The Politics    Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Labor’s opening move

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese observing Aboriginal dancers during the opening of the 47th federal parliament in Canberra, July 26, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese observes Aboriginal dancers during the opening of the 47th federal parliament in Canberra, July 26, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Labor and the Greens each seek a win on climate, while the Coalition opts to be left behind

The 47th parliament has begun with both meaningful and less meaningful pomp and ceremony. Ngambri-Ngunnawal custodian Paul House delivered the Welcome to Country in the Great Hall, calling for a “spirit of mutual respect”, followed by a smoking ceremony. As the new PM noted, such events were initially opposed when the Rudd government tried to implement them. Anthony Albanese spoke eloquently of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, labelling it “an opportunity that must be seized”. “You’re not here for that long,” Albanese told MPs, tearing up. “And when you’re sitting on the porch, thinking about what you did, you can either have a source of pride or a source of regret. There’s no middle path.” Senators and MPs were then sworn into their respective chambers, with Fowler independent MP Dai Le wearing a Vietnamese áo dài and Coalition MPs mostly not wearing masks (a telling sign of how they intend to behave). Labor nominated Queensland MP Milton Dick for Speaker, while Liberal MP Karen Andrews nominated incumbent Andrew Wallace, pointlessly. Dick won the vote 92–56, culminating in the equally pointless tradition of him being dragged to the highly remunerated chair.

The real politics carried on in the background, however, with most discussion trained on the government’s emissions-reduction bill, which it hopes to get through the lower house within the next fortnight. (It does not expect it to pass the Senate until at least September.) Focus has been on the optics of Labor’s willingness to make tweaks to the legislation, as widely reported this morning. According to Guardian Australia, the amendments will “make it clear future emissions reduction targets can only increase” (clearing up a sticking point over ceilings and floors), while also bolstering transparency about how the government responds to advice from the Climate Change Authority. Labor was keen to clarify today that it is not giving in to Greens on emissions, with Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen standing firm during today’s presser. The government, he said, would be going no further than reported on the so-called ratchet mechanism (which he has long insisted was implied by the Paris Agreement anyway), nor would it be moving much on new coal and gas projects. Greens leader Adam Bandt, meanwhile, held his own press conference, welcoming the progress and suggesting the changes “may well be enough” to address the “fixable problems”, although the negotiations continue.

Both parties will likely try to claim the “win” they need out of this: Labor will look to claim it did not move on emissions, while the Greens want to be able to say that they strengthened the bill, though obviously not to the extent they would have liked. (The minor party seems resigned to the need to pass the bill, with the latest Essential poll showing 50 per cent of respondents want it passed, even if just to get something in place, compared to only 25 per cent wanting the Greens to hold out for more.) But what of the Coalition, which as Bowen said today, has made itself “irrelevant to the process”? The Opposition has gone on behaving childishly today, with the exception of Bass MP Bridget Archer, who told RN Breakfast she was considering crossing the floor to back the bill. Frontbenchers Michaelia Cash and Angus Taylor each refused to budge on the target, citing their “mandate” even though, as both ABC and Sky News hosts pointed out, they lost the election. Cash, in particular, has been widely mocked for insisting she didn’t need to hear the electorate’s message on climate action because the Coalition got more votes

The entire climate bill episode has been one giant self-own from a recalcitrant Opposition. The Coalition has forced Labor into negotiations with the Greens when it could have simply helped pass the bill in its weaker form and sidelined the minor party instead (not to mention, this would have helped the Coalition regain a small shred of credibility in this space). No doubt the Opposition was hoping the whole thing would fall over, or that it would gain an opening to attack the government for negotiating with the Greens. Indeed, Senator Hollie “climate change is not Australia’s problem” Hughes has already been on the attack, telling Sky News this morning that Labor was giving the Greens “what they want”, while complaining about not having a copy of the bill herself. But few, it seems, are really listening to the party that is sniping from the sidelines over a bill it refused to countenance.

The government is not out of the woods yet, of course, with some way to go in negotiations with the Greens. But there’s no doubt that the climate bill is going to end up stronger, if only marginally, as a result of Labor needing to negotiate with those to its left instead of those to its right. And that’s something for which we can all thank the Coalition.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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