The Politics    Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Slow on the uptake

By Rachel Withers

Image of Nationals leader David Littleproud, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Deputy Liberal Party leader Sussan Ley during a shadow cabinet meeting in Perth, June 15, 2022. Image © Trevor Collens / AAP Images

From left: Nationals leader David Littleproud, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Deputy Liberal Party leader Sussan Ley during a shadow cabinet meeting in Perth, June 15, 2022. Image © Trevor Collens / AAP Images

The Coalition accuses Labor of a “go-slow”, but it’s the Coalition that is especially dunderheaded when it comes to climate and energy

There was no small irony in the Coalition accusing Labor of a “go-slow”, after the new government released its parliamentary sitting calendar overnight. With parliament to sit for only eight weeks between now and December, manager of Opposition business Paul Fletcher labelled it “remarkably light on”, accusing Labor of a “leisurely approach to reconvening the parliament”, before popping up on Sky News today to make the same hypocritical point. As many were quick to point out, the Coalition’s proposed calendar was set to run to nearly the same schedule, with only two extra sitting days over the same period, and the limited yearly total Fletcher keeps railing against (“just 40”) is mostly due to the fact that the previous government held only a handful of sitting days prior to the election. But the greater irony might be that these allegations are coming from a party that, as Nine revealed today, failed to add any power to the national electricity market in the three years since unveiling plans to spend $1 billion to fix supply shortages – something that would almost certainly be helping with the current energy crisis had it acted with haste.

When former PM Scott Morrison announced the Underwriting New Generation Investments (UNGI) program in March 2019, he said, “What the Morrison government understands but Labor doesn’t is that we need enough reliable 24/7 baseload power to ensure that the lights come on when you flick the switch.” But if the previous government understood that, it didn’t bother to act with any real urgency. As David Crowe reports today, not one of the 12 projects the Morrison government shortlisted at the time has been built, and several have been abandoned, with none of the pledged $1 billion having been spent. There’s no doubt that the current energy crisis is of the former government’s making. It’s the result – as Labor’s talking points put it – of “nearly a decade of denial and delay” on energy policy. But it’s exasperating to be reminded that the government recognised the impending supply shortage, and yet was totally unhurried when it came to doing anything about it. Once again it seems the Coalition government was all announcement and no delivery, with the UNGI program joining the long list of Morrison non-actions.

That’s not the only policy area in which the Opposition appears painfully unrushed. As the AFR reports, the scant remaining moderate Liberals are deeply concerned by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s unilateral declaration that the Coalition will oppose Labor’s 43 per cent emissions-reduction target, aware as they are of the role that climate change played in the downfall of their departed colleagues. The anonymous moderates say the party position should be debated in the party room, with some reportedly considering crossing the floor should it not go their way. But Dutton has doubled down, telling 2GB radio this morning that his party would not be changing its policy, because “millions of Australians voted for us on that basis”. It’s clear that Dutton intends to go on ignoring the climate lessons of the election, just as the party ignored them in appointing him as leader.

The incoming government is indeed approaching things in a “slow and careful” manner as it sets out its new path, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese “drafting a timetable to minimise risk”, as Crowe put it yesterday. Perhaps Dutton could pause here, and take a moment to contemplate what it was that the electorate said, before he stubbornly commits his party to yet more backwards policy. There is, after all, no rush for the Opposition to commit to a stance – parliament won’t be meeting until July 26, so there’s plenty of time for the Coalition to decide if it wants to remain stuck in the past. 

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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