Government continues to play enabler of the toxic gas industry

Contributed by Joe Montero

Backed by the Coalition, the Albanese government moved to cut back debate last week, on proposed new rules governing the terms under which the gas industry companies must consult with First Nations peoples. In short, these changes have bene proposed by these companies and they aim to reduce the capacity of First Nations to hold back approval of new projects.

Cutting short the debate on the bill means that it will quietly get through. Under the new terms, any gas development that gets the nod from National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema) will be considered complaint with national environment law and fast tracked.

First Nation objections are usually based on the negative impact on the environment. By making this more difficult, the voice of First Nation peoples is reduced.

Gas giants Chevron and Woodside are among the country’s biggest polluters

The problem with this Labour-Coalition consensus is that it rests on the verdict of an already compliant and compromised authority. Backing this assertion is that the resources minister Madeliene King has admitted that the purpose is to stop the slowdown of new projects in the face of those who oppose them on the grounds that they harm the environment. She didn’t say it was to test whether they are sound.

New rules make it simpler for gas projects to go ahead to boost Australia’s gas exports. This stands in stark contradiction to the government’s claim that it wants to cut back carbon emissions. Extracting gas to burn works in the opposite direction.

In the end the new bill was not rushed through and is now listed for May. The bill was temporarily replaced by one that aims for providing car companies with greater incentive to produce cars with less emissions. This minimal act offers better public relations. It can be whipped up to a glowing media story, even though it’s a very small measure that will make little difference in reality. If implemented, it will only take out 48 tonnes of carbon when millions are needed.

When gas extraction is being increased at the same time, small measures pulling the other way mean little. Turning the situation around and moving in earnest towards zero emissions means turning the economy away from carbon dependency and investing billions on alternatives. This won’t be provided by the market. Only government intervention can do this.

Here we come to a sticking point. The political consensus in Canberra is that the market must always rule. Neoliberalism continues to be the mantra. The government’s function is seen as mainly a prop for private corporations. This is what is used to justify ongoing support for the gas industry at all costs.

Even more sinister reasons are the ties between these companies and the political elite and the contributions to party coffers. But this is another story.

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