Well, who would have thought. Tony Abbott's first action as Opposition Leader was to visit a coal mine and talk gravely about jobs jobs jobs. All a bit reminiscent of John Howard's speech to the forestry workers before the 2004 election, and just as cynical. Tony Abbott now leads a party which, if the mine owners suggested it, would without a moment's hesitation approve the slashing of miner's wages and conditions, the removal of regulations, the sacking of thousands of miners and their replacement by machinery, or by cheap overseas workers, or the sale of a mine to overseas private equity firms, or just the closing of a mine to cut costs and push up prices. But phasing out coal gradually, retraining workers and promoting alternative jobs in communities, in order to keep the whole planet habitable? No sirree.
Once upon a time Australia was seen as a quarry. Shovelling up mineral riches as quickly as possible and selling them off cheaply overseas. Gradually Australians, and politicians, became aware that this probably wasn't the smartest long term strategy for the economy. We might be a little bigger than Nauru, but, just as inevitably, resources will eventually run out or become too costly to retrieve. And then what do you do? Nauru eventually settled for housing a prison where Australia sent its unwanted prisoners, but it's hard to imagine Australia being a penal colony, isn't it?
Eventually governments of both political persuasions realised that it might be prudent to plan for the future by encouraging, and even investing in, a manufacturing capacity for the country and an ability to develop the smart technology ideas Australians have always been good at.
But in recent years, bedeviled by ideological blinkers that insist that governments mustn't "pick winners" (why ever not, would picking losers be better?) the Australian economy must be run by the market, the whole market, and nothing but the market, Australia has seen the collapse of this program. Inventors and inventions have headed overseas, scientists likewise. The universities and CSIRO have been squashed, silenced, privatised, monetised. Policies on imports have seen manufacturers going broke and closing or taking their assembly lines offshore. A devil may care attitude to takeovers has seen many companies bought by overseas giants.
And so we have run gleefully back to just digging stuff out of the ground and sending it off – and even much of that is now being done by overseas companies buying, or buying into, Australian mining companies.
We are back to Quarry Australia. Back to the dumb country, with Mr Abbott's blessing. But picking winners would be easy peasy at the moment Tony. Easier than it's ever been. The winners are going to be companies, and countries, that encourage, and invest in, renewable energies. We are, or were, world leaders in solar power and the rest. Now we are not (the solar panels I bought recently were made in China – how ironic is that?) – inventors and inventions are heading overseas, local firms going broke. Kevin isn't doing anything Tony – you say you want to oppose, then here is a good thing to oppose.
And you have invented something called "Climate Action". Here is an action Tony, if you think you are an environmentalist as you say – start by announcing an immediate ban on all tree clearing, including Tasmanian forestry operations, in Australia (you're right Tony, land use is important). Then visit another coal mine and announce that all Australian coal mines are going to close by 2020 (with substantial help for miners and communities to adjust), that your Liberal Government is going to start work towards a Minimum Renewable Energy Target of 100% by 2050, that you will set up a massive "Sustainable Energy Investment Fund" which will support not just research but the implementation of all forms of renewable energy across Australia and support them with appropriate infrastructure development.
That will make us a Clever Country again. Oh, and help save the planet.
You there Tony? Tony?
All David Horton's writing is on The Watermelon Blog.