It was of particular interest to me that Scott Morrison called John Howard seeking advice on how to address the recent bushfire crisis.  Four days after ScottyFromMarketing’s celebrated visit to Cobargo, the ex-Prime Minister was called to refloat a ship with more holes than a cullendar.  I wondered what sort of advice he would give?  So I went looking for “Australia’s Greatest Ever Prime Minister’s” recent contributions to climate policy.   As a man of the people, I am sure that from hereon he won’t mind me calling him John. 

With time to reflect away from the savagery of Parliament, this man of principle and vision would surely be the Aussie Sherpa that our society needed.  It was then that I came across a twenty minute YouTube clip (see below). from August last year where John spoke to a Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie.  This was just a couple of months before the bushfires so we could expect a close parallel between what John told the miners and the advice he gave Scott. 

Welcome, John. You’re in a mining town.

The video gave us a good view of John sitting up the front but we couldn’t see the audience. I suspect, as with the term miner, digger has lost much of its coal dust and sweat over time. It was almost certainly a particular type of besuited digger who had the privilege of sitting in this audience.  The dealers would have been some of Australia’s richest and finest talent. 

The meeting opened with a fruity voiced questioner, “Welcome John. You’re in a mining town”, which John graciously acknowledged by a thumbs up and chortle.  This was going to be a fun evening. We were among friends.

The questioner continued that he was a bit worried that Scott was going a bit soft on climate change and he wanted to know whether John had any advice for him.  Self-effacing as ever, John eschewed offering advice and then proceeded to give it. It seems he is somewhat of a climate change agnostic and he really does think things have gone too far.  He continued that there’s little doubt that climate change has become a substitute religion.

Tilting at his fine work in Iraq, John emphasised the importance of the Adani mine to people in poorer countries that need energy.  This was the single noble thought that informed his view and “environmental zealots must not be allowed to get in the way”.  

The Prevailing Zeitgeist of Climate Alarmism

Questions continued about the destruction of our education system and the need “to stand up to the education union because of the prevailing zeitgeist of climate alarmism”.  A solution is ready to hand here.  A former head of the Prime Minister’s Department in the Howard era and the bureaucratic head of the WorkChoices project, Peter Shergold, has recently been placed in charge of fixing education in John’s home state.  As head of NESA (New South Wales Education Standards Authority), Shergold could draw on the work of Advance Australia.  This progressive organisation recently developed “The Smart Scientist’s Kit” for distribution to primary schools and has the backing of leading climatologist, Maurice Newman.

Our guest speaker’s mercurial mind then introduced a petrol analogy to explain problems with our economy which put the audience right on edge.  It seems we have “nothing in the tank” unlike when John and Pete Costello were looking after the car.  Their government was able to cut rates because “there was room to move”   The tanks empty now. Someone forgot to fill it up or spent too much time driving poor and unworthy people around. As usual, the master of spin spoke as though the fiscal policy bowser didn’t exist.

We moved away from the climate for a time so John could celebrate the Hong Kong protests.  “They give me hope”, he said as he celebrated the fact protesters were educated, middle class and predominantly young.  I am sure that once he is provided with the detailed demographic profile of Australian climate change protesters his hope will be unbounded.

Further questions followed:
Questioner: “Are we too dependent on fossil fuels, John?”

John’s reply: “I don’t think you are too dependent if you draw on a natural endowment. We shouldn’t be apologetic and allow the industry to be demonised.”

A Woman Speaks

Then something unfortunate happened. A woman spoke (it would be) and pointed out that Australia is far behind the rest of the world in its support for renewable energy.  It was at this point that John’s hearing failed for the first time.  He needed the question repeated. Agitated cries of speak up suggested some people had in fact heard the question.  John’s reply was Prime Ministerial:

“We’re behind the rest of the world? But does that mean the rest of the world has made sensible decisions? … You can encourage enough people to invest in something if you give them a big enough incentive. We have very heavy investment in renewables now because of the heavy incentives. Now, whether that has come at too high a price for the average consumer is part of the debate. I don’t find as I move around Australia, I don’t find people happy with energy prices and to the extent that the policies we have followed have driven up prices through too great a reliance, through too great an investment in renewables and too fast a retraction from fossil fuels that’s an issue”.

Our hero then turned away and waved an imperious hand in the direction of the next questioner that acted as both an invitation and a dismissal.

As we closed, John ranged briefly over immigration, cultural exchange with China, leasing of the Darwin port. the Solomon Islands, private schools (one of his passions). He also explained that Labor’s defeat was due to listening to climate change zealots.  Anthony Albanese take note. He already has.

Uranium is the Answer

Finally there was a question I had been waiting for. What role would uranium would play in our future? Howard has history here.  In the last years of his prime ministership plans were put in place to promote Australia as a site for nuclear waste disposal.  A barrier to this was the Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulations 1956 and the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005. Under this legislation it was illegal to import radioactive waste into Australia.  How were we going to get around this one? John and his team came up with the idea of leasing.  This meant that in a sense our uranium never left.  We just loaned it for a while then took the waste back. It’s a stretch but you can get there. Hit your head with a hammer a couple of times.

A report by his friend Ziggy Switkowski in 2006 endorsed this plan and it would be only a matter of time before we would be big players in the uranium business.  Under an overarching body called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), we would become the dumping ground for radioactive waste. The US would get the plumb role of enriching the uranium where the real money is made

Deny, Deny, Trade and Go Big

So uranium was always on John’s table and he made that very clear in his answer.  I was reminded of this finaigling when the story came out last week of Matt Canavan’s final act as industry minister. He rang a farmer in little known Kimba in outback South Australia to tell him that his land had been chosen as the site for a radioactive waste dump.  Some of his neighbours were less thrilled but there aren’t many of them so who cares.

A few years ago, American economist and historian Philip Mirowski warned an audience of UTS students that in a few years this is where we might be.  Denial would run for as long as the fossil fuel lobby could get away with it. We would then leap back and forth between emissions trading and denial. Finally, when that hadn’t worked, as planned, the big geo-engineering projects would be mooted. Current and growing noises about uranium suggest we may be entering that phase. 

This is the sort of advice that our “Greatest Ever Prime Minister” almost certainly shared with Scott.  They would have been coupled with ways to appear as though you are actually doing something.  The “shutup” money that was announced in the weeks after Cobargo reflected this. I have long thought that John was actually our “Australia’s Most Devious and Dangerous Prime Minister”. I heard nothing in this talk to make me change my mind.  Morrison is just a carny barker by comparison. 

Warren Ross

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