Mike Rann calls for end to coal mine approvals, fossil fuel subsidies

Former Premier Mike Rann believes some federal politicians have shown “subservience” to the fossil fuel industry that is “beyond cringeworthy” and has called for Australia to end fossil fuel subsidies and coal mining approvals.

May 24, 2024, updated May 24, 2024
Former Labor Premier Mike Rann believes the fossil fuel industry has "switched from denial to delaying tactics" in the fight over climate policy. Photo: Mark Baker/AP

Former Labor Premier Mike Rann believes the fossil fuel industry has "switched from denial to delaying tactics" in the fight over climate policy. Photo: Mark Baker/AP

In a speech delivered at the University of Adelaide’s Institute for International Trade on Thursday, Rann said it was “environmental vandalism” to continue approving coal mines “while we tell the world we take emissions reduction seriously”.

He also said the “political clout” of the fossil fuel industry has become “both unbalanced and unhealthy for our democracy”.

“When it comes to dealing with fossil fuel polluters, for too many years we’ve seen some federal politicians show a subservience that is beyond cringeworthy,” Rann said, according to his speech notes.

“Continuing to approve coal mines in Australia while we tell the world we take emissions reduction seriously is environmental vandalism and damaging to our credibility at home and abroad.

“Meanwhile the Federal Opposition’s hyper expensive nuclear power plan has the shortest half-life of any energy policy I know.”

Rann’s comments come amid the Albanese Labor Government approving at least four new coal mines or expansions since coming to office, according to analysis by left-leaning think tank the Australia Institute.

This includes a small new coal mine near the Isaac River in Central Queensland, a nine-year extension to the Ensham coal mine in Central Queensland and an extension of the Gregory Crinum coal mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin until 2073.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the foremost international body on climate change science, has said that any new coal projects are incompatible with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees by 2050.

The IPCC also said the world needs to accelerate the retirement of existing coal plants to reach this climate target.

Rann, who is currently chair of the UK Climate Group and a former national president of the Labor Party, also called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

Australia’s subsidies for fossil fuels grew to $14.5 billion in 2023/24 from $11.1 billion in 2022/23, according to the Australia Institute. They are budgeted to reach $65 billion over the forward estimates.

“Continuing this trajectory makes no sense if Australia is serious about reaching net zero,” Rann said.

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“Phasing out these subsidies would significantly increase government revenue to address climate issues, while also reducing emissions.”

Mike Rann claiming victory for Labor at the 2006 state election. Rann was South Australian Premier from 2002 to 2011. Photo: Rob Hutchison/AAP

InDaily asked federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen’s office for a response to Rann’s comments.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Bowen said: “After a decade of denial and delay, the Albanese Government has restored Australia’s international climate credibility by legislating increased targets and implementing strong domestic policies to increase renewable energy and cut emissions.”

“Our Future Made in Australia plan which underpins our transformation to a renewable energy superpower, will use renewable hydrogen and green metals to cut fossil fuel use domestically and for our trading partners.

“The Government’s reformed Safeguard Mechanism ensures all large industrial facilities, including new and existing coal mines, reduce emissions and will deliver over 200 million tonnes of emissions reduction to 2030, equivalent to taking two-thirds of the nation’s cars off the road.”

Rann did praise South Australia’s progress on renewable energy, which he said came “despite having to deal with a number of national governments captured by the fossil fuel lobby”.

The former premier said South Australia had gone from zero renewable electricity in the early 2000s to around 75 per cent now. The Malinauskas Labor Government has set a goal to reach net zero emissions from electricity production by 2027.

“This will be an extraordinary, world-leading result and a credit to successive governments,” Rann said.

“However, the biggest boost to decarbonisation is now occurring because on-shore wind and solar PV (Photovoltaics) are cheaper today than new fossil fuel plants in most countries.

“Two decades ago, installing one gigawatt of solar took a year. Now that amount is sometimes installed in a day.

“That has brought down costs, making solar the cheapest form of energy in history.”

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