Independent MP, Zali Steggall, has voiced support for a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel advertising in federal parliament.
The former Olympic skier, who sensationally ousted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the seat of Warringah, mentioned that air pollution from burning fossil fuels kills more people globally than smoking and added that coal, oil and gas companies are using deceptive practices to pretend they are environmentally friendly.
“We know that greenwashing, with all other kinds of advertising of harmful products, should be appropriately regulated by the government. I strongly urge the government to pursue action on these issues and reduce the influence and disinformation that we are seeing at the moment,” she said.
Parliament was speaking in support about a matter raised by Sophie Scamps MP which called for ‘The urgent need for greater regulation of the marketing of harmful products in Australia, including of gambling, junk food and alcohol.’
Ms STEGGALL (Warringah) (15:30): I thank the member for Mackellar, as this is an important topic. The effects of marketing for products like gambling, junk food and alcohol, especially on young people, are dire and it is extremely important these are addressed. Australians have become susceptible to influence by marketing owing to almost constant exposure through social media, and the government should be able to track and measure the influence of such advertising.
Australia successfully banned advertising on tobacco products, and today is World No-Tobacco Day. We could do the same, I could argue, for fossil fuel companies. Worldwide, deaths from tobacco use are estimated to be over seven million per year. The government has done its part to minimise the harm of tobacco product advertising in Australia. However, there are over eight million deaths per year associated with the effects of burning fossil fuels.
Breathing in contaminated air leads to horrific health repercussions and, currently, fossil fuel companies can spread greenwashing and misinformation unchecked to promote their products. Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing tactic that has become a powerful weapon of the fossil fuel industry’s arsenal, hindering climate action while millions pay the price. There are over eight million deaths per year associated with the effect of burning fossil fuels, and no regulation.
Straight from the tobacco, alcohol and gambling industry’s handbook, fossil fuel companies seek social licence by greenwashing their activities through advertising and sponsorship. Frequently, fossil fuel companies will spend more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally or climate conscious than they do on genuinely minimising their environmental impact.
Mining and fossil fuel companies know that they need community support to continue their operations, and they will invest in protecting their massive profits through marketing and sponsorship rather than actually transitioning their businesses. Fossil fuel companies will rarely talk about their products in advertising. Instead, they will use clever imaging and associations with community groups like sports clubs to present an impression that the company is positive.
For example, BP frequently uses ads to promote its renewable energy projects, but nowhere do they say these make up only four per cent of the total investment, while 96 per cent remains in gas and oil. Greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry has seriously delayed action and is harmful to Australians. These companies exert huge influence, and through greenwashed advertising use phrases like ‘net zero future’ and ‘boosting renewables’ without providing any information on concrete action they are taking.
The ACCC recently found examples of greenwashing across industry, including where businesses are exaggerating benefits and omitting relevant information, claiming that offsetting their carbon emissions has a positive impact on the environment. However, these businesses have taken no steps to actually reduce their overall emissions. Additionally, the ACCC identified the use of aspirational claims with little information on how these goals would be achieved. In many other cases it was unclear what practical changes were being implemented to even achieve these goals.
Finally, through the use of images which appear to be trust marks—such as leaves, images of the planet and the colour green—consumers may be misled into believing the business or product is certified by a third party when it is not the case. There is an opportunity to regulate advertising to reduce emissions and keep Australians safe.
We deserve accurate representation of what companies are really doing to our planet. We know we have successfully banned tobacco advertising and we could do the same for fossil fuel companies. Of course, that would require political will, which generally is lacking in terms of actually coming down with strong action.
When we pursue legislation in relation to this, it’s clear we can make a huge difference. I welcome the Climate Council’s voluntary code, released today, to assist sports codes to shift away from fossil fuel sponsorships.
We should also introduce mandatory information on emission standards on information labels, in advertising and on products. These measures will help people to be informed and will direct their consumer habits and practices.
We know that greenwashing, with all other kinds of advertising of harmful products, should be appropriately regulated by the government. I strongly urge the government to pursue action on these issues and reduce the influence and disinformation that we are seeing at the moment.