Taxpayers Funding the Demise of Regional Communities

Written by:
28 June 2024
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In this article, Saxon Davidson contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the economic cost of net zero, conducted as part of the IPA’s Net Zero Program.

The IPA’s Net Zero Program aims to research the various ways net zero policies negatively affect Australia’s energy security, national security capabilities, and household electricity prices.

The Upper Hunter knows, more than most communities, the value of our crucial resources sector and the high-paid jobs it supports. The region is known for its coal industry, which has powered Australia and the world for generations.

Unfortunately, Australia’s energy and emissions policy settings are set to eliminate this industry, and those high-paid jobs along with it.

Economic analysis by the Institute of Public Affairs found that more than 9300 jobs in the Upper Hunter are atrisk due to the policy of net zero emissions by 2050, representing more than a quarter of all jobs in the region.

The vast majority of those jobs are in coal mining, agriculture, and electricity generation, and the figure does not include the indirect jobs that exist because of these industries.

But the Albanese government isn’t just using its energy and emissions policies to disrupt regional communities such as the Upper Hunter. It is funding activist legal groups that challenge critical nation-building projects in the courts, with a view to delaying, and ultimately, cancelling them.

While happy to tax these projects, the federal government is nonetheless aiming to destroy them – and the jobs and economic value they deliver to communities.

The worst example of this is the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), which recently said it was taking Hunter Valley Operations to court in order to cancel its planned coal mine expansion. This expansion will support about 1500 ongoing jobs, and 600 more during construction.

The EDO’s specialty is representing anti-development activists in legal challenges to resource projects, such as mines and gas pipelines.

In this instance, the EDO contends the planned expansion of Hunter Valley Operations will have adverse effects on the Great Barrier Reef, despite it being about 1500 kilometres away. Its lawyers will argue that the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water failed to consider the reef when assessing the project, despite departmental officials stating that the project’s expansion would not affect it.

Any claim made by this group must be treated with the utmost scepticism.

In a high-profile case in January this year, targeting the Barossa Gas Project off the Northern Territory coast, the EDO was savaged by Justice Natalie Charlesworth. Justice Charlesworth found that the EDO had confected evidence and coached witnesses, stating the evidence the EDO provided was “so lacking in integrity that no weight can be placed on them”, and that the EDO was “distorting and misrepresenting what the Indigenous informant had said”.

But even when these baseless legal challenges fail, they serve their purpose of delaying projects, and in so doing undermine a project’s viability. The process is the punishment.

It’s particularly galling because this group receives millions of taxpayers’ money. After the election of the Albanese government, the EDO was awarded $8 million in funding over four years. On top of this, the federal government will support it with $2.2 million in annual, ongoing funding. It also receives funding from the NSW government.

So, Upper Hunter residents are paying, through state and federal taxes, for activists to cancel the industries on which they rely upon to make a living. Australians cannot afford to stand by and fund the destruction of regional communities.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is to be commended for promising that the EDO will be defunded should the Coalition win the next federal election. Defunding the EDO is an important first step to ensuring that regional communities such as the Upper Hunter don’t wither and vanish. The next step for governments at all levels is to adopt policies that support those critical industries that provide high-paying jobs for regional Australians and deliver billions of dollars to the national treasury.

We cannot afford to pull the plug on a resources sector that powers our homes and industries, earns billions in export revenue, and provides royalties that build roads, schools, and hospitals across the nation.

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