Australia Twiggy v Clive set to make the climate debate real and willing in the fight for Queensland’s key marginal seats
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While the G7 summit is shining a torch on Scott Morrison’s outsider status on climate change, you can expect a bigger spotlight on both parties’ position in Queensland once the starter’s gun fires on the federal election campaign.
And it might come less from the candidates and more from two billionaires gearing up to battle it out for influence in the key seats that could come into play if the government is ousted.
The two are the mining billionaires Clive Palmer and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest — with “Twiggy” hinting at a counter play to Palmer’s advertising blitz, which helped swing working-class regional Queensland voters away from Labor in 2019.
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The challenge for Labor (and its leader Anthony Albanese is trying) is to draw them back, and that means reassuring them that Labor isn’t going to sell their jobs down the drain with climate change policies attractive particularly to the inner-city green-leaners deserting the major parties.
Palmer represents the face of brute capitalism. He’s made his fortune from mining, is an old-fashioned Queensland National in his thinking, and likes to throw around his considerable weight.
Forrest has come to represent the face of woke capitalism. Yes, he’s resources rich but he’s on several other missions: Indigenous education, reforming Australian rugby, and driving to reduce global carbon emissions — partly through technology that will take coal out of steel production.
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Yesterday at the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association’s conference,over investing in multibillion-dollar liquified natural gas projects, attacking both over their “disgraceful experience and disgraceful track record with their carbon emissions”.
Forrest and Palmer are from our big resource-rich states: Palmer Queensland; Forrest Western Australia. But given their deep pockets and differing views on coal, their paths are bound to collide in central Queensland when a federal election is called.
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Ever so quietly, Forrest has revealed his plans to throw some of his ever-expanding fortune at an advertising campaign that will target the very workers Palmer has been pitching his political messages at for the past decade.
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A few weeks ago he told The Australian Financial Review (which puts him top of its Australian rich list) that he wants to persuade coal workers there is a future for them if the world turns away from carbon. And that will involve millions of dollars poured into the dwindling media outlets of regional Queensland.
While Labor’s dilemma in supporting its worker base while shutting down its industry is getting the most visibility thanks to the efforts of Joel Fitzgibbon in the Hunter Valley, the numbers at stake in central Queensland make it a more interesting battlefield.
Flynn wide open
At stake is the electorate of Flynn, which is up for grabs with the retirement of the LNP’s Ken O’Dowd. Popular Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett has been chosen by Labor to win back that seat.
Capricornia is also front and centre of the next battle, having been stolen from Labor by the LNP’s Michelle Landry in 2013.
But more than 4300 full-time employees in the seat of Dawson, for example, are directly employed by the coal sector, according to the Queensland Resources Council.
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While the local votes will naturally follow the leaders, the future of coal and its jobs will come very much to the fore, irrespective of the current electoral margins. This had a run in the last election, when Palmer ran an advertising blitz for his eponymous Palmer United Party — which failed to win a seat but delivered a swag of preferences to Scott Morrison.
And he was helped by the misguided efforts of the Greens to run an anti-coal campaign bus through the coal heartland. Voters who rely on coal for their jobs, whose wealth is tied up in houses that will be worthless if mines shut, didn’t appreciate the preaching and went for the candidate who promised them a future: Morrison.
We should all be concerned about the potential for big money to influence political outcomes. While the rules control who can donate, they do not prevent anyone turning their money into advertising, which can persuade voters to support one side or another.
It’s unlikely Forrest will be so blatant. But his determination to spend money to convince coal workers they won’t lose their homes and jobs may have an influence. At the very least, it puts him head-to-head with Palmer.
It also raises another interesting question: what are the green energy jobs that can replace the high incomes the coal industry pays its workers? And how far away are they?
They are the big questions for either side of politics as they wrestle with the issues of climate change. Meanwhile, coal prices keep rising, emissions aren’t falling fast enough, and the hot air remains in abundance.
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UN draft climate report: Impacts on people .
A draft report from the UN's climate science advisory panel offers the most exhaustive look yet at how our warming planet will impact humankind's health, wealth and well-being. AFP had exclusive access to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft, set to be published next year. Here are some of its findings on impacts on people: - Food and water - The report shows how climate change has already decreased major crop production by 4-10 percent globally within the last 30 years, the draft shows AFP had exclusive access to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft, set to be published next year.