Features Australia

Where is GetUp’s ‘Drugs Kill’ campaign?

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

In their latest attempt to dupe Australians, GetUp! has enlisted both a ‘big lie’ and a hip online shopping site called Gorman.

Gorman has produced a cheerful ‘Coal Kills’ tote bag with all proceeds going to GetUp! – to boost its campaign coffers and to promote its war on coal. This cosy deal is not too dissimilar to GetUp!’s deal with New Zealand energy retailer Powershop, which pays GetUp! a commission when their members switch to Powershop as their electricity provider.

‘Coal Kills’ is a two-word slogan that’s repeated ad nauseam by GetUp!. In fact, if you click on the bag on Gorman’s website, up pops a video of two earnest GetUp! campaigners talking about how evil coal is and claiming it kills 3,000 Australians a year.

Advance Australia – the recently-established organisation of which I am national director – does not exist to support the coal industry nor any industry for that matter – they can do that themselves. But public lies, dressed up as fact, shouldn’t go untested; Mediscare being a classic example.

So we tracked down the origin of GetUp!’s claim. A 2014 report from a group called Environmental Justice Australia stated ‘It has been estimated that each year more than 3,000 Australians die premature deaths from urban air pollution.’

They in turn cite a 2007 report ‘The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003’ as their source. It looked at fourteen different risk factors to try and determine the relative ‘burden’ of each and how many days of healthy life were lost to disease as a result of these factors.

Urban air pollution came in at number 12 on the overall burden scale at 0.7 per cent – marginally above unsafe sex (0.6 per cent) and osteoporosis (0.2 per cent). Illicit drug use came in at more than double, at 2 per cent, dietary lack of fruit and vegetables is even higher at 2.1 per cent and the net effects of alcohol came in at 2.3 per cent.

So where are GetUp!’s ‘Drugs Kill’ or ‘Eat your Vegetables or Die’ tote bags?

Ironically, it can be argued that sitting at a computer and being a keyboard warrior is even more dangerous than coal, drugs and alcohol combined with a whopping 6.6 per cent attributed to the ‘physical inactivity’ risk factor. But of course a ‘Life – Be in It’ campaign would be way too cheery for the folks at GetUp!


The report does estimate that approximately 3,000 deaths per year (mainly from heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke) may be attributable to urban air pollution. But it attributes many more lost hours of life and a greater health burden to those eleven other factors higher up on the list.

So urban air pollution, while a risk factor, is actually much smaller than many other risks we accept and live with daily.

And what exactly constitutes ‘urban air pollution’? If GetUp!’s claims are true, then air pollution is made up of 100 per cent coal.

But the 2013 Senate Enquiry into the ‘Impacts on health of air quality in Australia’ found that ‘There are many sources of particulate matter including natural and anthropogenic sources. In Australia PM (particulate matter) load naturally fluctuates due to airborne dust, sea salt, and smoke from bushfires.’

The Committee cited research by the CSIRO which found: ‘local urban sources (motor vehicles, wood combustion and industrial sources) may contribute less than fifty per cent of the fine particle mass in Sydney, with background sources (dust, smoke, sea salt, biogenic) comprising the remainder.’

In a shock plot twist, it turns out that ‘mother nature’ is the main contributor to urban air pollution! And coal is only one part of a very wide range of anthropogenic factors, which includes cars (transport) and manufacturing (jobs).

So why is GetUp! framing coal for the deaths of 3,000 people? It’s their shtick. Scare people into believing that coal kills and watch the dollars roll in while they smugly bask in their self-attributed moral superiority.

But it’s simply not true. Fake news even.

Gorman is tarnishing its brand by being associated with such a false claim. Businesses and corporate Australia should really start being a bit more circumspect when it comes to jumping on the latest social justice cause in an attempt to appear pious and sell products. It can backfire badly.

A case in point is the recent furore over the Gillette advertisement which haughtily lectures on ‘toxic masculinity’ in the ultimate ‘me too’ virtue-signal. It peddles an ideological viewpoint that the mainstream simply isn’t buying. Which is why, even on skewed social media, the negative feedback was roughly 4 to 1.

Mainstream Australians are tired of being lectured to by corporations that want us to buy their products and services. And we can sense when someone is not being upfront with us – which is exactly why the ‘Coal Kills’ lie does not ring true.

In the interests of balance, it’s worth returning to that report which looked into the health effects of air pollution. In analysing the effects of alcohol, they also took note of the health benefits that can be present with a degree of alcohol consumption. Accordingly, the ‘total attributable benefit’ was deducted from ‘total attributable harm’.

We suggest that, to be honest and fair, GetUp! should consider doing the same when it comes to coal and electricity production.

Consider how many lives are saved due to the 2.7 million operations that take place each year in Australian hospitals under lights and with machines powered by electricity?

How many lives are saved each year because we can heat and cool homes and workplaces? And that’s just the start. Reliable base-load power makes this possible and at the moment it can only be achieved through coal or gas.

Just about everything can kill you these days. But overwhelmingly, and on any objective assessment, coal saves lives.

We might consider putting that on a tote bag!

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