, and that scientists were now “95 per cent certain” that humans were the “dominant cause”. He said the capitalist system was the largest single barrier to decarbonisation due to “the insatiable drive for profit, which subsumes all other considerations – including not trashing the planet”, as well as “the treatment of the earths biosphere as though it were some kind of limitless dump” and “the power of vested fossil interests, an unelected clique who dominate political decisionmaking, pump out disinformation, and whiteant greenhouse policy – all around the world”.

The report says many of the observed climate changes are unprecedented in recent millennia and without extreme action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, global warming is likely to exceed 2C by the end of this century. This is the level at which the consequences become even more devastating and which world governments have agreed to try to avoid.

But Dr Pachauri warned that unless the fossil fuel industry could be nationalised and rapidly phased out, and strong regulations imposed on power companies and manufacturers to reduce their fossil-fuel use, there seemed to be little chance of avoiding hugely damaging temperature increases. “Why the fuck are corporations still allowed to profit from something that is so obviously steering the planet towards catastrophe” Dr Pachauri said, clearly bemused and irate at fossil capital.

“An extremely effective instrument would be to nationalise all fossil fuel corporations and phase the industry out. Plough all fossil fuel profits into a massive rollout of renewable energy, with alot of that being community owned. It is only through the active and mobilised 99% that you can get a large enough and rapid enough response,” he said, calling on trade unions, left wing political parties and activists and environment groups around the world “to see what’s required”.

Dr Pachauri said the IPCC was working on “mechanisms” through which the working class could use their collective strength to enforce a steep reduction in carbon emissions. These are likely to be announced in April next year when the IPCC releases the third part of its assessment, which deals with climate change mitigation.

Today’s instalment dealt with the science. The second section, released in March, will cover impact and adaptation.

Dr Pachauri noted that the world had already burned more than half of the one trillion tonnes of carbon permitted if it is to have a reasonable chance of limiting the temperature rise to 2C. Furthermore, rapid industrialisation in the developing world is increasing global emissions so fast that the world is on course to use up its entire carbon budget within 25 years.

Of course, Dr Pachauri noted, “if the developed nations decarbonised their economies, this would bring the price of renewables through the floor, and the developing world could thus power their economies with renewable energy – they could industrialise more or less without fossil fuels”.

Scientists are more certain than they have ever been that humans are causing climate change

Scientists are more certain than they have ever been that the capitalism is  causing climate change.
The consequences of climate change include rising sea levels, more and hotter heatwaves, and changes to rainfall meaning dry regions get less and wet areas receive more, the report says.

The report’s co-chair, Professor Thomas Stocker, said: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

In a clear message to climate change sceptics within the Conservative Party ahead of its conference in Manchester, the International Development Secretary Justine Greening told The Independent that global warming caused by humans “could not be ignored”.

“It is clear to me that we need to see climate change tackled and we need to play our role both nationally and internationally. We cannot keep just consuming more and more and more forever… Can we ignore it? No,” she said.

Professor Kevin Anderson, of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, said: “So what are we doing in the UK to help reverse this reckless growth in emissions? Record levels of investment in North Sea oil, tax breaks for shale gas, investment in oil from tar sands and companies preparing to drill beneath the Arctic.”

The IPCC admitted that it was still unclear about the causes for the slowdown in climate change in the past 15 years, but insisted that the long-term trends were beyond doubt and that a decade and a half was far too short a period in which to draw any firm conclusions. The temperature rise has slowed from 0.12C per decade since 1951 to 0.05C per decade in the past 15 years – a point seized upon by climate sceptics to discredit climate science.

Professor Stocker said: “People always pick 1998 but that was a very special year, because a strong El Niño made it unusually hot, and since then there have been a series of medium-sized volcanic eruptions that have cooled the climate.”

Thirty-seven per cent of American voters believe global warming is a hoaxThirty-seven per cent of American voters have successfully been brainwashed into believing global warming is a hoax by a relentless torrent of trashy corporate ‘news’.

The oceans are also thought to have played a large role in the so-called warming hiatus, with the earth’s heat being re-arranged as larger quantities are taken down into the deep ocean.

The report’s 18 headline messages include the finding that the pace of the Earth’s warming has increased rapidly over the past three decades – a period that is “likely” to be the warmest in the past 1,400 years. It says it can state with “high confidence” that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90 per cent accumulated by the planet between 1971 and 2010.

Qin Dake, the other co-chair of the report, said combating climate change would have severe implications for people’s lifestyles, especially in his home country of China, the world’s most populous nation and its largest carbon emitter.

Speaking through a translator, he said: “If every Chinese has two or three cars like in the US, it will be a disaster for China as well as for the world… This will have a very big impact on the lifestyle of Chinese people.”

He also said that “this is the worlds manufacturing hub and the world’s biggest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels – the Chinese working class carry massive potential to play a central role in in the global effort to stop dangerous warming”.

What the Scientists Say…

Lord Stern. London School of Economics

The report makes clear that the Earth is warming and the climate is changing, that human activities are primarily responsible, and that without very strong cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, we face huge risks from global warming of more than 2C by the end of this century compared with the period before the Industrial Revolution. All governments have agreed that it would be dangerous to exceed a threshold of global warming by 2C. Delay is dangerous because greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and because we are locking in high-carbon infrastructure and capital.”

Professor Tim Lenton. Chair in climate science at the University of Exeter

“What concerns me most is the growing evidence that frozen parts of the climate system are responding extremely sensitively to global warming – the retreat of Arctic summer sea-ice is unprecedented and the rate of ice loss from both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets has increased five-fold in just the last two decades.”

Professor Corinne Le Quéré. Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

“This is not just another report, this is the scientific consensus reached by hundreds of scientists after careful consideration of all the available evidence. The human influence on climate change is clear and dominant. The atmosphere and oceans are warming, the snow cover is shrinking, the Arctic sea-ice is melting, sea level is rising, the oceans are acidifying, and some extreme events have increased. CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels need to substantial decrease to limit climate change.”

Professor Bob Watson. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the University of East Anglia

“The latest IPCC report strengthens its earlier conclusions that most of the observed warming since 1950 has been caused by human activities, and future changes are inevitable. Also, many of the other changes observed in the climate system, such as the rate of loss of Arctic sea-ice, melting of mountain glaciers and the Greenland ice-sheet are unprecedented. Without immediate reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases, the world will not be able to achieve the political target of limiting the increase in global mean surface temperatures to 2C, but rather we are likely to see an increase of  3-5C. Time to act is running out if we are to take the threat of human-induced climate change seriously.”


(This spoof piece was created from an article taken from the UK Independent – )

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Socialist Alliance Newcastle Branch


[Image- Dan Cox, ABC news]

1. We can have connectivity without cutting the line

The community campaign group Save Our Rail has been saying since 2008 that there should be level pedestrian crossings built over the line to achieve better connectivity between the city and the harbour (view the relevant document here). For around $25million we could have seven new at-grade crossings.

Of course, were these crossings built- even just a few of them – this would take away the main justification for cutting the line, because the rail would no longer act as a barrier. Cutting the line will cost hundreds of millions of dollars; level crossings are cheap to deploy. However, grubby politicians fear the threat of a good example.

Labor and Liberal politicians alike have claimed that (even though there is not actually any legislation preventing it) the ‘general’ railcorp policy is that for safety reasons they don’t like new level pedestrian crossings over rail lines. This general principle is portrayed by the pollies as being iron clad, immutable.

The Socialist Alliance says this is a complete cop out. The NSW government could not care one iota about public safety when it comes to approving new coal and coal seam gas projects that fuel dangerous climate change and trash our drinking water supplies and agricultural land. They weren’t too worried about public safety when it came to approving uranium exploration in NSW, despite having no mandate for this.

Yet they bung on the concern with regard to the simple (but politically inconvenient) solution that level pedestrian crossings present.

If achieving connectivity in Newcastle is so important that it comes down to a choice between either removing a vital piece of public transport infrastructure, or going against a ‘broad brushstokes’ policy of railcorp, the choice is clear.

The NSW department of planning can and should put its foot down and use its powers to ensure that at the very least, a trial of new level pedestrian crossings over the rail line occurs in Newcastle before throwing vast sums of money at cutting it.

2. There is no solution proposed for rail users affected by the cut

Neither the former NSW ALP government’s plan to cut the line – nor the Liberals’ current proposal – make any attempt whatsoever to explain how passengers will be shifted from rail to buses at a new Wickham terminus.

There is no room at the Wickham terminus for buses to meet passengers; they will have to board elsewhere. What this means is that (especially during the crucial morning and afternoon peaks), shifting from rail to bus for the last leg of a journey into the city will be a nightmare.

From a transport planning perspective this question is crucial- you don’t make people change from rail to another mode of transport unless it is absolutely necessary because doing so erodes the key advantage of rail – which is that it is fast and direct.

Changing to buses will also be especially problematic for wheelchair users, parents with prams, music strudents with bulky instruments, surfers (especially young people from up in the Hunter Valley) who use the service to get to Newcastle beach, blind and vision impaired people, and users who are older and less mobile.

The lengthy wait times that will result from the O’Farrell government’s half baked plan to chaotically just dump rail users at Wickham will see many people stop using the train – a point verified by independent transport planners.

3. The rail cutting plan is Newcastle centric and does not look at how boosting patronage on trains from feeder areas like Sydney, the Central Coast, Lake Macquarie, Maitland and the Hunter Valley can help revitalise Newcastle.

None of the talk of urban renewal in Newcastle is coming from a perspective of transit oriented development. Elsewhere in the world having rail near residental and commercial developments is correctly seen as a positive yet here in Newcastle the rail is demonised by vested interests.

Many small business owners in the Newcastle CBD are opposed to cutting the line because they know it brings in customers.


A serious strategy for urban renewal in Newcastle should look at getting more people from surrounding areas hopping onto the train and coming into the city. Save Our Rail have pointed out that the single most effective project in this regard would be the creation of a new transport hub at Glendale, linking the epicentre of the Hunter regions most populous area, Lake Macquarie, with picturesque Newcastle.

The creation a new station near Maitland at Aberglasslyn, improved access at Metford, and reopening stations at Oakhampton and Farley/Rutherford could better link Newcastle to these growing population centres via the Hunter line as well.

Due to decades of neglect and poor planning the rail service in the Hunter region is not utilised nearly as much as it could (and should) be.

Making the service more accessible and marketing it more effectively is the answer to this, not cutting its head off.

4. The plan dictates what Newcastle City Council should be spending its money on

The urban renewal strategy document released by the NSW government carries a great number of pretty pictures of repaved malls, fountains and water features, trees planted at various city locations, boulevardes, jersey kerbs on Hunter st to better accommodate alfresco dining, cycleways and more.

Many of these are good ideas, and it should be noted that just about all of them could be constructed without removing the rail line.

However all of these projects – $58.15million worth – are slated to be constructed using Section 94A developer contributions collected by Newcastle City Council.

Since when was it the NSW governments job to give local councils a $58million list of projects they are supposed to carry out? The most beneficial use of section 94A contributions – within the entire local government area, not just a small part of it – is something that is decided upon by democratically elected councils, not state governments.

The urban renewal strategy in fact goes further than this, re-tweaking an existing S94 budget from Newcastle city council and removing around $16million worth of items to make way for more of the beautification projects the authors of the report want to see delivered. Notably, this $16million of cuts includes the removal of $1.6million slated for a child care centre.

The report also calls for a massive expansion of parking restrictions and parking meters extending out from the CBD and into outlying suburbs.

Newcastle City council is in charge of its own affairs and it is not the place of the NSW government to instruct local governments what they should and should not be spending their budgets on. If the NSW government wants to drive urban renewal in Newcastle they need to make that investment themselves, not try and shift the cost onto the City Council.

5. Cutting the line will cause traffic chaos

It is important to think about the traffic implications of cutting the line at Wickham, which are considerable. The 2010 AECOM report into truncation at Wickham noted that it would be necessary to close the Railway street crossing (near the Lass O’Gowrie) and the Beaumont st. crossing, due to changed rail movements and stabling provisions.



[Image- AECOM truncation report, 2010]

Interestingly, the 2012 urban renewal strategy calls instead for an ‘improved crossing’ at Railway st despite the fact that having a terminus at Wickham will almost certainly dictate the closure of the crossing in question. It is as if the authors did not even read the most recent and comprehensive report into cutting the line at Wickham…

In September 2012 the Hunter Business Chamber released their woefully ill concieved 19 page document ‘Newcastle Central – a real solution, right now’.

Page 12 has the faux pas of the century, with a crude diagram depicting buses coming out of Beauford st (near the boxing gym adjacent to the current Wickham station), driving across Stewart avenue, picking up passengers from the new terminus, and then cutting back across Stewart avenue to head back into the city.


[Image- Hunter Business Chamber “Newcastle Central”, 2012]

Anyone who has been near this area in the morning or afternoon peaks knows it is quite congested at these times. The rail often gets blamed for this congestion when in reality it is the intersection of major east-west and north-south flows of vehicular traffic that is the cause.

Trying to send throngs of buses each way across Stewart avenue to pick up and drop off passengers coming and going from the train station is a recipe for making traffic problems in the area a whole lot worse.

The document also claims that expensive land acquisitions around the Store site detailed in the 2010 AECOM truncation report could be avoided by simply just building a three platform terminus instead of a four platform station such as the one already in existence at Newcastle.

The removal of a fourth platform has major implications for rail movements into and out of the station; for instance it would be impossible to have two trains arriving and two others leaving (such as a movement each way on each of the two distinct lines that come into the city) within a short space of time.

No explanation is given as to how these carriage juggling feats are to work nor how the Stewart avenue bus movement sleight of hand may be executed. We are just given the vague assurance that the plan was drawn up ‘in consultation with local engineers’.

This Business Chamber document is a perfect illustration of the completely gung ho, ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude towards major transport and traffic planning questions that the lead proponents of cutting the line possess.

The NSW government have stated they are definitely going to cut the line. However like many other aspects of the urban renewal strategy report, so far there has been no modelling of the traffic impacts of a new Wickham terminus, of the bus and pedestrian flows from it, of the level crossings closed due to it, and no costing of measures that may be necessary to try and deal with such traffic flow on effects.

6. The city campus and other potential new development needs a direct rail connection

The University of Newcastle is building a new city campus near Civic station which is projected to have 8000 students and 1000 staff. The NSW government is proposing that a direct rail connection to the city campus be removed.

This is absolutely ridiculous. Enough said.

7. The economics don’t stack up

Putting aside the fact that it is a disastrous idea for a moment, it should also be noted that the $110million the NSW government has pledged so far towards cutting the line and building a new terminus, and the $10million it has pledged towards urban renewal projects, is nowhere near enough to make these thing happen.

A 2010 report into cutting the line at Wickham by consultants AECOM projected that the new terminus would cost between $375million and $505million. This is before additional buses (including drivers, cleaning etc) and associated infrastructure (like a bus terminal adjacent to the new station) are taken into account.

Potential road bypasses to cope with altered and stifled traffic flows would cost more again, and then there is the $58million in urban renewal projects outlined in the Governments reports on top of it all.

Supposedly the $120million pledged so far by the NSW Government will be used to leverage some even larger amount of money from the Federal Government; the theory being that once this money is spent cutting the line the private sector will then go on a construction frenzy.

Once all the developers new buildings are finished, deferred section 94A developer levies from them will pay for a rollout of the renewal initatives that the government reports are packed with pretty pictures of. Only once $1.94billion of new buildings are rolled out would the full suite of proposed renewal measures be built .

The fact that these urban renewal projects are to be paid for only after new development is built suggests that it is the cutting of the line and not the renewal projects that is supposedly going to attract this quite epic raft of private investment.

Yet new buildings in Newcastle already have low occupancy rates. Lots of offices and apartments, indeed entire buildings, lie empty. The cargo cult approach of ‘lets cut the rail line and watch heaps of people and developer dollars magically flow in’ is highly problematic. If new development is slow we will have a CBD with no rail but also without any of the pretty beautification projects depicted in the reports.

Does the approach add up? Does it in any way represent good value?

Instead of throwing money at cutting the line the NSW government could directly fund all of the renewal projects outlined in its reports. Federal funds could pay for improvements to the rail corridor such as a new interchange at Glendale.

If the NSW government aborted its plan to cut the line it could fund the construction of new at grade pedestrian crossings, and fund an expanded version of Renew Newcastle. Renew Newcastle has been ensuring shopfronts and offices in the city get used rather than sitting empty.

Indeed, Renew Newcastle has produced a number of successful small businesses who have moved beyond this supported breeding ground and taken up proper commercial leases. Arguably it is this type of initiative, rather than whacking up more new buildings, that is key to revitalising the city – which by the way ain’t such a shabby old town, it’s a pretty sweet place.

There has been no cost benefit analysis of this latest plan to cut the line.

If the government wants to invest in urban renewal in Newcastle there are far better ways to do this than throwing vast piles of public money at cutting the rail line at Wickham and then hoping that as a result nearly two billion dollars of private investment will just magically flow in.

8. The ‘green corridor’ ruse is bollocks – developers want to build on the line

Barry O’Farrell lied about a Liberal government not taking the axe to public sector workers in NSW if elected; he lied about protecting water catchments in NSW from coal seam gas extraction and longwall coal mining, he lied about making planning processes more open and transparent; he has opened up NSW to uranium exploration despite having no mandate to do so and he is cutting funding to the Environmental Defenders Office to silence dissent.

Yet we are expected to believe a promise that the rail corridor will never be built on once the trains are gone? In a meeting with a Save Our Rail delegation on December 18, planning minister Brad Hazzard denied there were plans to build on the corridor but admitted there was nothing to stop a future government legislating to allow this.

The Greiner government’s rail cutting plan had development on the corridor, the Costa era plan by the previous ALP government had development on the corridor, concept videos released by GPT just a few years ago showed their desire to build on the corridor.


[Image- Screenshot from GPT fly thru, 2008]

If the rail is removed it will only be a matter of time before the developers resume their longstanding campaign to build on the land. Cutting the rail is akin to the marketisation of state owned electricity services as a prelude to selling the assets off.

The Socialist Alliance is opposed to privatisation in all its forms – including the closure of rail lines to appease developers.

9. Spending hundreds of millions to remove the rail while cutting public sector jobs is outrageous

The attacks on TAFE and associated public sector funding cuts, and NSW-wide sackings of great numbers of health workers, TAFE teachers and support staff, high school and primary school teachers, firefighters, social workers and other dedicated public sector workers is an insult to those workers and everyone who relies on them. These people play crucial roles in our communities, and in many cases are already overworked and operate in understaffed environments.

 [Image- Unions NSW Rally, 2011. Dallas Kilponen / SMH]

The O’Farrell Liberal government has justified funding cuts, opening TAFE to competition from private colleges, mass layoffs of public sector workers and attacks on workers compensation programs by claiming that the government inherited a ‘budget blackhole’.

Yet now they have pledged to cut the rail at Wickham without actually having established how much this large and complex piece of traffic engineering and public transport upending will cost; the attitude being that the rail just must be cut, whatever the cost ends up being.

Is the NSW government in a ‘budget blackhole’? 

Or does it have hundreds of millions of dollars to throw at an ill conceived rail cutting plan?

It can’t be both.

10. We need to be improving (not hobbling) transport systems that will help solve the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change 

It is quite simple really. Heavy electric rail services can be run off renewable energy and carry large numbers of people. Heavy rail is the spine of an ecologically friendly transport system. It has a very important role to play as we cut our reliance on fossil energy.

Global warming is real and it is a gravely serious problem. The 2012 arctic melt smashed the previous 2007 record, with the ice cap shrinking to about half the size it was in the northern summer of 1980. As the ice cap melts, the North Pole is turning from a massive white reflector of sunlight into dark blue ocean which absorbs heat; this in turn is causing further warming. We are seeing the latest wave of record breaking heatwaves in Australia right now, with new temperature scales being implemented to depict fifty degree plus hotspots on weather maps.


[Image- Bureau of Meteorology]

Continued inaction on climate change is going to leave the young people of today (and all future generations) in a very precarious situation, with severe weather and sea level rises wreaking havoc on world food and water supplies and the economy as a whole.

It should also be noted that one facet of the push to hobble Newcastle’s rail services is that the existence of passenger rail services on the Hunter line currently prevents higher volumes of coal being carted to port. The threat of the Hunter line being abolished altogether and replaced with buses to allow 24 hour coal and freight train movements on the Hunter line is quite real.

The Socialist Alliance calls upon all those fighting the insane coal export expansion in Newcastle and the Hunter to take this issue very seriously and join Save Our Rail in their campaigns to defend and improve public transport in the region.

One of the most effective ways in which we can do our bit to stop dangerous warming is to start moving towards a low or zero emissions transport sector. This will also help reduce Australian reliance on oil exports – which are set to become increasingly expensive.

Save Our Rail has developed a series of transport plans that show how to make it easier for people from outlying areas to utilise the Newcastle and Hunter line rail services; this would see more people coming to Newcastle CBD by train.

These documents are well researched grassroots reports, which bypass belligerent bureaucracies and politicians and pose practical, achievable solutions. The Socialist Alliance congratulates Save Our Rail on producing these reports as they are a great example of how informed and confident community organisations can do a better job of organising and managing complex planning tasks than successive belligerent and incompetent capitalist governments.

We want to campaign to ensure Save Our Rail’s plans are implemented and further refined and we want to fight for an Australia in which volunteer, grassroots, community based research /advocacy / campaign groups like this play a central role in running the country.


[Image- United States High Speed Rail Association]

Improving the rail network – making rail easier to use, and marketing its advantages to the population – is something that has been lacking for a very long time. But doing so is documented to get results. Building up public transport patronage in the Hunter will reduce fossil energy use and is a solid strategy for bringing more people into the city. 

This is the direction we should be going in, rather than removing rail services and making the system vastly less user friendly.


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Two rail letters to the Herald that haven’t been published

Below are a couple of letters I sent to the Newcastle Herald that they haven’t run. I realise they would be getting heaps of letters at the moment and that mine are both a bit over the 150 word limit the Herald advises prospective letter writers. They haven’t really aired many letters looking at the developer levy angle though, and I think its a fairly important aspect of this latest push to cut the line.



Sent 27/12/2012: A few issues re: the rail corridor.

1. The urban renewal strategy document recently released by the NSW government contains many pretty pictures of areas in Newcastle that have been repaved and generally beautified with trees, fountains, sculptures etc. The document quotes these projects at $58.15million, of which the NSW government will put up $10million and council will pay the rest, from section 94 developer levies. What this means is that these pretty projects will only happen if there is close to $2billion worth of private development first.
2. These projects could be paid for outright by the NSW government but instead they are telling Newcastle City Council what to spend large amounts of (hypothetical) future income on.
3. Virtually all of these renewal projects have nothing to do with the rail line and could be implemented without cutting the line. Save Our Rail have long argued that at grade pedestrian crossings over the line can provide ample connectivity. NSW governments – Liberal and Labor alike – don’t seem too concerned about public safety when they approve coal seam gas projects under drinking water catchments, or massive dusty icecap melting coal loaders. But they want us to believe elegant, inexpensive level pedestrian crossings are so dangerous they are off the menu for Newcastle? What a load of bollocks.
Sent 17/12/2012 :
Page 119 of the Urban Renewal Strategy document just released by the NSW government outlines a suite of measures to beautify the city – Jersey kerbs along Hunter st, signage, ’embellishments’, refurbishments and improvements. The document is full of pretty pictures of these things, which readers may have seen reproduced in the Herald. I would like to point out two issues in regard to this. Firstly, every single one of these renewal projects can be done without cutting the train line. Secondly, the document says that all $58.15 million of this work will be carried out by Newcastle City Council using section 94A development levies. Since when is it up to the NSW government to tell council how to spend its money? Isn’t that ‘passing the buck’? Also, given that 94A levies are charged at 3% of the cost of new developments, we would need $1.94billion of new development to pay for the listed improvements. Is that realistic in the current economic climate? This renewal / beautification work is supposedly necessary to lure investment here – yet it is to be paid for only once said developments are physically built!

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Thoughts on the left + ‘BLF Green Bans’ [ amended ] lyrics

The Sydney branch of Socialist Alternative hosted a public forum on October 9 called ‘Building Fighting Unions‘ featuring former Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) secretary Jack Mundey. To their credit Socialist Alternative did a good job building the meeting and by all accounts I think it was well attended. I’m pretty sure several members of my party – the Socialist Alliance – were also in attendance.

The transformation of the BLF in the 70’s was spectacular. Following hard fought elections the union was taken from being a ‘tamecat’ union led by figures who were in cahoots with the captains of the industry – a ‘bosses union’ – and transformed into a highly democratic union. The new BLF fought for and won massive improvements in workplace safety, provision of basic amenities, better pay and conditions, more civilised working hours, and more equitable union controlled hiring arrangements. The union also took as stand on issues not directly affecting the workplace, articulating a a bold vision for a socially and environmentally better world and projecting a confidence that by working together this could indeed be delivered by the working class if we got organised enough.

Women and migrant workers and Aboriginal people were involved in the unions decision making processes and leadership structures for the first time. The union formed alliances with local community based resident action groups. It took a stance against Australian involvement in the war on Vietnam and used strike action and work bans on certain jobs to protect historic buildings (populated by working people) and parks and bushland in Sydney, Newcastle and elsewhere from being demolished and redeveloped.

Eventually elements of the trade union bureaucracy and the state (including Labor governments) conspired with the bosses to smash and deregister the union and to this day (again, also under Labor) the building industry is subjected to a coercive anti union gestapo originally created by the Howard government which is geared towards using repressive legal inquisitions, fines and jail sentences to prevent something like the green bans from ever happening again. And yet construction workers and ther union the CFMEU still refuse to give in, and are fighting for their rights.

Relevant as ever

The story of the radical BLF is every bit as relevant today if not more so and the lessons from that tremendously exciting and inspiring episode of Australia’s trade union history should never be forgotten. And in general that is something that nearly everyone on left can agree on- just like we can agree that black deaths in custody need to be stopped, and that scapegoating refugees or LGBTI people to distract from the class struggle is a disgrace, and that the working class shouldn’t have to pay for an economic crisis created by capitalists using the world economy as a poker machine…

The Australian left in 2012

The meeting tonight comes in the context of discussions between the two largest radical left groups in Australia, the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative, about closer collaboration in our activist work; these discussions were in effect catalysed by what looks to be a merger of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Socialist Alternative.

The RSP split from the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) a few years back when their members became entrenched in an irreconcileable disagreement / argument with the majority of the party over what was the best strategic direction to be going in in order to build a mass socialist organisation in Australia that could most effectively challenge the capitalist system. I used to think that splits were a terrible thing to be avoided at almost any cost, however I think this split was a healthy one because the RSP (~15% of the party) were determined to stick to their position that abandoning the Socialist Alliance was crucial and that not doing so was a retreat from trying to build a revolution.

The majority of DSP members, including myself, were similarly determined to stick to our position. We felt that continuing to build the (politically) broader and less explicitly revolutionary Socialist Alliance did not amount to a retreat in the face of capital but was about continuing to prioritise a political vehicle that was focussed and built around areas of common agreement. We felt it was important to be creating a space where differrent tendencies on the radical left could come together along with new activists radicalised by the conflict between labour and capital and capital and the biosphpere; a space where we got on with building those campaigns we agreed on and didn’t waste time shit-canning one another about less relevant points. There is a space for these debates and they are important but they should not be a barrier to unity in action.

The merger between the RSP and Socialist Alternative is an interesting development; the left in Australia and elsewhere (in both the imperialist countries and the global south) suffers from a situation where there are many left grouplets who each adhere to a certain interpretation of Leninism whereby only their group is the true revolutionary party/organisation/political vanguard – and that all other groups are fakes, imposters, ‘mensheviks’ and are not to be trusted.

The hypothesis is that eventually the true revolutionary party will achieve monopoly status by winning everyone else across to their awesome group. Theoretical differrences between the differrent grouplets are used to illustrate to their membership why each group is supposedly the true holder of the flame of revolution and why all the others are imposters and fakes.

This is not an ideal situation because it means that the left can tend to be a bit of a hostile space to get involved in for new people who are becoming interested in socialist ideas and activism – and who are rightly developing a consciousness that capitalism is the root cause of most of the harsh injustices, inequalities and ecological imbalance in the world today. Just because someone is becoming open to the idea of campaigning against this or that particularly greivous injustice that capitalism is committing does not mean they will necessarily be excited by the prospect of getting immediately immersed in some kind of lefty-versus-lefty slogfest in which pundits try and clobber one another with their superior and evidently vast knowledge of Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist literature and local leftist history.

And this is not the only problem; when the left is divided into multiple little groups, there is alot of duplication that occurs; differrent people from differrent organisations carry out the same list of tasks so that the two groups can have a parrallel and independent presence in various campaign groups (community union groups, equal love campaign groups, anti war, environment, refugee rights etc etc). So that they can have parrallel and independent publications. Parrallel stalls to sell publications, discuss political ideas and promote their groups rallies and meetings. Independent and parrallel branch meetings, bookkeeping, fundraising, contacting.

Differrent grouplets may be stronger than each other in differrent geographical areas. They may each have useful networks with overseas activists.

One grouplet may have focussed their limited energy and resources into one or two priority campaign areas rather than trying to relate to all of the the broad spectrum of fronts that Socialists campaign around – and may have done some staunch campaign work in this area despite being absent from other fronts of the class struggle. Another grouplet may be  doing good work on a couple of other key fronts. But this can create a competitive situation where one part of the struggle being waged by socialist group A is ‘advertised’ in typical spaces as being ‘more important’ than another part of the struggle being waged by socialist group B, which is to say nothing of the campaigns that groups C, D and E are focussing on.

In reality they are all fronts from the same struggle against capitalist oppression and exploitation, and against the destruction of the relatively stable biosphere that we still have (but not for long the way we are going) that no socialist society will be able to exist in the absence of.

Why pursue left unity?

If the many left grouplets could be successfully ‘merged’ – or at least work in a more collaborative and synergistic manner (rather than being territorial toward one another) – then our limited activist resources and energy could be used much more effectively. We could have alot more impact. We could more effectively build the campaigns we are involved in and we could more effectively project the idea that these many fronts are all part of the same struggle for a new system and that more people should get involved in our organisation(s).

Insofar as Socialist Alternative seem willing to engage in a merger process with the RSP, this is encouraging since for this to occur some sort of middle ground will need to be struck where the ‘state capitalist’ versus ‘bureaucratised workers state’ theoretical disagreement between the two groups is confined to relevant spaces of debate and discussion but does not prevent common action and unity on the many campaign fronts in which there is pretty much complete agreement. In the past this has been a major barrier.

It this can work it represents a new development and one which bodes well for closer collaboration between the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative, and indeed other left grouplets. It would be great to work towards some kind of ‘SYRIZA‘ type coaliton in Australia – hopefully we can all get real focussed on challenging our common enemy as effectively as possible – which is the capitalist system, not each other – and turn the page on a new chapter of Australian left history.

BLF green bans

Anyhow back to the green bans. Back in 2008 I wrote a track about the BLF green bans with Tom/Rhabdomancer, my wingman in the hip hop group Dhopec (you can listen at triple j unearthed). I was pretty happy with the track and still am largely. I wanted to post the lyrics here, but there are two amendments I wanted to make.

First and foremost, there is a line in the track that makes me I cringe just a little bit when I hear it these days. Its a bit bold and I was trying to make a point; back in 2007  I saw the CFMEU documentary ‘constructing fear‘. Part of the film has construction workers talking about being interrogated by the then  Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC); the stories are pretty shocking; random people in black cars rocking up at construction workers houses at weird hours, taking them away and interrogating them. And the workers have no right to silence and can be jailed of they tell anyone what was discussed in the interrogation.

Not only does this mean that construction workers are effectively forced to ‘rat’ on their colleagues – with the threat of jail if they refuse – it also means that if an unscrupulous ABCC/ FWBC gestapo member so desired they could abuse their coercive questioning powers and use them to engage in psychological warfare on the worker in question. When I saw this documentary, one of the workers interviewed said that the interrogator who had seen him had been asking him ‘really personal questions’. And my initial gut feeling when I saw it was ‘bloody hell, it sounds like they are grilling this bloke about his sex life or something’!

Being the no-holds barred 24 year old radical I was and being determined not to self censor myself for fear of offending, I made a point of including reference to this in the track I wrote about the BLF, because I felt that this psycholgical warfare thing was one of the most repugnant of the many underhanded tricks this hideous ABCC has up its sleeve. So I included the line ‘… no right to silence if they ask ya questions like- “How often do you fuck your wife?” – or any other personal shit like that, right..’

Now in retrospect, I cant say im too happy with that line. The idea was there but the execution went a bit awry. I feel like I’ve unwittingly engaged in a bit of machismo by writing it in such a way that assumes construction workers are male and the line, even though it is from the perspective of the gestapo dude, is hardly respectful of said “wife”.

So anyhow I’ve rewritten that line so it now reads ‘…you risk jail If you go on strike, and theres no right to silence if they ask you questions like “you wanna rat on your mates and make strife? Wanna spanish inquisition of your personal life?”…’

The second and related amendment is in regards to a massive omission I made from the original version – and again it comes back to gender. It was only after writing and recording the track that I was able to purchase ‘Green Bans, Red Union’ by Meredith and Verity Burgmann and read it in its entireity. I had previously skimmed through this incredible book but was borrowing it or reading it at someones house or at the resistance centre and I didn’t get to read it cover to cover.

Anyhow suffice to say, those years the BLF were kicking goals with their green bans was not just the time of the Vietnam war moratorium and associated general radicalisation; the second wave of the feminist movement was in full effect and the BLF played a positive role in this regard also. Women were encouraged to get involved in the construction industry and – shock, horror – proved themselves to be eminently capable of carrying out the tasks involved. The democratisation of the union included the election of women to leadership bodies, and the union worked closely with women activists who were playing leading roles in the resident action groups and other similar grassroots organisations.

The story of the BLF is alot to try and compress into a track – even taking into account that the track is alot longer than most songs you will hear on the radio. But one thing that should not have been left out was the gender question.

So, the updated lyrics include the line “…women on the job and as the union leaders; cut gender stereotypes like meat cleavers!”.

I thought the sisters may enjoy this imagery, and hopefully it (to some extent) makes amends for the faux pas in the original version :)

I’ll be looking at re-recording and remastering the track in the not too distant future to include the new lyrics and we are also entertaining the idea of approaching a prominent Melbourne dubstep producer to do some kind of filthy remix with ruinous bass warble. Stay tuned for that. We also have a film clip for the track that uses footage from the documentary rocking the foundations; however we are still patiently waiting for the clip to be cleared for public release given that it uses borrowed footage. Perhaps we can also amend the clip, to fit an amended recording of the track…

BLF GREEN BANS- amended lyrics (2012)  

What if your boss said “you’re going to work, to tear up the planet cause you’re fucken beserk”?

What if your boss said to knock down the trees, to bomb civilians and then spread the disease?

Would you say “Fuck that, I’m not going to work“, and rock the foundations of the capital works?

Or would ya… just recede and precede to wait, with your shoulder burdened from the pain and the weight…

Back in the 70’s on the east coast, Builders Labourers were like burning toast- in the kitchen of the fucken elite, Vietnam protest every two weeks…

Shit hit the fan and it was getting deep, a wolf was the system and the people were sheep.

Trade unions were busting a move, in defence of the right of the people to groove, to their own tune, and I mean the funk; that that half baked, cooked up conveyor of junk.

Fair pay and not dying at work; thirty six hours a week on their turf;

Falling off the towers and getting buried in cement, these were the things a weak union meant.

SO you can be damn sure they wanted every cent of the “enterprise bargain” worked out in the tent.

And when AV Jennings wanted Kellys bush, they told em to shove it (and get fucked – off the books)

And despite the bad press and the filthy looks, they decided that they’d still try to battle the crooks.

(Bridge) They battled the crooks, they battled the crooks, the BLF they battled the crooks…


The work bans spread all across the city, forty work sites were barred without pity. Stop the concrete, break the pour. Hold up the project til you give us some more:

More pay more safety gear and meal time; and pay the migrants the same you shit-slime.

Women on the job and as the union leaders, cut gender stereotypes like meat cleavers…

Black ban actions to save the block; pink bans telling homophobes to back off;

Green bans to protect the parks; that’s why Sydney is fucking world class

Three billion dollars worth of shit on hold – and that’s no mean feat in the era of cold war, anti communist fear; but the soviets weren’t calling the shots here.

Genuine revolutionary action; not just slogans but lots of traction… Grass roots union rank and file, the BL’s going that extra mile…

(Vocal sample from rocking the foundations- “Theres a black ban on work on this site is there? Theres a black ban all over this area- this is the rocks!”)

The ABCC is a Gestapo, they never ever want it to happen again you know- green bans fucking the system up, the capital elite want to keep the corrupt.

So Howard made the nazi cops, to go to work sites and lock down the block.

They rebadged it under labour; you can change the name but its still the same union decimator. You risk jail if you go on strike, and theres no right to silence if they ask you questions like:

“You wanna rat on your mates and cause strife? Wanna Spanish inquisition of your personal life?”

Fuck that, Getsapo have got to go! The real criminals are the CEOs… telling the ALP what to do, like when they banned the BLF, true?

True lies of the ALP kind, they’re just “Another Liberal Party” in my mind…

Want real rights at work? You’ve gotta scrap the system, wherever you work you’ve got to join your union.

Tell em to snap into action, and if they don’t you need to sack them.

Vote in the new generation, work bans strikes and industrial action; sacke the whole government and clean up the nation; give the corporations a complication…


And imagine:

Green bans in coal fired power stations, causing blackouts across the nation.

To coincide with the climate rallies, shitting shit down from the city to the valley…

No coal going out of the ports, because the miners and the wharfies have got other thoughts… B-L-F green bans; we’ve got to do it again for climate action man….


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