Friday, February 8, 2019

US imperialism – common enemy of the Venezuelan and Australian people

Danny O.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton made it perfectly clear in a recent interview on Fox News that the ongoing US-led coup attempt in Venezuela was predominately about one thing – oil.

Venezuela has the largest confirmed oil reserves in the world. Currently, they are owned and controlled by the Venezuelan state through the state-owned oil and gas company PDVSA. After the late president Hugo Chavez came to power, and continuing under the current president Nicolas Maduro, the significant income generated by PDVSA has been used by the Venezuelan government to help fund social programs among the poorest sections of the population. These programs focus on such things as free medical treatment, education, social justice issues, and affordable food and housing.

In his interview with Fox News, Bolton let the cat out of the bag saying, “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” The intention couldn’t be clearer. The US wants to overturn the Venezuelan government’s ownership of its vast oil reserves which it currently uses for its national development and put them in the hands of the profit-driven giant US multinational oil companies.

Some of the US multinationals lining up to get a slice of the Venezuelan oil pie likely includes ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. All three companies already have significant investment and ownership stakes in Australia’s massive energy resources. While some is in our own small oil industry, the overwhelming majority is in the sizeable liquid natural gas (LNG) industry. And not one of them pays a single cent of tax here!

The criminal lineup
ExxonMobil owns and operates one of the last four remaining oil refineries in the country, located in Altona just west of Melbourne. But it has been the enormous scale of their tax avoidance and their callous and underhanded attacks on workers’ wages and conditions that has made ExxonMobil currently the most hated of US multinationals in the eyes of Australian workers. 

18 months ago, over 200 maintenance workers at the Exxon-operated gas plant in Longford in the Gippsland region of Victoria and the related offshore facilities in the Bass Strait had their wages and conditions devastated by a disgraceful and unscrupulous use of the Fair Work Act. To add insult to injury, ExxonMobil has recorded revenue of well over $30 billion in Australia alone in the last four years and not paid a single cent in corporate tax during that time.

For nearly 600 days now, a group of these workers has courageously stood up in resistance to the US oil and gas giant, fighting back on behalf of the Australian people against the pillaging of our natural resources and the continuing corporate onslaught on workers’ wages and conditions. They proudly lead by example, showing the best traits and character of the Australian working class. (For a more detailed account of this dispute see this earlier Vanguard article)

Chevron, another perennial corporate tax dodger in Australia, is likely to be the first in line to get at Venezuela’s oil. While other US oil giants like ExxonMobil either had their assets expropriated or were forced out of the country, Chevron took a long-term approach, agreeing to play ball with the Chavez and Maduro governments. It remains the only major US oil company with investments in Venezuela.

These investments are relatively small and are mostly tied up as part of joint ventures controlled by PDVSA. However, if the US-backed coup is successful in its plans to privatise the country’s oil industry, Chevron is in the box seat to take advantage. It is reasonable to suspect that Chevron is one of the main corporate backers behind the coup.

Chevron holds massive investment stakes in Australia’s LNG industry. Take the Gorgon LNG project located at Barrow Island off the coast of Western Australia. Costing US$54 billion, Gorgon is one of the largest natural gas projects in the world and the single largest resource development in Australia’s history. It is majority owned and operated by Chevron (47%) with minor stakes held by ExxonMobil (25%) and Shell (25%). Chevron also operates and owns 64% of the US$34 billion Wheatstone LNG project in WA. This makes Chevron the single largest producer of LNG in Australia. In 2018, it reported revenue of $2.2 billion in Australia, and paid zero in corporate tax.

ConocoPhillips is the third major US multinational with significant holdings in Australia’s gas. It was one of the companies that had its assets turned over to PDVSA after it was nationalised by the Venezuelan government. The two companies have been in a legal war ever since. Its holdings in Australia are considerably less than Chevron and ExxonMobil, but still significant. ConocoPhillips owns an equal majority share (37.5%) in the Australia Pacific LNG project, the largest coal seam gas development in the country. It also owns and operates the Darwin LNG project (57%), and has the exploration and development rights to several gas fields in the Timor Sea.

ConocoPhillips has been a major player behind the scenes in the shady dealings between the Australian government and Timor-Leste over the disputed maritime boundary between the two countries and the huge resources that lay beneath it. In 2018, ConocoPhillips did not pay any corporate tax in Australia on income of over $1 billion.

Day-light robbery
Australia is the world’s second largest exporter of LNG in the world. Qatar is the largest. Despite exporting similar amounts of gas in recent months, the expected benefit to the Australian government’s coffers compared to the Qatari’s is shockingly small. Because of a tax system that is completely in the service of imperialism, the multinational companies that control Australia’s oil and gas industry are subject to only one tax – the Petroleum Resources Rent Tax (PRRT). 

The PRRT is a tax on profits generated from the sale of all petroleum products created from onshore and off-shore oil and gas projects in Australia. But aggressive tax avoidance schemes and the off-shoring of profits by the multinationals means Australians are effectively being robbed blind. In 2018, Australia received just $946 million from the PRRT. That’s from both oil and gas. In comparison, Qatar is estimated to receive $26.6 billion from its gas royalties alone.

Despite exporting a similar amount of gas, Australia will receive more than 26 times less in tax revenue. That’s 26 times less money available to meet the needs of the Australian people. 26 times less to spend on public schools, hospitals, teachers, nurses, infrastructure, public transport, public housing, aged pensions, unemployment benefits…the list of services for the people we could help fund is endless. 

But we can’t. Because Australia lacks genuine independence and our resources and economy are dominated by the interests of the imperialist multinationals, chief among them US imperialist ones. The very same ones who are right now frothing at the mouth to overthrow the Venezuelan government and get their bloody hands on Venezuela’s oil.

US imperialism - the main enemy of the people of the world      
All these facts provide the basis for the potential of a great campaign of solidarity between the Australian and Venezuelan people. A campaign that is not based on some abstract notion of right and wrong, or good and bad. But one that is grounded in a concrete struggle against a common enemy and for a common cause – a class struggle against US imperialism, for independence, and to overthrow this disgusting and decrepit anti-people system we live under, called capitalism. 

So, we say:
Yankees out of Venezuela! Yankees out of Australia! Yankees out of everywhere!
Down with US imperialism and its Australian lackeys! 
Hands Off Venezuela! Victory to the Venezuelan people!

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