Hogsback on the problems of hidden and transparent agendas

WHICH is worse, a hidden or a transparent agenda? That’s a question Hogsback reckons the coal industry will be considering over the next few days after a union outburst in Australia and an interesting piece of “medical” research in the US.

Tim Treadgold

The union issue is the speech by Australian Workers’ Union secretary Paul Howes, in which he “declares war” on Rio Tinto, and goes on to state his position with clarity that even a drover’s dog could understand.

“We are going to take on Rio Tinto and make sure they pay a liveable wage to the workers who make the wealth that these shiny arses sitting in the boardroom in London enjoy,” he said.

Not much hidden in that position. In fact, it’s about as transparent as the plate-glass front windows at Myer – not that Hogsback is suggesting Howes is one of the dummies behind the window.

As Howes was delivering his rant at the AWU conference on Queensland’s Gold Coast, a hidden agenda was being played out in the historic US city of Boston, and if anyone in the coal game says “What’s the home of the original 1773 ‘tea party’ got to do with me?” you had better read on.

The Boston event involved the release of a study by a Harvard Medical School researcher, Paul Epstein, into the “hidden costs” of the US coal industry.

According to Epstein’s research, the hidden cost of burning coal to generate electricity is $US345 billion – a year.

Such an enormous number is rapidly doing its work, sparking headlines across the US as everyone from politicians to media commentators use it to engage in a fresh round of coal bashing.

Epstein’s argument is that coal, the fuel used to generate about 50% of the electricity used in the US, is responsible for a long list of side-effects ranging from “elevated rates of cancer, environmental damage, and lost tourism opportunities” – oh, almost forgot, and “climate change”

First clue that something is not quite right in Epstein’s work lies in his concern for “lost tourism opportunities”

Interesting, thinks Hogsback: why would someone working at Harvard Medical School incorporate tourism in his assessment of hidden costs?

Second clue, which comes close to revealing the answer to that question, is that while Epstein does his work at the ultra-prestigious Harvard Medical School he is also the associate director of the Centre for Health and the Global Environment.

Third and final clue to unravelling this hidden agenda was the location for Epstein’s anti-coal rant – Boston Harbour, where he spoke on the deck of the Arctic Sunrise, a 50-metre icebreaker owned by Greenpeace.

There we have it, the hidden agenda revealed, and the point at which we return to the original question: which is worse, a hidden agenda or a transparent agenda?

Hogsback’s view is that he would prefer to deal with someone like Howes any day because you know exactly where he stands, even if he is over-cooking his case, as a few local critics in Australia have been quick to point out.

The biggest problem Howes faces in his “war against Rio” is that some of that company’s blue-collar workers are among the highest paid people in Australia, earning between $100,000 and $150,000 a year – close to double the average wage of $69,000.

Yes, the mine workers do earn every dollar for their labour in harsh conditions, but to declare an industrial war on behalf of people who are already paid much more than the average Aussie battler is a bit rich – as is Howes’ rhetoric, such as his claim that Rio is “sucking out the blood, sweat and tears of blue-collar workers”

In defence of Howes, there can be absolutely no doubt where he stands.

The same cannot be said for Epstein, the Harvard Medical School researcher, who nailed his colours to the mast of a political lobby group at a location designed to imply that it’s time to start another revolution – this time, against the coal industry.

If there is an amusing aspect to these examples of hidden and transparent agendas, it lies in the fact that one of the speakers wants to close the coal industry and the other wants to get more money from it. Hogsback prefers the money chase – it’s much easier to understand.