A concatenation of events can sometimes resolve a conundrum, and that happened when, on Sunday, I was watching Sky News’s The Outsiders program. Hosted by Rowan Dean, Editor of The Spectator Australia and former federal Liberal MP Ross Cameron, one segment in particular – their interview with Greg Evans, Chief Executive Officer (Coal) within the Minerals Council of Australia – caught my eye. Suddenly, things clicked.
Let me describe that conundrum. With 92.3 per cent of the vote counted (final figures on March 16), how come that on March 3 Tasmania’s Liberal government, which four years ago had swept to power with 15 seats in a 25-seat Legislative Assembly, appears to have been returned almost as triumphantly, probably losing only one seat and less than one percentage point of its crushing 2014 vote?
Premier Will Hodgman’s victory saw the Greens badly hit, losing almost four percentage points since 2014 and possibly two of their three former seats. Labor, which in 2014 won only seven seats, regained two (and possibly three), but still did poorly with only 33 per cent of the vote. In all, a smashing Liberal win, a poor Labor result and (O happy day!) the Greens humiliated. So how was this miracle possible, when federally the Liberals’ name (under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership) is mud, and – absent some equal miracle – Labor under Bill Shorten will romp home?
Now back to my concatenation, which I owe to John Durie’s Weekend Australian article “Mackenzie’s curious spirit” covering a previously unreported speech last year by BHP Billiton’s CEO that should effectively confirm his shareholders’ worst fears about the real motivations of the man presiding (his equally hapless Board apart) over their interests.
When Andrew Mackenzie was appointed in 2013 his CV seemed impressive – an organic chemistry PhD and an award for work in sedimentary rock geology said to have important oil drilling implications. His subsequent election to Fellowship of the Royal Society (by then significantly discredited following its disgraceful scientific and, worse still, unethical behaviour in the “climate science” controversy) should have raised doubts, but optimism was still possible.
No longer! By his own statements, Mackenzie not only seems to have signed up to every activist cause in pursuit of his “greater purpose, to make a positive change in the world” – asking himself “how can I complete these tasks in a way that benefits others?” – but by throwing BHP’s significant weight around by threatening to withdraw from MCA membership unless it ceases “to promote coal-fired power as a solution to the nation’s energy crisis and doesn’t stop focusing on power reliability,” he has also threatened our economic future. As I watched poor Greg Evans trying to play an evasive straight bat to Dean’s and Cameron’s probing as to why the coal industry was failing to fight back robustly against its enemies’ attacks, the dots began to join.
You see, a major reason for Hodgman’s smashing win was that, provoked by Labor/Green policy to ban poker machines from pubs and clubs, Tasmania’s gaming and hotel industries fought back with a lavishly-financed campaign directly attacking those parties and, in effect, urging people to vote Liberal. I last saw such a phenomenon in 2010, when the mining industry ran a well-financed and very damaging campaign against then Treasurer Wayne Swan’s ridiculous mining tax. Within a few weeks, prime minister Gillard had settled for a footling “compromise” (since abolished by Tony Abbott).
So the mining industry (not merely coal, which is only the Green crocodile’s first meal) should stop “playing nice” with its Green and Labor’s Left enemies. The MCA should tell BHP to go to blazes, raise a sizeable war-chest from the rest of its now once more highly profitable membership, and start demonstrating that appeasement is over. Concurrently, the Coalition should not only urge these policies on the mining industry but also actively support it by ensuring several new coal-fired power stations start getting built.
Yes, I know the problem – the lack of real leadership in the mining industry or, even more obviously, the Coalition. It was a nice thought, though, wasn’t it?
John Stone is a former Secretary to the Treasury (1979-1984).
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