Even putting aside all the obvious arguments that we cannot eat coal, and that food security is a paramount responsibility of government, John Kaye said that the figures about export earnings are dubious. He pointed out that while the coal industry might earn revenues equivalent to one tenth of the total national export income, a lot of that money goes straight overseas to foreign shareholders. “The money from coal that goes into the national economy is a fraction of the revenues earned by the industry as a whole,” he said.
He also pointed out that the money spent in the production of minerals might contribute to the economy but it is not necessarily good for the nation, either economically or environmentally. He said that this is most clearly illustrated by the aluminium industry. Aluminium is manufactured by running electric currents through aluminium oxide to separate the raw metal. It has been described by scientists, politicians and industrial engineers as “bottled electricity”. An act of the NSW parliament makes it illegal for anyone to divulge the price paid by the aluminium companies for their electricity, but it is widely believed to be around three cents per kilowatt hour. Householders pay between 40 and 50 cents per kilowatt hour. Ordinary householders, then, subsidise the production of aluminium in this state.
On top of that the State governments in Victoria, NSW and Queensland have provided massive cash payments to the multinational companies on a number of occasions. As part of the proposed Carbon Pollution Reward Scheme, the Federal government is proposing to give the aluminium companies over $600million dollars each year to compensate them for producing the 20million tonnes of carbon dioxide they pump into the atmosphere. Otherwise, the aluminium companies have threatened to move offshore.
“We should let them go,” Dr Kaye said. He points out that the $200,000 per employee in the aluminium industry would be better spent on retraining and equipping those workers to produce renewable energy technology that we could use domestically and export. He also said that the government encourages the assumption that sending an industry like this offshore would be bad for the environment because other countries are not as tightly regulated as Australia. “It is simply not true,” he said. “NSW is the second dirtiest place in the world to make aluminium because of our reliance on coal fired electricity.” He said that China, Rumania or Brazil would be cleaner because everywhere else in the world has a better mix of renewable energy than Australia. “The only place in the world that is dirtier than NSW is Victoria,” he concluded.
Extracted from an interview with John Kaye by Giovanni Ebono for The Generator. Watch or listen to the interview at www.thegenerator.com.au