The view from Billinudgel

Coal omissions
Action on climate change is ramping up everywhere, except in Scott Morrison’s government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the United Nations in New York, saying, “Australia is doing our bit” on climate change. Image via ABC News

Last week, as Scott Morrison’s outrage slid seamlessly from Christine Holgate’s Cartier watches to Qatar’s intrusive body searches, it became clear the prime minister may have been grateful for those distractions, for he had also received some seriously bad news.

And the worst of it was that most of us regarded it as good news, because it showed unambiguously that, as Morrison goes on dithering, the world around him is shifting: action on climate change is ramping up on several fronts, and Australia’s inaction is becoming starker by the day.

Two of our most important trading partners, Japan and South Korea, have announced policies to eliminate carbon emissions from their borders by 2050, joining our most important trading partner of all, China, in a bid to drive down the use of fossil fuels, especially thermal coal. The result will be to damage Australian exports to the extent that mining Morrison’s pet rock may well cease to be viable in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, one of the big banks, ANZ, is going to have the wood on its lenders to support the transition to renewables – or face financial penalties. It will also end all direct investment in fossil fuels by mega-corporations – but not, as the Nationals claimed hysterically, mum-and-dad farmers – starting in 2030. Cue further shock and outrage.

But wait, there’s more. Our leader received a phone call from his conservative ally from London, Boris Johnson, the point of which was to tell Morrison to stop messing around and start taking “bold action” on climate change, with Johnson saying it was important to set “ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero”.

Morrison’s spin-dizzies, of course, saw the conversation somewhat differently. They assured us that it had been a “warm” discussion. Johnson had “welcomed” Morrison’s emissions-reduction programs, “strongly endorsed” the focus on practical pathways and totally understood Australia’s sovereign stand.

And, just in case there was any doubt, Morrison expostulated: “Our policies won’t be set in the UK, they won’t be set in Brussels, they won’t be set in any part of the world but here.” Well, at least in that bit of “here” inside his office bubble. The commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 comes not only from so many other countries, but also from all the Australian states and territories, and most of our biggest institutions – even the agricultural sector.

Morrison’s stalwart declaration of independence sounded more like a petulant plea: “Stop the world, I want to get off.” But at least he has some supporters: sections of the union movement, especially the stubborn CFMMEU, are urging the ALP not to move too far or too fast in transitioning away from coal.

Under normal circumstances this would provide a splendid wedge for our marketeering prime minister. But the way things are unfolding, perhaps the less said about coal the better. So he is leaving it to the B team (or, in Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s case, the Z team) to make the running and the ranting.

After all, Morrison has more important things to worry about – Cartier watches and strip searches, to name just two. Oh, and of course COVID-19. How could we forget?

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

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