The Politics    Thursday, May 26, 2022

Desperately tweaking Sussan

By Rachel Withers

Image of then environment minister Sussan Ley during a visit to Tasmania, February 22, 2022. Image © Ethan James / AAP Images

Then environment minister Sussan Ley during a visit to Tasmania, February 22, 2022. Image © Ethan James / AAP Images

Ley for deputy would be yet another sign that the Liberal Party isn’t listening

Much of the past 24 hours have focused on incoming Liberal leader Peter Dutton as he commences his utterly transparent promise to change, with wife Kirilly (of “he is not a monster” fame) along for the ride. The move, as I wrote yesterday, is shameless, with Dutton having a long and well-documented track record that goes against everything the electorate just voted for. That record cannot simply be swept away, hard as News Corp might try. Less attention, however, has been paid to his probable deputy, Sussan Ley, who looks set to take the position of “strong woman” deputy. Her being a woman is perhaps the only way in which this choice reflects a willingness to listen to voters in the seats the Liberals lost on Saturday, with many people clearly fed up with the blokey Coalition leadership. But when it comes to the other issues reflected in the election result, the choice of Ley does not signal that much has been learnt, given her terrible record of environmental vandalism and flouting the rules on ministerial entitlements. So much for the “climate election”, or the vote for integrity. It’s increasingly apparent that the Liberals won’t be listening to a word voters said. But can we expect Ley (who once added an extra “s” to her name because she thought it might change her personality) to also attempt a pivot here?

Sussan Ley is not the high-profile culture warrior that Dutton is. It’s unlikely, for example, that we’re going to experience a media cycle in which a Labor minister apologises for comparing her to Voldemort. (When exactly will Dutton be apologising for all the offensive things he has said?) But there’s no doubt that Ley has been an appalling environment minister, whose term comprised a long series of approving mines and burying damning reports. Ley has had a hand in approving many of the devastating number of fossil-fuel projects currently in the pipeline – including three coalmine extensions in the space of a month last year. (She even tried to make it easier for mining projects, by allowing them to bypass environmental approvals.) In fact, under Ley, the ministry has found more renewable projects “clearly unacceptable” than it has coalmines, while inconvenient reports have been buried for political expediency.

There are two main events that define Ley’s stint as environment minister, although there are plenty more to choose from. The first is her decision to fight a landmark court ruling that found she had a duty of care to protect Australian children from climate harm – a fight she won, much to the distress of the teens who brought the case. The second was her lobbying, with the backing of Saudi Arabia, to prevent the Great Barrier Reef being listed by UNESCO as “in danger”, even though it quite clearly is. This was another fight Ley won. If only she had put half as much effort into protecting the environment as she did into protecting her government from scrutiny.

It’s worth remembering that Ley had only returned to the ministry in 2018, after standing down as health minister in 2017 over her serious misuse of taxpayer-funded entitlements (including a taxpayer-funded trip on which she unexpectedly purchased an investment property, and a trip to the US for which she charged taxpayers more than $10,000 per day). At the time, the controversy reopened debate about the need for a federal ICAC – though as Guardian Australia noted last year, the controversy wouldn’t have been eligible for investigation under the Coalition’s proposed model. The stronger model being proposed by independent MP Helen Haines potentially could, however, meaning the Liberal’s new deputy could be in its firing line.

Voters on Saturday sent a message to the Liberal Party that they’d had enough of the rorting, the entitlement and most of all the climate vandalism. People no longer wanted to vote for a party that would fight tooth and nail against being asked to protect children or the Great Barrier Reef. Peter Dutton, it’s obvious to many, is one of the worst choices the Liberal Party could possibly make here, as it attempts its long journey back from the wilderness. But Sussan Ley isn’t far behind him.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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