MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Mining lobby fights environmental boycotts

Published by MAC on 2014-04-19
Source: The Guardian, Business Spectator

Environmentalists in Australia have been effective in targetting coal's role in causing change. So much so that the industry is fighting back.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for an apartheid-style boycott of fossil fuels. In response, the mining industry is trying to work out if can take legal action to block such 'secondary boycotts'.

The Minerals Council of Australia has  taken its fight to Twitter, but apparently with poor results.

As the article below notes " the Twittersphere can smell spin from a mile away."

Mining lobby may join industry push to ban environmental boycotts

Opposition to escalating grassroots movement calling for banks and super funds to divest from fossil fuel companies

Lenore Taylor, political editor


18 April 2014

The powerful mining lobby is considering whether to join the push by resource industries to ban environmental boycott campaigns as it battles an escalating grassroots movement calling for banks, superannuation funds and institutions to ditch fossil fuel investments.

The Minerals Council of Australia, which this week began its own "Australians for Coal" social media and lobbying campaign to argue the benefits of continued coalmining, has previously attacked "green extremists" who "have moved ... from genuine protest to dangerous and unlawful civil disobedience", saying the "extremists" would be facing the full force of the law if they were not exempted from the ban on so-called secondary boycotts under competition laws.

The mining industry has also begun lobbying investor and superannuation funds to provide information to counter the push by organisations including for them to divest from fossil fuel companies. The higher education superfund Unisuper - which has $40bn in funds under management - has announced it will exclude fossil fuel from its "socially responsible" investment options.

A spokesman for the Minerals Council said the organisation was examining an issues paper from the government's review of competition law to decide whether it would make a submission, and whether it would argue the divestment campaign could also be considered a secondary boycott.

Other resource industries, including the forestry and resource groups, are arguing that environmental groups should no longer be exempt from Australia's competition law ban on so-called "secondary boycotts" - actions that try to stop a third person buying goods from another. And it also supports the argument that more safeguards are needed to ensure the "truthfulness" of information supplied during activist campaigns.

In an article for the Guardian, the nobel laureate Desmond Tutu called for an apartheid-style boycott of fossil fuel investments. The group is leading a worldwide grassroots campaign to push public institutions, super funds, inidivudals and banks to move money away from fossil fuels.

It lists nine US colleges and universities, more than 20 US cities, 26 churches including the Uniting Church of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory and many foundations that have pledged to divest.

The issues paper released by the panel appointed by the Australian government to review competition law specifically includes the possibility of changes to the secondary boycott provisions.

The minister for small business, Bruce Billson, told Guardian Australia the government had "expressly mentioned" secondary boycotts in an issues paper for its review of competition laws because "we want respondents to discuss both the exemptions from secondary boycotts and the broader concept of false and misleading representations".

But Billson said the issue raised complex legal questions, including "jurisdictional reach" and exactly what conduct constituted a secondary boycott "because you can of course run a direct information scheme, but not a campaign that threatens a business with loss or harm, so it depends on the conduct itself".

Guardian Australia has reported a push by the forestry industry and some Tasmanian MPs to remove the secondary boycott exemption for environment groups because of the impact of boycott campaigns demanding furniture retailers and overseas customers cease buying timber from unsustainably logged forests.

The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, said the backbench rural committee and "quite a number in the ministry" wanted to use a review of competition laws to remove the exemption and that there was "an appetite in the government for changing these laws".

Groups including the Australian Forest Products Association and parts of the seafood industry are preparing submissions to the review.

The Guardian has reported Oxford University research that found the fossil fuel divestment campaign that began 18 months ago in the US has grown faster than campaigns that targeted apartheid, tobacco and arms manufacturers.

The research has shown that past divestment campaigns succeeded by stigmatising their targets and exerting financial pressure.

In Britain campaigners are targeting the £5bn of fossil fuels stocks owned by universities. The UK's most senior doctors have also called for urgent divestment.

The MCA's Australians for Coal includes TV ads and a social media campaign, which has attracted a backlash on Twitter.

The spokesman said the campaign's "primary purpose" was not Twitter, which was "a well-established echo chamber".

The MCA said its campaign was designed to give a voice to the "silent majority" and stop a "small number of noisy extremists from creating the false impression that the community does not support Australia's second-largest export sector".

We need an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet

We must stop climate change. And we can, if we use the tactics that worked in South Africa against the worst carbon emitters

Desmond Tutu

The Guardian

10 April 2014

Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse. No more can it be dismissed as science fiction; we are already feeling the effects.

This is why, no matter where you live, it is appalling that the US is debating whether to approve a massive pipeline transporting 830,000 barrels of the world's dirtiest oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Producing and transporting this quantity of oil, via the Keystone XL pipeline, could increase Canada's carbon emissions by over 30%.

If the negative impacts of the pipeline would affect only Canada and the US, we could say good luck to them. But it will affect the whole world, our shared world, the only world we have. We don't have much time.

This week in Berlin, scientists and public representatives have been weighing up radical options for curbing emissions contained in the third report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The bottom line is that we have 15 years to take the necessary steps. The horse may not have bolted, but it's well on its way through the stable door.

Who can stop it? Well, we can, you and I. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so. It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden "to till it and keep it". To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.

The taste of "success" in our world gone mad is measured in dollars and francs and rupees and yen. Our desire to consume any and everything of perceivable value - to extract every precious stone, every ounce of metal, every drop of oil, every tuna in the ocean, every rhinoceros in the bush - knows no bounds. We live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth.

Throughout my life I have believed that the only just response to injustice is what Mahatma Gandhi termed "passive resistance". During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, using boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure.

It is clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us. And it need not necessarily involve trading in our cars and buying bicycles!

There are many ways that all of us can fight against climate change: by not wasting energy, for instance. But these individual measures will not make a big enough difference in the available time.

People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change. We can, for instance, boycott events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil-fuel energy companies. We can demand that the advertisements of energy companies carry health warnings. We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry. We can organise car-free days and build broader societal awareness. We can ask our religious communities to speak out.

We can actively encourage energy companies to spend more of their resources on the development of sustainable energy products, and we can reward those companies that do so by using their products. We can press our governments to invest in renewable energy and stop subsidising fossil fuels. Where possible, we can install our own solar panels and water heaters.

We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.

And the good news is that we don't have to start from scratch. Young people across the world have already begun to do something about it. The fossil fuel divestment campaign is the fastest growing corporate campaign of its kind in history.

Last month, the General Synod of the Church of England voted overwhelmingly to review its investment policy in respect of fossil fuel companies, with one bishop referring to climate change as "the great demon of our day". Already some colleges and pension funds have declared they want their investments to be congruent with their beliefs.

It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future. To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.

How Twitter obliterated the mining industry's latest lobbying campaign

Business Spectator

15 April 2014

Australia's chief mining lobby, the Minerals Council of Australia, wanted to fight fire with fire. Instead it ended up throwing kerosene on a burning powder keg.

Sick of being the butt of memes and GIF on the interwebs, the council yesterday launched a digital campaign aimed at giving what it's calling the silent majority a voice on coal industry issues.

According to its website, the sector directly employs 200,000 workers, indirectly employs 150,000 workers and contributes around $60 billion to the Australian economy and therefore deserves a greater say (and sway) in public life.

As the group explained to The Australian, its Australians For Coal campaign is a three-pronged assault that hopes to use TV advertising, political lobbying and social media to sway public opinion.

The main focus of this campaign - as opposed to previous lobbying attempts from the Minerals Council (like the mining tax campaign) - was the group's focus on social media. It wanted to provide a counterpoint to the Greens' influence and reach on the Twittersphere.

The campaign launched yesterday and it received a storm of attention. As the graph below shows, the hashtag #AustraliansForCoal exploded on Twitter. So the campaign worked, right? Well, no.

Few users actually supported the campaign. Instead the hashtag became a platform for everyone on the Twittersphere to vent their frustrations at the sector.

We reached out to the Minerals Council of Australia to see if it was happy with the response it received. Unsurprisingly, we're yet to get a reply.

This is the second time this week that a high powered group has attempted (and failed) to wrangle the Twittersphere. As you may recall, the Queensland government's #StrongChoices campaign blew up in its face just two days ago.

We said it then, and we'll say it again: the Twittersphere can smell spin from a mile away.

But back to that data we mentioned earlier from the Australians For Coal website: the 200,000 workers it directly employs.

According to the latest ABS industry release, the coal sector actually employs closer to 54,000 workers. This was picked up by Twitter within hours of the campaign's launch.

And as if this wasn't enough, the group made the dire mistake of pitching its campaign as a counterpoint to the Greens' social media dominance. Remember that old high-school adage that you shouldn't pick on bigger kids?

That also applies on the Twittersphere.

The Greens have exponentially more reach than the Minerals Council on Twitter. So when the Greens tweet something, it's get read and when the Minerals Council replies, it gets largely ignored. The same thing happened during the 2012 London Olympics when British diver Tom Daley took a Twitter troll to task. The troll tried to apologise, but it was drowned out by Daley's 500,000-strong follower base abusing him over his original comment.

You can't blame the Minerals Council for trying to break into the 21st century with some form of a digital campaign.

But why didn't it try launching its campaign on Facebook first? It has more Australian users - a confirmed 13.5 million compared to Twitter's unconfirmed 2.5 million. It's also a little more forgiving towards interest groups and niche political agendas.

If anything, this whole incident serves as a stark contrast to the campaign the council waged back in 2012 against the mining tax. Back then, it seemed as if the miners were able to mould public opinion to their will.

This Twitter backlash may make politicians think twice about just how influence the Minerals Council of Australia actually wields over the masses.

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