You have to hand it to the Coalition’s favourite coal mining company, Whitehaven Coal: it is a canny investor.
In the past five years, Whitehaven has handed $98,000 to the federal Liberal Party. They only donate to the Liberals — none of this give-to-both-sides stuff used by so many companies to get in the door of fundraisers. And for that sum, less than $100,000, Whitehaven just got an almighty pay-off.
Scott Morrison is paying Whitehaven an estimated $31 million for Australia’s “donation” of 70,000 tonnes of coal to Ukraine. That will last one generator a few days tops, so won’t do much for the brave people battling the Russian army. But it will do an awful lot for Whitehaven: its $98,000 investment is paying off 316-fold.
The company’s share price hit a three-year high yesterday, and why not? Mark Vaile and his board can crack some bubbly for a job well done.
If the coal will do little for Ukrainians — indeed, it’s not even clear how the coal is going to get there — that hasn’t stopped the government using the war as an excuse to ramp up its largesse to its fossil fuel controllers.
Yesterday, climate-denialist industry minister Angus Taylor handed another $50 million to fossil fuel companies — or, as he called it, “investing in seven priority projects as part of our gas-fired recovery”.
The excuse? “To ensure Australia does not experience the devastating impacts of a gas supply shortfall, as seen recently in Europe.” He said Russian gas accounted for around 32% of total European and UK gas consumption, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had created an “unacceptable risk” to global gas security.
The money will go to gas infrastructure and storage facilities, as well as feasibility studies to expand gas production under the guise of the mythical “carbon capture and storage”. But the only thing captured here is the state, by the Coalition’s fossil fuel donors — in the case of gas, Santos, Origin and Woodside — not to mention obscure foreign firms based in tax havens like Delaware.
Doubtless the brave men, women and children of Ukraine, currently being slaughtered, maimed and forced to flee by Putin’s butchers, are chuffed that their plight is being put to such good use. Never mind that the clear lesson of Putin’s aggression in energy terms is the need to get out of fossil fuels as quickly as possible, removing the volatility and strategic weakness that reliance on global commodities brings. The government prefers us to remain hooked on hydrocarbons. Just like it is hooked on donations.