17/05/2018 - 12:38

Emotive issues all talk

17/05/2018 - 12:38


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A renewed activist focus on the carbon sequestration efforts on Barrow Island is, like many populist arguments these days, abusing language to stir up emotions.

Emotive issues all talk
With its first LNG cargo shipped in March 2016, the Gorgon project has a 40-plus year lifespan. Photo: Chevron

It seems the operator of the Gorgon project has revealed that little, if any, CO2 has been stored or sequestered underground as had been promised during the approval process a decade ago.

Perhaps the idea of storing millions of tonnes a year of CO2 was beyond ambitious, as the ability to do this has yet to be proved at such scale.

No doubt activists’ intentions in highlighting this failure recently are aimed at restricting the growth of LNG both at Barrow and beyond.

Their language uses the term ‘carbon pollution’, which I always find a bit emotive.

CO2 may be the unwanted result of many industrial processes, but calling it pollution deliberately equates it with much more contaminating and dirty industries from which LNG is naturally quite distant.

Federal Labor used this term in its proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, instead of saying ‘carbon tax’: equally emotive, some might say.

This terminology aims to exploit ignorance of the fact that the CO2 from the LNG process is relatively small compared with other fuels such as coal.

That CO2 production at Gorgon is large by Western Australian standards is another way opponents of this critical industry play at the margins of truthfulness.

Yes, Gorgon’s CO2 emissions are big for this state, a place with a tiny population and very little major industry.

But that is because the LNG production takes place here, with state-of-the-art processing, prior to shipping the gas to markets with populations and industrial footprints far greater.

Processing the gas here makes it feasible to send offshore, thus saving bigger CO2 emissions from the end user as well as real pollution. Isn’t this the lesser of two evils?

But activists opposed to industrial development of any kind don’t care about that.

They want LNG plants, especially proposed new ones, hampered by unrealistic regulatory burdens because they would prefer energy – especially that generated by transition fuels like LNG – became more expensive sooner, encouraging alternatives and making the long-term payoff from building gas processing plants more risky.

In the end, perhaps the Gorgon proponents and state government should never have experimented with the concept of sequestration – they should have extolled the virtues of LNG as it stands.

Taxing words

Another abuse of the language by those who like to distort words to achieve emotion-driven outcomes has resurfaced with the federal coalition’s proposed tax package.

Reducing the number of tax thresholds and simplifying the system is a smart way to mitigate the curse of bracket creep, where inflation pushes wage earners unnecessarily into higher thresholds and people are worse off even though everything else remains the same.

If there is anything unfair about tax systems, that would be it.

But the excitable legion of fans of French economist Thomas Piketty cry inequality with the oft-repeated statement that this means someone on a higher income pays the same tax as someone well down the food chain.

This is simply not true as they, and anyone who bothers to scratch the surface, knows.

Paying the same rate of tax per dollar earned is not the same as paying the same tax and it is a travesty of economics, maths and English for anyone to make that statement.

Furthermore, with a significant tax-free threshold of $18,200, which remains the same under the federal government’s plan, lower income earners pay proportionately less tax because their taxable component is lower.

The fairness of this or the government’s budget plans is always subjective. What is not debatable is that if two people are on the same rate of tax then the higher income earner is paying more.

Debatable premise

While we are dealing with emotive subjects and the distortion that gets applied to them, I was somewhat bemused by the media-centric debate around the federal government’s $50 million Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund.

The Greens and fellow travellers have been arguing that this fund ought to be applied to businesses such as the Guardian, a UK-based media group considered very left leaning.

I find that remarkable.

I would be hard pressed to find any political party that thought taxpayer funds should be used to aid a multinational business in its attempts to gain market share in Australia.

With Google and Facebook devouring profitable advertising of traditional and newer Australian media firms, it seems absurd that anyone would suggest we need to subsidise the operations of a foreign company; especially one that employs very few local staff.


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