Former Australian PM John Howard fires shots at ‘climate change zealots’ for threatening country’s energy sector

In his keynote speech at this year’s Diggers & Dealers, former Prime Minister John Howard has taken aim at so called “climate change zealots”, claiming the Australian economy owes the energy sector an “enormous debt”.

He told mining industry representatives “not to be ashamed” and to be proud of the coal, iron ore and oil and gas industries that helped Australia avoid the global financial crisis of 2008.

Mr Howard pointed to the recent protests regarding the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, which jeopardised it going ahead.

He claimed “climate change zealots” had threatened the mine’s future and Asia’s energy security, where Adani plans to ship its coal.

When asked about his opinion on climate change, Mr Howard said he was “agnostic” and not to believe everything you see and hear.

“I don’t think we’ve got the balance right,” Mr Howard explained.

He said climate change had become a “substitute religion” and the Australian Government had erred in its policy in providing “too many incentives for renewable energy.”

Renewable energy and electric vehicles

When Small Caps pointed out to Mr Howard that renewable energies could potentially offer energy security while reducing the word’s reliance on fossil fuels, he staunchly replied that previous governments had invested “too much” in “renewable energies”.

When it was noted that electric vehicle and renewable energy storage uptake was rapidly growing globally, Mr Howard did concede electric vehicles may have a place on Australian roads.

However, he reiterated that Australia’s future lay in exploiting its oil and gas, coal and uranium resources.

He added he had “enormous optimism” about the nation’s future – based on its “common sense values”.

“We don’t like extremists – either to the right or the left.”

Looking back at Australia’s history, he said the country has done a lot of things “very well indeed” – especially mining.

The country’s coal and gas producers should not be “defensive in the face of climate change zealots”, he noted, claiming Australian’s must “remember the debt [they] owe the mining industry”.

“Australia’s responsibility is to continue using all of its resources for the benefit of Australia and mankind.”

Mr Howard’s views on the importance of renewable energies to Australia’s future are in stark contrast to battery mineral presenters at the conference including Independence Group managing director Peter Bradford who told Diggers & Dealers’ delegates demand for electric vehicles and other renewable energies will continue to build.

He said as the uptake of electric vehicles increases, it will cause a wider supply deficit for nickel – one of the critical metals used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles.

Mr Bradford also told delegates he had recently purchased his own electric vehicle.

Additionally, Mr Howard’s views are in contrast to other countries across Europe, China and the US where governments are pushing the uptake of electric vehicles and renewable energies via huge policy incentives.

This has resulted in a raft of vehicle manufacturers releasing numerous electric vehicle models in these regions.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson

In addition to loudly exhorting the benefits of fossil fuels and uranium, Mr Howard had strong views on the current global situation including US President Donald Trump and newly installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Commenting on Mr Trump and his presidency, Mr Howard said there were many things that Trump had achieved that were “fantastic” during his reign, including doing a “terrific” job with the US economy, which, in his view, has benefited Americans and the world.

Additionally, in relation to the trade war between the US and China, Mr Howard said he believed Trump “understood the characteristics of China’s trading behaviour” – claiming China has a history of stealing and infringing on IP.

However, Mr Howard did concede Trump had been “foolish” for launching an attack on his own security agencies.

Across the ocean in the United Kingdom, Mr Howard said PM Johnson was “intelligent” and “the person for the time” in relation to the country’s upcoming Brexit deadline.

He added he wished Mr Johnson “every success” in his prime ministership.

Interest rates record lows

Small Caps also questioned Mr Howard on his view regarding Australia’s record low interest rates.

Equally candid on this topic, Mr Howard said no-one in the room has seen interest rates as low as they are now.

“My worry is if you don’t have any petrol left in the tank, what do you do if you have an unexpected event?”

He explained that during his prime ministership interest rates were very high so there was enough room to pare them back.

However, he noted he would not have carried out the last few interest rate reductions.

“I have an unease about how low interest rates are now,” he said.

Despite his concerns about low interest rates, Mr Howard said he remained positive about the country’s future and that of the mining sector due to its profitability, sustainability and safety.

Lorna has more than 10 years' experience as a finance journalist and editor. She has written for numerous industry publications reporting on various sectors, including: resources, energy, construction, biotech, pharma, science and technology, agriculture, and chemicals. Specialising in resources, Lorna has also covered a myriad of small and large cap ASX and dual-listed stocks.