Speech on Mark Vaile - Parliament House - Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Speech on Mark Vaile - Parliament House - Tuesday, 22 June 2021  Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

22 June 2021

A new form of McCarthyism has crept into Australian culture and it’s alive and well in the Hunter region, deep in coal economy heartland. 


This 21st Century version of the Cold War doctrine has been on display at our local university where a quite extraordinary, misleading, ideological, and shrill campaign has resulted in former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile’s decision to decline the offer of the position of Chancellor of the University of Newcastle.


During the Cold War people found themselves blacklisted on suspicion they were supporters of – or sympathised with – the Communist Party. Suffice to say, many on the blacklists appeared without cause and suffered greatly as a result. Many lost their jobs or were discriminated against in the workplace.

In Australia today, the blacklist is not so shadowy.  Mark Vaile’s listing has been very public. The crime he has been publicly shamed for is his association with the coal industry. It’s a slippery slope.


Today the excessive progressives target those associated with the coal industry.  No doubt tomorrow it will be anyone associated with the oil, gas, and fuel refining industries. What’s next? The meat processing industry? The steel manufacturing sector? 


Will the blacklist extend to those who invest in, or work in, the energy intensive aluminium sector? Or the wool industry which regularly cops it from animal welfare groups? Maybe those industries that manufacture our fertilises, and crop protection products?


Who is the final arbiter of these things? Where and when will this madness stop?


The world is moving rapidly towards a lower-carbon economy.  So too is the Hunter region with pumped-hydro, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, battery, hydrogen, biomass, and gas-peaking projects in the investment pipeline. That’s a good thing.  But the coal industry will also be with us for many decades to come. That’s also a good thing.


Investment in new low-carbon technologies is growing exponentially and the investment is largely being led by large corporations with a history in the oil, gas, energy, and mining sectors.


Imagine if we argued that the chair of BHP – a coal and steel company now heavily investing in low carbon technologies – should be excluded from any involvement in local institutions which have – as part of their mission – ambitions for a lower-carbon economy?  That would be massively counter-productive.


Yes, Mark Vaile chairs the Board of Whitehaven Coal, but he is also the chair of an investment fund which has $1 billion worth of wind and solar technologies under management. 


Expressing interest in the largely ceremonial job on offer at the University of Newcastle Mark Vaile said:


“When considering the role, I took a close look at the University’s strategic plan Looking Ahead and was impressed with what I found.”


He went on to say:


“I am excited by the role I can play in helping the University deliver on its commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2025.”


He also said:


“The importance of an energy transition is in our backyard. The education sector has a critical role to play in this challenge.”


Mark Vaile would not have, and probably could not have, changed the University’s strategic direction.


The University will recover from the loss of a former Deputy Prime Minister with extensive management experience, with deep connections within our state and federal governments, and a commitment to the institution which educated his children.


The bigger concern is the misplaced campaign against one of our region’s most important industries and the message the demonisation of Mark Vaile sends to the tens of thousands of local people who work in the coal industry and associated sectors.


This month, the excessive progressives demonised them all. Shame on them.