“In vulnerable countries, climate-fuelled water and food insecurity have mixed with instability, leading to the collapse of governments and civil wars, as we’ve seen in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.”
Australia has suffered a lack of leadership and inaction, according to the group, that has left the nation “ill-prepared for the security implications of devastating climate impacts at home and in the Asia-Pacific, the highest-risk region in the world”.
“We must stop pretending to act by diverting attention to the symptoms of climate change, and start addressing the fundamental causes, primarily by rapidly decarbonising the economy,” Mr Barrie said.
The call by the group – whose members include former Air Force deputy chief John Blackburn, Iraq and Timor Leste commander Colonel Neil Greet, former director preparedness at the ADF, Cheryl Durrant, retired major Michael Thomas and former Australian Coal Association chair Ian Dunlop – comes amid tension inside the Coalition over how to address global calls for greater action from Australia.
Former Nationals senator for Queensland, Ron Boswell, urged Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce to immediately stop banks blacklisting the coal industry, saying pressure from offshore capital markets and governments was a blatant form of foreign interference.
Mr Boswell, who served as Nationals senator for Queensland from 1983 to 2014, also lashed out at European plans for carbon border taxes, saying Australia should retaliate by tripling luxury car taxes on Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche imports.
In a submission made public on Wednesday to a joint parliamentary inquiry into the prudential regulation of investment in export industries, Mr Boswell accused the world’s advanced economies of an “outsourcing con trick” by shifting their carbon manufacturing footprints to developing countries such as China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
He called for an immediate change to competition law to prohibit banks from denying credit and other financial services to the coal industry, and said Australia’s Parliament is the body that should determine what activities are legal in the country.
“This is a clear example of foreign multinationals dictating the economic policy of this country,” Mr Boswell said of the growing global pressure on Australian banks to avoid coal and gas investments.
“And our weak local banks are supinely backing this trend, worried that a couple of noisy activist protesters will roll up at their AGM in a koala suit.”
Mr Boswell’s remarks come at a delicate moment for the coalition government, which is bitterly split on whether Australia should use the looming UN climate summit in Glasgow to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
Amid concerns from city Liberals calling for action, Prime Minister Morrison is seeking to cajole his Nationals partner, Deputy Prime Minister Joyce, to back a more ambitious target. Mr Morrison warned last month that Australia’s financial system risks being isolated by the global capital market shift away from so-called stranded carbon assets such as coal mines.
Banning coal, Mr Boswell said, would mean “all hell would break loose, and you would see a tremendous backlash that would only benefit Campbell Newman, Pauline Hanson and all the loony right.”
They also coincide with tentative signs of progress for Mr Morrison after Mr Joyce told Parliament on Tuesday that the multibillion-dollar inland rail link is a “great” carbon abatement project.
At the same time, the former Queensland senator’s intervention reflects anger across parts of the resources sector as banks shift away from supporting fossil fuel projects. Australia’s four largest banks are under mounting pressure from activist shareholders and regulators to stop lending to gas and coal companies. National Australia Bank is expected to announce a decision on its fossil fuel lending policy in coming months.
In response, Mr Boswell urged the Coalition government to adopt a similar regulatory measure taken in the dying weeks of the Trump administration last year to ensure banks made their lending decisions on credit worthiness rather than “reputational” questions.
A similar “fair service” rule should be considered in Australia, he said.
“It should not be possible for ANZ, for example, to unilaterally decide that it impose new emission reduction tests on its customers from the energy, transport, buildings and food, beverage and agriculture sectors and not lend to those farms and businesses who do not meet that test,” he said.
Likening the pressure on banks from abroad to Chinese efforts to influence Australian foreign policy by boycotting key commodities, Mr Boswell called on the Coalition to defend Australia’s “economic sovereignty just as vigorously”.
“Australia must not allow a group of overseas and local banks, financiers or insurance companies to turn the tap off on the Australian banking system and blackmail them into abandoning the coal industry under the nonsense claim that coal will become an abandoned or stranded asset.”
Saying he would rather be an investor in Glencore, which in June bought out BHP and Anglo American’s shares of a coal mine in Colombia, than BHP, Mr Boswell warned that the coal industry was only the first target of activist groups.
“If we let an unelected finance industry set the economic and export policies of this country, who will be next? The gas industry has invested billions of dollars in Gladstone and provided thousands of high-paying jobs for Australians.
“As gas is a fossil fuel, will that be next on their hit list? And what about primary industry? It’s a heavy emitter of emissions – will they be excluded from insurance and banking? It’s not far-fetched – ANZ has already threatened as much.”
Mr Boswell slammed as hypocritical European countries’ criticism of Australia’s failure to commit to net zero by 2050.
“The countries that criticise the countries who supply them with essential goods for not reducing emissions as fast as them, or for not committing to meaningless targets three decades from now, are playing a double game.
“The bottom line is that global climate meetings, like the one in November in Glasgow, will be exercises in deception and completely meaningless unless they address the outsourcing con trick.”
He also called European proposals to introduce carbon border adjustment mechanisms a blatant form of protectionism.
“If the EU whacks tariffs on Australia, then we should reply in kind.”
“Double or triple the luxury car tax on every Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini. And we should find a way to exempt Japanese and Korean cars – they are our true trading partners, consistently buying our resources, energy and agricultural products.
”And now there’s the push by European and US banks, fund managers and insurance companies to deny finance, investment and insurance to companies in the Australian resources sector.
“This is a clear example of foreign multinationals dictating the economic policy of this country.”
In an interview on Wednesday with The Australian Financial Review, separate to his parliamentary submission, Mr Boswell said he was “not a climate denier” but admitted he could see no solution to global emissions that would not put countries like China and India “out of business”.
“The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have got to understand this,” he said. “It’s their role as leaders of respective parties, with the Parliament, to decide what’s legal and what is not illegal.”
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