The Coal Curse

Filed under Letters & Opinion ~ by Editor on  21 Jun 2020

Resources, climate and Australia’s future.

Judith Brett explores the consequences of Australia’s coal addiction, from stalled climate-change policy to tensions between farmers and miners.

Australia is a wealthy nation with the economic profile of a developing country – heavy on raw materials, and low on innovation and skilled manufacturing.

Once we rode on the sheep’s back for our overseas trade; today we rely on cartloads of coal and tankers of LNG. So must we double down on fossil fuels, now that COVID-19 has halted the flow of international students and tourists? Or is there a better way forward, which supports renewable energy and local manufacturing?

Judith Brett traces the unusual history of Australia’s economy and the “resource curse” that has shaped our politics. She shows how the mining industry learned to run fear campaigns, and how the Coalition became dominated by fossil-fuel interests to the exclusion of other voices.

In this insightful essay about leadership, vision and history, she looks at the costs of Australia’s coal addiction and asks, where will we be if the world stops buying it?

Faced with the crisis of a global pandemic, for the first time in more than a decade Australia has had evidence-based, bipartisan policy-making. Politicians have listened to the scientists and . . . put ideology and the protection of vested interests aside and behaved like adults.

Can they do the same to commit to fast and effective action to try to save our children’s and grandchildren’s future, to prevent the catastrophic fires and heatwaves the scientists predict, the species extinction and the famines?”

   ~ Judith Brett, The Coal Curse


JUDITH BRETT is emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University. A former editor of Meanjin and columnist for The Age, she won the National Biography Award in 2018 for The Enigmatic Mr Deakin.

She is the author of four Quarterly Essays: Relaxed and Comfortable, Exit Right, Fair Share and The Coal Curse. Her other books include From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage, Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People and Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class.



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