As Australia’s night of the long knives starkly revealed, transnational mining corporations operating within our shores are proven masters at getting their policy demands met. As that new day dawned, we awoke to discover our Prime Minister had been replaced and his proposal for a Super Profits tax on mining profits—a key recommendation of Australia’s Future Tax Review, http://taxreview.treasury.gov.au/content/Content.aspx?doc=html/the_review.htm —had returned to dust.
If not intimidation from industry, then how else can we explain the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme being tabled without a price on pollution and instead heaped with compensation for polluters? By any measure this was peculiar behavior from a Government that came to power with a mandate to take effective action to address climate change.
But even stranger things are happening now. Surely you have heard that BHP, which has continuously and intensely lobbied for delays on climate action and NO price on pollution, has suddenly made a dramatic, highly public call for a carbon tax.
Could it be that, having more than doubled its net profit over the last year—from $US5.88bn to $US12.72 billion—the Big Australian doesn’t want to be greedy? http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/bhp-billiton-more-than-doubles-full-year-profit/story-fn65t1pq-1225910023134
A more realistic explanation for the world’s biggest transnational mining company’s radical reversal is that its shareholders will surely suffer less with a carbon price—which will be much easier to pass on to consumers—than they will with a direct tax on BHP’s Super-dooper profits.
In reality both taxes are more than warranted: 1) in exchange for taking our treasures, and 2) in exchange for destroying our life support system. A carbon tax is arguably the fastest, most efficient way to force fossil fuel energy supplies to compete in a more fair and equitable energy marketplace. And a Super Profits tax would be mighty effective tool to fund major renewable energy and energy efficiency projects which will reduce Australia’s greenhouse gases and create countless new jobs in more secure and sustainable regional economies. As BHP’s balance sheet clearly demonstrates, at least this company is more than capable of sharing its (our) wealth.
But why is BHP finally coming to the party now?
Since a price on pollution is inevitable, it would be reasonable to assume that BHP has fears around how high a carbon price could go if transnational mining corporations are forced to negotiate with those pushy Greens and Independents. After all these newcomers to Parliament are far more inclined to honour the spirit of democracy by representing the best interests of their constituents.
There is no doubt that BHP has its finger on the pulse and can see the writing on the wall; a price on pollution is inevitable. And the Big Australian knows well that by supporting the leaders of the two major parties—who have served industry so well up till now—they stand the best chance of getting away with a price on pollution which is not high enough to create any meaningful transition away from fossil fuels.
If BHP was interested in more than just creating the perception that it is taking climate change seriously then it would throw its might and its money behind the development of 21st century appropriate technologies which work with rather than destroy the ecosystems upon which we all depend for life. Since at this stage such an awakening is unlikely, then our leaders ought to at least ensure that a greater proportion of the spoils of BHP & co’s dirty trade are used to ensure there is a future for Australia’s future generations.