Time to end the fossil fuel gravy train

By Cam Klose and Charlie Wood, 350.org Australia

Australia's fossil fuel industry has suffered vast losses in public and corporate support, its destructive activities rightfully condemned by the community. Yet, despite this, the Federal Government - the same one that has repeatedly called for an end to the 'age of entitlement' - continues to prop up this polluting and, increasingly, economically unviable industry.

With the Federal Budget due to be released on Tuesday and the election set for July, the coming weeks will shed some light on the positions of both major parties in regards to the fossil fuel industry, and whether they are willing to break free from its dirty and corrupting influence.

Unfortunately, the signs are not looking great.

We know that mining for coal, oil and gas across Australia is destroying local communities, particularly indigenous communities.

Australians from the Hunter Valley, the Pilliga, the Darling Downs and along the Reef Coast in Queensland have seen the country they love dug up, poisoned, and left tarnished by the ugliness of such industries. All the while compromising the health of residents, before being abandoned once the resources are gone.

Once a small but vocal minority of people speaking out against mining corporations, the actions of these communities have now become a veritable and diverse movement of people. They are united by their anger and frustration at the injustice brought upon them by the fossil fuel industry with their Government's complicity.

People are rightly asking: why are governments putting the destructive fossil fuel sector above communities? And they are pressing on the big question: why, when we know what climate devastation fossil fuels bring, are will still digging them up, exporting them, and burning them at record levels?

Currently, it seems that neither of the major political parties have the backbone to stand up to an industry that flows rivers of gold into their coffers.

And therein lies the problem.

Next week the Government will hand down its third budget, crucial in the context of the upcoming election.

Budgets are often portrayed as mere fiscal documents that outline the health of an economy by reporting on revenue and spending, which distills into the ever-pursued surplus or the loathsome deficit. In reality however, budgets are political manifestos that embody the ideologies, values and priorities of a government, indicated by how funds are accrued and allocated.

As a signatory to the recent Paris Accord, the Australian Government has a responsibility to take meaningful action on climate change. We are currently run by a Government of mainly-white-men Government, who are pretending climate change doesn't exist and have no vision. Leaving us adrift without a meaningful climate policy and no vision to tackle the greatest challenge of our generation.

The Government currently spends billions of public dollars every year subsidising fossil fuel mining in Australia. It is confounding to consider that so much taxpayers' money is handed over to multinational corporations so they may further pollute our environment.

In this profoundly undemocratic arrangement, public money paid in subsidies directly funds the destruction of communities, farmland and scarce water supplies. Meanwhile, polling shows that the majority of Australians want this fossil fuel gravy train halted and for the country to transition to a completely renewable energy future.

Right now, there is unprecedented energy and desire among the community to put a stop to the folly of the Government.

Next weekend, thousands of Australians will risk arrest and fines by peacefully protesting at the world's largest coal port in Newcastle as part of Break Free From Fossil Fuels, the largest ever global movement of actions to shut down the world's most dangerous fossil fuel projects.

By putting their bodies on the line to stop the export of dangerous coal, these brave community members hailing from all walks of life will demonstrate to our Government that they want to see an end to fossil fuels and a transition to a clean energy future. Farmers, grandparents, pacific islanders, faith leaders, business people and politicians will stand side by side to create a strong, united voice to deliver this message.

Australia is proving to be an embarrassment and a laggard in the global fight against climate. As our governments continue to pander to their small coterie of fossil fuel donors facilitate them to extract coal, oil and gas to export, the rest of the world is moving away from the dirty energy of centuries passed: aware that the only way to avoid dangerous global warming is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

In the face of such enormous challenges, the sad truth is that we cannot look to our political leaders for guidance on this issue; the influence of fossil fuel lobby groups over both parties is too strong.

The Coalition will continue to prop up the dying industry with subsidies, wedded to the dirty donations. Meanwhile, the ALP does not provide a viable alternative as it, too, is too compromised to take the necessary action to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The climate policy released by Labor this week kind of ignores the biggest contributing activity to climate change: the extraction, export and combustion of fossil fuels.

On closer inspection, however, we can find leadership on climate change all around us. We can look to the leadership of the traditional owners suing multinational mining corporation Adani for breach of native title. We can look to the leadership of Victorian town of Yackandandah, which has pledged to transition to a 100% renewable energy source, or to that of the 20 Australian local councils that have sworn off fossil fuels.

While we may not be able to rely on our Government, we can take heart from these inspiring grassroots actions. Australians are participating in a global movement that is gaining momentum: that of ordinary people taking a stand against powerful corporations and government corruption to demand that our land, resources and communities be protected from harmful climate change.

As in all struggles for justice, activists must force the reluctant ruling class to respond, as power and profit are never given up freely.

The May budget might not be cause to celebrate, but the real power is bubbling beneath the surface, and the voice of the people is only becoming stronger.