The Politics    Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Friends like these

By Rachel Withers

Composite image of Nationals MP George Christensen and Greens leader Adam Bandt (both images © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images)

Nationals MP George Christensen and Greens leader Adam Bandt (both images © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images) 

Labor distances itself from the Greens, while the Coalition does little to condemn the actual radicals in its own ranks

Labor is doing everything it can to distance itself from the Greens in response to a highly predictable, agonisingly stupid scare campaign from Prime Minister Scott Morrison. After Morrison yesterday “warned” that Labor’s safe but unambitious 2030 emissions-reduction target of 43 per cent was “just the opening bid”, suggesting that a vote for Anthony Albanese was a vote for Adam Bandt’s 75 per cent target, Labor has gone into full-blown anti-Greens mode, insisting that it won’t be doing deals with the minor party, either to form government or to legislate its emissions target. The entire exercise is painfully familiar and profoundly depressing, with Labor vowing not to increase its climate ambitions to the level science demands (and which many of its supporters might prefer), even though it may later need to walk that back in the event of a hung parliament. Labor’s desperation to distance itself from the “radical” Greens is especially frustrating in light of the fact that the Coalition is failing to adequately distance itself from the genuinely dangerous radicals in its own ranks. Extremist MP George Christensen is once more getting away with spouting far-right nonsense, this time alongside US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, while Senator Gerard Rennick is alleging before Senate committees that COVID-19 vaccines amount to experiments being performed on children. The PM is yet to address either’s comments.

Speaking on RN Breakfast this morning, shadow climate change minister Chris Bowen repeated his claims from yesterday’s National Press Club address, flatly ruling out any deal with the Greens. “If the Greens wanted to vote against an ambitious but achievable climate change bill, then we would simply update the target without legislation,” Bowen said, noting – quite rightly – that the government hadn’t been able to legislate its own recent commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. (Morrison is perhaps projecting here, considering he was forced by the Nationals to adopt a much lower 2030 target than he and his “moderate Liberals” would have liked.)

Morrison’s Labor–Greens line is, of course, classic Coalition scaremongering that plays on Labor’s fears over what happened in 2010 when it formed a minority government with the Greens (a highly successful minority government, some recall). The PM’s current claim, however – that Labor would need the support of the Greens to legislate the target – depends entirely on whether there is another hung parliament. (It’s worth noting, too, that the LNP could also help pass Labor’s 43 per cent target, if it were so desperate to avoid a higher one.) Nevertheless, the strategy is working on Labor, with senior figures from deputy leader Richard Marles to frontbencher Tanya Plibersek going out of their way to disavow the Greens. One wonders whether Labor will be so quick to repudiate the climate-focused, Liberal-challenging independents who may very well hold the balance of power, and who also want stronger emissions-reduction targets than Labor is offering.

But while Labor seeks to distance itself from the Greens, treating the party that is advocating for strong climate action like dangerous extremists, the Coalition goes on tolerating the actual radicals within its own ranks, refusing to properly sanction them. Many are today furious at the government’s lacklustre condemnation of Christensen, who used yesterday’s appearance on Jones’s show to call for people overseas to protest on behalf of the “patriots” in Australia, while laughing at a comparison between our health response and Auschwitz (a comparison the Auschwitz Memorial last week asked people not to make). 

Acting Nationals leader David Littleproud says he has now spoken with Christensen “about his judgement”, adding that Christensen “understands both my position and the views of the party room”. (That position appears to be “go on doing whatever you like”.) A spokesperson for Barnaby Joyce, who is currently overseas, said that “while the deputy prime minister doesn’t agree with the comments made, Mr Christensen has the right to say what he believes”. Talk about getting “slapped with a wet lettuce leaf”, as Christensen has previously labelled pathetic efforts to condemn him. 

Morrison, meanwhile, has said nothing about Christensen’s disturbing chat with Jones, nor about his own conspiracy-stoking Liberal senator. It’s not exactly surprising: the PM is usually the last to condemn conspiracies and threats from the right, and often has to be shamed into it. Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh has offered a full-throated condemnation of Christensen, as well as the Coalition’s failure to do so themselves. “You can be sure if it was somebody on the left of politics,” Leigh added, “Scott Morrison would be out there quick as a flash having a go at them.” He’s right, of course, with Morrison always more than ready to attack those calling for the kind of radical action needed to address the climate crisis. Unfortunately for those hoping for such action, Labor is happy to do that too.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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