Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Queensland Flood Inquiry: A state of denial

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The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry eventually presented its final report on March 16. There have been very few more expensive exercises in irrelevance than this. While the State ALP Government faces annihilation at this weekend’s election, this whitewash only highlights the massive contradictions capitalist governments face in addressing climate change.

Two other reports were also released in the same week. One by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) and the CSIRO, and another by the Climate Commission. Both of these reports point out the scientific facts behind the bleak future of increasing exposure to risks of extreme weather events.

The BoM / CSIRO report details the inexorable rises in temperature, sea levels, sea temperature, ocean acidification, and atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels over the last few decades. According to the BoM and the CSIRO we’re likely to get more droughts and more extreme rainfall events. The Climate Commission agrees.

In contrast the $16 million Flood Commission of Inquiry says nothing about this situation in its 658 pages. It doesn’t even refer to the issue. The reason for this is not a lack of resources or knowledge but a lack of political will. The terms of reference for the Flood Inquiry conspicuously omitted any reference to the likely long-term trends in climate and what government actions might be required.

The State Government’s attitude to climate change issues is totally contradictory. While they have some nicely worded policy statements about the need to address climate change, they are also big promoters of coal mining and coal seam gas extraction.

The ALP is completely silent on the greenhouse gas emissions produced by coal mining and the coal seam gas industry. This is despite Queensland being the highest state based per capita emitter in the world’s highest per capita emission country. The emissions produced by these industries completely dwarf and overwhelm those produced by domestic consumption.

The truth is that coal mining and coal seam gas activity contributes about 10% of state budget revenue through royalties. The state exports about 180 million tonnes of coal which generates about 450 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is two and a half times greater than the entire state wide consumption. There are currently plans afoot to expand the industry by at least two times.

The government’s heavy reliance on the coal industry is the main reason that the Floods Commission of Inquiry report failed to mention the contribution that the state is making to global warming. Both of the major parties are more interested in representing the private profit making interests in the resources sector rather than genuinely addressing climate change.

In order to facilitate the profits of a tiny few they are prepared to see prime agricultural land ruined, put the Great Barrier Reef in jeopardy and further increase exposure to risk from extreme climate events such as we have seen over the past few years. There is not one single redeeming feature of this process whatsoever. Even the much touted jobs issue is much overstated as mining only provides about 2% of all employment in Australia.

To make matters worse, in order to divert attention away from the real issues at hand, the government is attempting to scapegoat three dam engineers. These workers have been referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission accused with mismanagement. While it is still not clear whether these men made errors in judgement, the ultimate blame needs to be laid at the feet of the government who have prioritised the interests of profits over that of the community at large.

It is with all this in mind that the sham Flood Commission of Inquiry report should be judged. The whole exercise has been a whitewash from start to finish. The only way to really address issues like floods is to look at the root causes of extreme weather changes – global warming.

The truth is that capitalism – a system that puts profits before all else – is incapable of addressing environmental issues. The only way to really reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to make a major shift towards renewable energy solutions. As long as the coal barons are making billions of dollars from polluting there is no real incentive to make this shift.

This is why we need to take the entire energy sector out of the hands of the profiteers and place it into public ownership. On the basis of public ownership and democratic control we could begin to phase out coal and invest in renewables while simultaneously protecting jobs.

If other sectors of the economy were also in public hands we could begin to organise a sustainable plan of production whereby things were produced for human need rather than private profit. With this type of society in place we could not only do more to address climate change but we would be much better placed to protect against floods and other types of natural disasters.

By Tim Michael


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