Audio Version 5 mins
The plan was to return refreshed and start the year with an inspirational piece on the joy of entrepreneurialism. And if you’d like that, last year’s first story still stands (Glorious Freedom: Six Reasons To Start Your Own Business in 2019)
But I didn’t come back in that sort of mood, saddened by a summer watching the country burn. If you didn’t catch this story I wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age last week, this is a longer version without the newspaper space restrictions.
Jobs vs Coal: Is It Really A Choice?
There’s a myth that Australia must choose between jobs and fixing our position as a global carbon rogue state. It’s a convenient story for the coal industry, sitting pretty as it suffocates entire, far bigger business sectors.
Thermal coal mining employs 38,000 people in Australia. Tourism employs 924,000. Climate-driven fires mean endless hotel rooms sitting empty, café meals not eaten, tours that didn’t happen. That six week holidaymaker spend is all that keeps those small town businesses alive. The business mortality rate from this non-holiday summer will be savage.
These small town businesses don’t have lobbyists in Canberra. They’ll be forgotten as the news cycle moves on. They’ll be letting staff go, then quietly shuttering their business as hope and cash run out. People below retiree age move out of town because there’s no work, and once-vibrant towns wither.
As just one example, Kangaroo Island’s globally-renowned Southern Ocean Lodge is gone, taken by fire. That’s it at the top of the page. They plan to rebuild, but who would build a new hotel in bushland anywhere in the country now?
Sacrifices To The Coal God
This is way beyond greenies trying to take down business. When I talk to other business owners, there’s increasing anger at the backscratching mates’ club bias toward government coal donors, at everyone else’s expense.
When you’ve built your own businesses, you feel a deep sense of empathy with people who’ve taken that plunge to risk it all, then get nailed by factors outside their control. No one on a salary will ever understand it. Double that for people with taxpayer-funded jobs. It makes me feel ill to see countless brave little businesses thrown on the sacrificial altar to appease the untouchable coal god.
Why does the government choose coal as its article of faith, rather than say fax machines or Windows XP? Where were the outspoken backbenchers standing up for book shops or travel agents as they battled tech-driven doom?
We taxpayers paid $15 million for ads in the UK, running next to images of charred kangaroos. Ads promise endless blue skies, in reality not visible since mid-November. How much money won’t be spent after the Great Barrier Reef dies?
It’s not about the welfare of those literally working at the coalface either. The coal industry is quite open about its desire to replace as many of them with robots as possible.
The Government SWOT Analysis
Let’s imagine the government was running a business. They might start with a SWOT analysis.
Threats: escalating, more frequent bushfires that cost more lives, stretch our emergency services beyond their limits, and turn summers into a threatening hellscape.
Opportunities: abundant open space, sun and world-leading hydrogen research that could turn Australia into a global superpower in the renewable era, which is pretty much starting now.
If a public company board chose to pretend well-documented risks aren’t risky at all, and to ignore future commercial opportunities to stick with a product from the 19th century, their company wouldn’t last long.
The Big Tobacco Playbook
Coal industry tactics are straight from the old Big Tobacco playbook, except at least non-smokers didn’t have to buy their product. Big Coal effectively has us all on a pack a day of unfiltered eucalyptus smoke right through summer, at who knows what future public health cost.
AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver estimated the fires will wipe $20 billion off GDP, a major drag on our economy, and this won’t be the last time it happens. Beyond tourism, everyone will pay dearly for the insurance rises to come. In some cases, you won’t be able to get cover. Actuaries are rarely wrong, and they’ve been telling us the grim truth for years. Without many people listening.
We all chip in to pick up Big Coal’s tab, some far more than others.
Our heroic volunteer firefighters signed up to do the right thing by their community. Now they’re working for free for months on end, putting their lives and livelihoods at risk, because we didn’t assign a cost to coal’s long-term damage. That’s too much to ask of them.
Back to chirpy business advice next week.
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An insightful and compassionate piece on the tragic obvious for so many people.