Doctor and activist

Power: the 50-25-25 rule

16 December 2023

When I was in Parliament someone said to me that big business had 50% of the power, all governments together 25%, and every other power group 25%.

It seemed a strange concept at first, but on reflection, I think it is about right.

Only after revolutions does it change much and historians argue over for how long.

Senator David Pocock, the Canberra independent, spent a lot of time trying to get the Government to release documents between Santos and themselves about the Barossa gas development in the Timor Sea.

THe reason for this was the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) bill 2023.

Santos is the front partner and 50% owner of the Barossa gas field with SK E&S, a Korean company having 35% and JERA, a Japanese company, 15%. They wanted to develop the largest fossil fuel project in Australia, (natural gas), just when Australia is supposedly getting towards net zero carbon dioxide. Quite apart from the fact that methane burns to carbon dioxide, natural gas, having been formed from the decay of carbon products, is usually found with large amounts of carbon dioxide in with the methane. The Barossa gas is worse than usual at 16-20% carbon dioxide. Santos therefore wanted a permit to separate the carbon dioxide, capture it and store it.

Jennifer Rayner of the Climate Council is one of the many environmentalists who point out that CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage has never been done successfully and is just a fudge to continue fossil fuel use. But it gets worse. When the carbon dioxide is supposedly all captured, it is to be piped to a supposedly exhausted gas field, Bayu-Undan, in East Timor 100 km away and injected into the wells there. What could possibly go wrong? East Timor is not a signatory to the Paris Climate agreement. And if that were not enough, the pipeline to East Timor will not be finished until 5 years after the methane is being shipped, so 5 years worth of carbon dioxide waste is simply to be exhausted to the atmosphere.

All thai was pointed out in Parliament by Pocock and the Greens. There is a carbon offset scheme, where Australian Carbon Offset Units (ACCUs) could be bought, but estimates have been that not enough of these could possibly be created to offset the amount of gas produced by projects currently in the pipeline and the price of ACCUs would rise. The Sea Dumping bill was passed with support from the Coalition. The Greens and Pocock held out, unsuccessfully.

The government resisted releasing the Santos correspondence until after the bill was passed and the correspondence said that Santos’ decisions had already been made and considerable investments undertaken and it would upset the Korean and the Japanese investors if the project were stopped or delayed. It seems that the Koreans and Japanese pressured Penny Wong and the Foreign Affairs Ministry and overcame Chris Bowen and the Environment Ministry. .

All this happened at the same time as the COP28 (28th Conference of the Parties of the 1992 Agreement)in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). UAE is the second largest economy in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and exports 3 million barrels of oil a day. The president of the COP meeting was Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is also Minister of Industry of the UAE and head of the Abi Dhabi National Oil Company. How anyone could have expected a resolution to phase out fossil fuels to come from a meeting so constituted defies understanding. The whole setting seemed beyond satire. The final text, which seems very hard to get actually agrees to phase down fossil fuels but gives no timetable and allows gas as a transition fuel, which is effectively a loophole to increase gas production.

Environment Minister Chris Bowen said that it was ‘no small thing’ to agree to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels. But what is all this worth with no timetable and no commitment to phase them out?

Pocock is an ex-Rugby player. My local rugby club has the motto ‘Facta non Verba’= ‘Deeds not Words’ and Pocock is true to the breed.

He said ‘As a country we’ve got to make the choice. Do we put our futures and the ..future..ahead of the short-term profits of a handful of companies like Santos?’

The answer it seems is ‘Yes’. Santos tells the Labor government what to do, and the Labor government does it. The Liberals opposed initially as they usually oppose everything, but when they found out about what Santos and the Japanese and Koreans wanted they quickly came on board.

The rule about 50-25-25 seems to hold good. 50% quickly became 75%, then 100%.

It is very hot today, and summer is not yet here. It would be nice to think that next year will be better, but it won’t, maybe ever…

Here is the story in The Saturday Paper. You might wonder why it is not in the other papers.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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