Coal and Gas Money Won't Buy Our Vote

For too long, the corridors of power in our parliament have been polluted by corporate Australia, not least big coal and gas. For too long, the shadow of the coal and gas industry has loomed large over so many of our politicians' decisions on climate change.
02/16/2016 08:26 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

By Charlie Wood & Isaac Astill, 350.org Australia

For too long, the corridors of power in our parliament have been polluted by corporate Australia, not least big coal and gas. For too long, the shadow of the coal and gas industry has loomed large over so many of our politicians' decisions on climate change.

We've seen the crippling impacts that stem from this polluted relationship. As billions of dollars change hands via fossil fuel subsidies and political donations, the mercury rises ever higher and the tragic climate legacy we leave our children grows ever greater.

The symptoms of our polluted politics are everywhere to be seen. We have air pollution so thick that asthma and kids go hand-in-hand. Dirty coal mines are dividing our communities. Our precious drinking water is being poisoned by gas wells. And climate change is burning and washing away entire towns, taking homes and memories with them.

Fossil fuel companies are driving this destruction. But they can't do it without their foothold in Canberra.

Over the past three years, fossil fuel companies have donated $3.7 million to our major parties. This financial year, those same companies are due to get $7.7 billion back as hand-outs from our politicians. That translates to a return on investment of over $2000 for every dollar donated to politicians over the past 3 years. Not bad if you're a big polluter. But devastating if you're anyone else.

As citizens in a democracy, we're entitled to expect our politicians to serve the people they were elected to represent - mums and dads, workers, traditional owners and communities. Not the interests of a wealthy and powerful few. Yet as our politicians continue to cash up big coal and gas companies, that's exactly what they are doing.

From ministers giving coal licenses to friends against departmental advice; expensive bottles of wine buying mining approvals; and lavish overseas trips for MPs funded by mining barons. So deep is this relationship, that sometimes it's hard to tell where the polluters end and our politicians begin.

The revolving door spins round and round. A former advisor to Australia's biggest and baddest coal project, Adani's Carmichael mine, is now the Opposition Leader's Chief of Staff. The NSW EPA's Chief Environmental Regulator went on to become the Deputy Director of the Australian Coal Association. Our former Climate Change Minister is now an advisor to Santos and AGL. Our former Environment Ambassador and Chief Negotiator on the Kyoto Protocol went on to be head of the Australian Coal Association. Even one of our richest coal barons is a sitting parliamentarian.

The ledger of benefits that the big polluters receive from this cosy relationship with Canberra is embarrassingly long. Money and time that could be spent on healthcare, education, indigenous rights, and a transition to the clean energy solutions that will benefit all of society, is instead being funnelled into projects and companies that deliver no benefit to any of us and instead leave our kids with a legacy of pollution, rising seas, angry summers and dirty great holes in the ground.

But it needn't be this way. Politics follow people, and people are getting angry. They are getting angry about the unbridled influence that big coal and gas companies have over the people who are meant to run this country. They are getting angry about how this influence is wrecking their health, their homes, communities, and the planet.

They are drawing the links between what a coal company does in Canberra and the climate-fuelled bushfires on their back doorstep, between what a gas company does to their water and what their MP fails to do when leaned on by a fossil fuel lobbyist.

And when enough people get angry, they can transform the political landscape in dramatic and exciting ways. If our politicians expect to maintain the trust of the people they were elected to represent, then they must show that they are serious about protecting them from the harm wrought by coal and gas companies and the climate damage that these companies create. But we can't trust them to do that so long as they continue to cash up the big polluters.

With a federal election year upon us and tragic climate impacts unravelling at a freakish rate, now is the time to call on our politicians to choose between the people they were elected to serve and the big polluters. And one of the ways they can show us where they stand is by saying no to taking donations from fossil companies and no to giving fossil companies billions of dollars in hand-outs.

Over the coming year, voters across the country will be calling upon their local representatives to do just that. They'll be demanding that we get the polluters and fossil fuel money out of our politics, so that our politicians are free to act in the best interests of all Australians, without the dark shadow of coal and gas companies hanging over them.

Over the coming year, Australians everywhere will come together to shine a light upon the politicians who are propping up the big polluters most. People like Cory Bernardi who, funded by our hard-earned money, has spent his time in Canberra questioning the Weather Bureau and running "grassroots" campaigns to axe the carbon price; people like Angus Taylor who describes human-induced climate change as "religion" devoid of facts; and people like former oil and gas executive Gary Gray who helped found one of the world's most notorious climate denialist think tanks.

If we're serious about protecting Australia from climate change and fossil fuels, these are the people who need to be named and shamed. The overwhelming majority of Australians know that climate change is real and demands our attention, yet dozens of our elected representatives are fence-sitters at best and denialists at worst.

A number of them are, or have been, connected to the coal and gas industry and out of touch with the needs of everyday Australians, let alone the needs of future generations, whose fate they are determining every day they choose to ignore physics and morality.

In Paris, the world came together to say yes to ending climate damage and the era of fossil fuels. Yet back home, our politicians continue pandering to the big polluters, taking millions of dollars from coal and gas companies and handing them billions of dollars back, approving massive new fossil fuel projects which will drive community devastation and turning a blind eye as companies tear up our land and pollute our air and water.

So let's start holding them to account. This election year, find out where your politician stands on climate change and fossil fuels and join us to get the polluters out of our politics. Despite what our politicians would have us believe, coal and gas money buys influence. Let's show our politicians that coal and gas money won't buy our vote.

Learn more: www.pollutionfreepolitics.com and follow the campaign on twitter: #PollutionFreePolitics