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Australia backs coal as the G7 pledge climate action

As the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies gathered to discuss climate change, and pledged further action, the Australian government chose to reiterate its commitment to fossil fuels.

As the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies gathered to discuss climate change, and pledged further action, the Australian government chose to reiterate its commitment to fossil fuels.

With Prime Minister Scott Morrison out of the country the Nationals leader Michael McCormack used the spotlight to take a swipe at renewable energy advocates and talk up coal.

Today, contributing editor to The Monthly Rachel Withers on how the Coalition is increasingly out of step with both the international community and voters at home.


Guest: Contributing editor to The Monthly Rachel Withers.

Show Transcript

[Theme music starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

As the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies gathered to discuss climate change, and pledged further action, the Australian government chose to reiterate its commitment to fossil fuels. With Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, out of the country the Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, used the spotlight to take a swipe at renewable energy advocates and talk up coal.

Today, contributing editor to The Monthly, Rachel Withers, on how the Coalition is increasingly out of step with both the international community… and with voters at home.

[Theme music ends]

RUBY:
Rachel, Scott Morrison spent this week in the UK, he’s one of the very few Australians who have actually been allowed to leave to travel overseas. He was there for the G7 summit. Can you tell me a bit about what we were hearing from him in the lead up to that summit?

RACHEL:
Yes. So last week, Morrison flew off to the G7 summit in Cornwall in the south of England, where Australia joined as an observer nation to the main group made up of the US, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan... 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“There's never been a more important time for Australia to be sitting around such a table, dealing with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the recession that it has caused and the recovery that we are building particularly.” 

RACHEL:
And Morrison was really there to push for a stronger global alliance to counter China's growing aggression and trade practises. And he certainly got that with plenty of attention focused on China. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“It is about ensuring a world that favours freedom, an inclusive world order that ensures all countries can engage, trade with each other and all countries – wherever they are, whoever they are – can do so without coercion and can do so consistent with their sovereign interest.”

RACHEL:
But the G7 was also meeting to talk about a range of other issues, including the pandemic, vaccines and, of course, climate change ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“...taking on the big challenges of climate change and the new energy economy, which Australia is determined to be a very positive part…”

RACHEL:
Of course, there was an expectation that Morrison was going to face some pressure from the other leaders on climate, as he does any time Australia stands on the international stage as a climate laggard. And this pressure was expected to be especially strong from the UK's Boris Johnson and new US President Joe Biden in his one on one talks with them. But Morrison actually used his final speech before leaving Australia to tell Australians that he was going to stand firm against any pressure, declaring that it should be up to sovereign nations to set their own path on emissions. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“It’s not an argument about climate change. It's about how Australia's best able to advance our interests as part of a world that is dealing with climate change as we indeed are dealing with climate change.” 

RACHEL:
And there were also reports he planned to use the summit to warn other leaders against the use of carbon tariffs to punish nations for not having ambitious targets, something being widely considered in Europe and now Japan and the US.

RUBY:
Okay, so that's what Scott Morrison was saying before he left. And that's what some of the expectations were about what would happen. But how did this actually play out once he got there?

RACHEL:
So Morrison never actually got his one on one with Biden. Johnson joined in that meeting, which reportedly stayed focussed on the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. A few critics have suggested the quote unquote “snub” might have had something to do with Morrison's refusal to commit to net zero by 2050 or his closeness with Donald Trump - though Morrison's claim that the Johnson edition was his call and that climate never came up. But there was certainly plenty of pressure coming from the G7 as a whole with a joint communique at the end of the three day summit making a number of pledges amongst them over how to ramp up collective action against climate change. The group, which Australia is not technically part of, has committed to halving their collective emissions by 2030 and working towards an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s, putting an end to government support for coal fired power stations by the end of the year. And that announcement really caused a stir at home, particularly amongst the Nationals, whose leader, Michael McCormack, is currently the acting Prime Minister. 

RUBY:
Can you tell me a bit more about that? What exactly are we hearing from the acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and others in the Nationals after that announcement was made around the phasing out of coal? 

RACHEL:
Yeah, well, they haven't taken it gracefully. On Monday, the Nationals leader spoke out following the release of the G7 communique with its anti-coal sentiments. 

Archival Tape -- Michael McCormack:
“Fifty five thousand people are employed in the coal industry. And it’s sixty six billion dollars of exports…”

RACHEL:
The acting Prime Minister declared coal will be around for many more years to come and noted that export earnings from coal paid for a lot of schools and hospitals, as well as...

Archival Tape -- Michael McCormack:
“Pays for a lot of barista machines that produces the coffee that inner-city types sit around and drink and talk about the death of coal…”

RACHEL:
He told reporters that the government would do things based on what's right for Australia. And Nationals Senate leader, Bridget McKenzie, said that setting a net zero target date would fly in the face of the Nationals public policy commitment in what was seen as a warning to Scott Morrison and said Australia was in danger of sleepwalking into an international agreement which favours large, rich, industrialised, nuclear powered nations like members of the G7.

Archival Tape -- Bridget McKenzie:
“And I can tell you right now, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson aren’t going to be slaughtering half their cattle herd or plunging their citizens into darkness or shutting down their manufacturing industries as a result of chasing this. They're chasing this because it suits their economies…”

RACHEL:
So on top of this rhetoric we’re hearing from the most senior ranking nationals, we're also seeing the coalition make actual moves to bolster the fossil fuel industry at home.

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:
Rachel, you've said that the coalition this week has made some moves that would boost the fossil fuel industry here in Australia. So, can you tell me more about what exactly is on the table?

RACHEL:
So, on Tuesday night, the government defeated the Labour and Greens motions to stop it from expanding the Australian Renewable Energy Agency fund known as ARENA to carbon capture and so-called clean hydrogen projects so that it would be able to give the renewable energy funding to fossil fuel driven initiatives. The government then announced 600,000 will go to Rio Tinto to conduct a million dollar study investigating the use of hydrogen in the aluminium refining process. This is the same Rio Tinto that had a net profit of 9.8 billion in 2020 and doesn't exactly need government support. And that announcement was followed up by multiple government ministers going on the attack against their climate enemies. They've used public speeches to this effect. 

Archival Tape -- Sussan Ley:
“Thank you everyone for having me here at the National Press Club. So often in Canberra the story and the political theatre seem to be on one side, those covering it on another, and the life of Australians almost seems to carry on regardless…”

RACHEL:
Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, used a National Press Club address to criticise Labour's rejection of proposed laws, streamlining green tape, accusing them of taking an all or nothing approach and portraying them as anti-mining. 

Archival Tape -- Sussan Ley:
“Labor, who avoided any significant legislative change after the Hawke review, continues to stand in the way, with one foot planted on either side of a barbed wire fence whistling to mining electorates from the Hunter to the Pilbara in one voice and city electorates in another…”

RACHEL:
Resources Minister, Keith Pitt, addressed a petroleum industry conference railing against green activists for trying to, quote, cripple fossil fuel companies. And he then went on ABC Radio on Thursday morning to declare that coal will be around for a long time, talking about the economic cost of renewables and the need to keep the lights on. 

Archival Tape -- Keith Pitt:
“Well, I live in the world of the reality, and the reality is coal’s around for a long time, but we expect that there'll be increased demand. Australia will look to fill that demand with what is a high quality product that we can deliver at a very efficient price…”

RUBY:
And so what has the response been like to this, Rachel? Because this is a fairly strong, coordinated pro-coal message that we're hearing out of the coalition this week. So has there been much pushback to what's being said?

RACHEL:
Well, in a post Question Time debate on Wednesday, after much of this had gone on, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Chris Bowen, held up a solar panel and echoed Morrison's infamous coal rant. 

Archival Tape -- Chris Bowen:
“I have a message for this government about renewable energy. This is renewable energy. Don't be afraid of it, don’t run away from it, don’t be scared of it…”

Archival Tape -- Speaker of the House:
“The member for McMahon will put his prop away!”

Archival Tape -- Chris Bowen:
“...this is renewable energy, those opposite have an ideological, pathological fear of renewable energy.”

RACHEL:
But unfortunately, despite a handful of supposed climate sympathisers within the Coalition, none have been brave enough to speak out against the government's recent moves to prop up fossil fuels, even as the world moves further and further ahead on this. And it's not just the Rio Tinto announcement - this week, the government has also moved forward with plans for new gas developments in the Beetaloo Basin, which has angered environmental activists and the Greens.

RUBY:
Can you tell me a bit more about those plans?

RACHEL:
These new gas developments in the Northern Territory will, according to the Greens, release massive amounts of toxic methane, a dangerous climate hating gas. And things really continue to heat up between the Nationals and the Greens following this. Still, Acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, took to Sky News to accuse the Greens of wanting to destroy the social fabric of society.

Archival Tape -- Michael McCormack:
“They want to upturn regional communities in a way that has never been there before. They want to destroy the social fabric of society. That's why I try to sit with the Nationals. That's why I'm in the coalition…”

RACHEL:
To which Greens leader, Adam Bandt, tweeted: “If by social fabric he means giving billionaires handouts while people are homeless and funding fossil fuels while our planet burns, then tear it up.” And it's important to note that all this comes as both voters and trading partners make clear they would like to see the nation commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

RUBY:
And I guess that goes to the larger theme here, which is that the coalition is really fighting this on two fronts, there’s our international standing and pressure that we’re seeing from other nations and then, there are also these demands at home from voters who are increasingly becoming concerned about climate change and what our targets should be.

RACHEL:
Yeah, the Coalition is looking more and more out of step with both the international community and its own voters. While Scott Morrison said there hadn't been any pressure from G7 leaders over Australia's climate policies, it's clear that there is and we even saw that with our own eyes when Morrison and Johnson stood together to announce the UK Australia trade deal. 

Archival Tape -- Boris Johnson:
Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm absolutely delighted to welcome my friend Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, to number 10. Well, we've been having in the last couple of days, and Scott was also of course in Carbis Bay for, the G7…”

RACHEL:
And he noted that “Scott” had declared his ambitions for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which, as a journalist quickly pointed out, are only preferable at this stage. Not legislated.

Archival Tape -- Boris Johnson:
“But what we want to work with, with Scotland, with Australia on the clean tech solutions, because I think what we both strongly believe is that you could have a green industrial revolution that drives high wage, high skilled jobs. You can do both. And that’s what we're going to work on together…”

RACHEL:
But back home, voters are increasingly wishing this net zero by 2050 debate was behind us. Nine’s latest resolve political monitor has found that a majority of Australians want the federal government to cut emissions to net zero by 2050. And that includes a majority of coalition voters.

RUBY:
Rachel, thank you so much for your time.

RACHEL:
Thanks Ruby.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Also in the news today…

The AstraZeneca vaccine will now only be recommended to people aged 60 and over, following a recommendation from the federal government’s vaccine advisory group. The latest advice followed more cases of blood clots in people in their 50s. The federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said yesterday that the government would move to increase the availability of the Pfizer vaccine for those aged 40 to 59. People who have received their first dose of AstraZeneca are still being encouraged to get their second dose.

And a third case of Covid-19 has been identified in Sydney, following the initial diagnosis of a driver who transported international aircrew. The driver’s wife has also tested positive.

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Michelle Macklem, and Cinnamon Nippard. 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Follow in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out. 

I’m Ruby Jones, see ya next week.

 

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