Fracking is a loaded word.

When it is spoken people see images of lit cigarette lighters next to water taps with pops of flame jumping from the flowing liquid. Burning rivers, water contamination and mystery illnesses.

It’s an unpopular word, an ugly word. Only fitting for an ugly, destructive practice.

Last week federal treasurer Scott Morrison declared that states who have banned gas fracking could have the amount of GST they are given cut back.

“I think it needs a fair dinkum look,” Morrison told media.

Effectively the government is now blackmailing the states – allow fracking or lose money for schools and hospitals.

Allow it or else. Fair dinkum.

By making this announcement the federal government are sticking to a vision of Australia where blasting, fracking and dragging resources out of the ground is still the lifeblood of the country.

But they owe us better.

More than 25 years ago then-prime minister Paul Keating made his now famous “cultural cringe” speech and warned that the Liberal opposition wanted to lead the country down a “time tunnel” back to the “golden age when Australia stagnated”.

“They put the country into neutral and we very gently ground to a halt in the nowhere land of the early 1980s, with a dependency on commodities that would not pay for our imports,” Keating said.

Twenty-five years later a lot has changed but the fallacy of commodities as the path to a prosperous future for Australia remains.

It was old then; it’s old now.

It’s a vision the government are trying to force on states and territories who have banned fracking via their heavy-handed threat to snatch back cash from the GST.

It’s the vision Barnaby Joyce was pushing when the talked about opening up the “cash cow” of the Galilee basin by handing over a billion dollars of public money to mining companies.

And it’s the vision that is being sold to the people of South Australia when they talk about allowing oil companies to drill in the Great Australian Bight, despite the risks.

We can do better.

We can certainly do better than leaders who tell the people of Queensland the most exciting prospect ahead of them is wrenching lumps of rock from the ground, even as the state’s coal miners suffer through the uncertainty of a black lung outbreak.

Or better than politicians who go on a road show trying to sell the community on sending public money to mining billionaires even as they watch the Great Barrier Reef flash fry two years running, as much as half of this precious and unique treasure now dead.

You don’t have to look far for a different vision.

This week the Victorian Premier took to social media to declare that wind turbines aren’t “eyesores” but instead were “job-creating, bill-reducing, energy-generating machines”, as he opened Australia’s third-largest wind farm.

His vision is one that includes more than just commodities and sees the public as more than just diggers, blasters, frackers, and drillers.

He’s not alone.

In South Australia the residents of Port Augusta were left feeling abandoned following the closure of a local coal-fired power plant which left dangerous fly ash raining down on the town.

The region is now staying afloat on hope brought by renewable projects with Australia’s largest solar farm due to built nearby this year and wind farms also planned for the region.

In fact, experts have suggested Australia has the ability to become a global “renewable energy superpower” gaining environmental and economic advantage. All that is needed is vision.

A reliance on fossil fuels isn’t another demonstration of the government’s tired 25-year-old ideas for these communities – it’s standing in the way of them transitioning to a better future.

While some things are still the same since Keating’s speech, at least one thing has changed.

The 1992 object of his anger, then Liberal leader John Hewson, this year went against the party he once steered and publicly stated that loaning $1 billion to the Adani coal mine was the “last thing” Australia should be doing.

“If you take a long-term view on emissions reduction, 85 per cent of existing coal reserves cannot be mined and used in power generation if we’re going to meet net zero emissions by 2050,” he wrote.

“We have an imperative in our own circumstances not to do it.”

Back in 1992 Keating imagined a world where the outdated politicians would be put in a museum for children to visit and ask, “Gee, mum, is that what it was like then?”, only to be told by the relics themselves, “No, kids. This is the future.”

We are now living in that future.

By now we should know the argument our future is worth exactly as much as the commodities in the ground we stand on is a false one.

We demand a better vision.

Simon Black is a senior media campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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  1. “You want school’s and hospitals don’t you?” said Brad Hazzard 6 years ago to a room full of concerned people as he insisted that my community were going to get CSG forced upon us. What an old line they drag out over and over. The other one is “jobs, jobs, jobs”. Someone in the audience suggested developing alternatives like solar power. He said he didn’t know where we would get that…and the audience laughed at him and pointed upwards.
    Communities and whole states have declared that they don’t want the gas industry, yet the governement keeps trying to force it on us. Blackmail is a last resort, and it won’t fly. It is a harmful industry. Too many people are impacted by it already.

  2. The proven history of fracking is that it does not damage the water table. However agree that we are giving away our wealth. Should follow the Norwegian model and get a decent share of the wealth, spend it on infrastructure or in a sovereign fund for future generations.

    1. Completely agree we need plans for the future.

      California had their own mineral boom in the gold rush once. But they have not repeatedly gone back to that well. Imagine a world where US politicians told the population to ignore silicon valley and the aerospace industry but instead held up chunks of gold and told their constituents “this is gold, don’t be scared”.

      It would seem farcical and short sighted.

      Have to disagree on fracking. EPA released report last year costing almost $30m and taking 6 years which outlined issues and contradicted previous report, that you might be referring to.

      Tom Burke, EPA Deputy Administrator at the time: “We found scientific evidence of impacts to drinking water resources at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.”

  3. Scott Morrison, how dare you play with our water. Our water is as precious as gold, as our water boards tell us. And you risk polluting it. You ought to be accountable as per your government when shit hits the fan. This is evidenced in other places as a very bad thing. Once again, not a brain amongst them, they just keep following America. Citizens are paying top dollar compared to companies that pay little or nothing for this commodity. Tax payers paid for our utilities, which are being screwed by our governments for their own purposes. Wage drop for these parasites.

    1. You make a number of really good points Nick.

      Water is an incredibly precious resource and the cavalier attitude this latest move shows, especially given the proven history of gas fracking, is outrageous.

      And it’s not just gas that’s putting it in jeopardy. In QLD the water licences given to large coal mining companies have a proven track record of disadvantaging farmers and landowners. I’ve heard Tom Crothers recently, the former general manager for water allocation and planning in the Queensland department of environment and resource management, say the water licence given to the Adani mine meant landowners had been “shafted big time”.

      Meanwhile our tax policies mean we are “giving away our resources for nothing” as Dianne Kraal told a senate hearing YESTERDAY.