SENIOR executives from the world's biggest coal companies unanimously agreed to back the multimillion-dollar advertising campaign running in rural NSW and Queensland attacking the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme.
"It was ticked off by our board of directors, more than ticked off. It was enthusiastically endorsed,'' said Ralph Hillman, of the industry's main lobby group, the Australian Coal Association. The campaign entitled, ''Let's cut emissions, not jobs'', will run until the Senate votes on the emissions trading scheme later this month.
The group has have employed experts from the leading political consulting firm, Crosby Textor, which worked for the Liberal Party, and Neil Lawrence who worked on Labor's successful Kevin '07 campaign. The campaign is just one of the hundreds of lobbying efforts around the world by companies to soften the impact of domestic laws. These efforts are slowing progress on an international agreement at the Copenhagen climate talks next month.
A Sydney Morning Herald analysis of the lobbying registers around Australia has established that 120 companies with significant greenhouse emissions employ about 80 lobbying firms. This is in addition to the companies' own in-house lobbyists. Tracking the lobbying effort, however, is difficult because the federal lobby register relies on a trust system, with lobbyists able to remove themselves from the lists by request.
Many of the biggest emitting companies, either through their executives, lobbyists or industry lobbies, have got assistance and exemptions from the emissions trading scheme. The Government assisance to 20 major companies is already estimated at more than $11.7 billion, according to a study by the corporate consultant RiskMetrics, commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Most lobbyists contacted by the Herald were reluctant to talk but some agreed that the Government was lending a willing ear to their arguments. The lobbyists have helped to secure unpublicised meetings with Government and Opposition MPs, generally with the aim of extracting concessions.
''It's fair to say that most of the big companies would be very happy with the contact they've had with ministers,'' said one lobbyist working for one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters.
''Most big firms work on the strategy side of things themselves - what they need from us is access. They have batteries of lawyers and economists working for them to sort out the strategy and details. Our advice is who they need to talk to … It hasn't been that hard to get access.''
The Herald collaborated in a global report on the climate lobby with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists across eight countries in the lead up to the Copenhagen talks.
The report covers Australia, the US, China, Brazil and the European Union, and found that big emitters are exerting heavy pressure on domestic governments in developed and developing countries, to weaken laws at home, impeding the chances of a successful international climate agreement in Copenhagen.