The Politics    Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Coal comfort

By Rachel Withers

Image of Greens leader Adam Bandt at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 3, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Greens leader Adam Bandt at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 3, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Greens have lost this battle, but it’s clear this isn’t the end of the climate wars

Greens leader Adam Bandt has used a hotly anticipated Press Club address to confirm that his party will vote for Labor’s climate bill, while emphasising that the fight to stop new coal and gas projects continues. Bandt said that the Greens had improved the bill, which Labor plans to put to a vote in the lower house tomorrow, but still consider the 43 per cent emissions-reduction target wildly insufficient, like “bringing a bucket of water to a house fire”. The minor party will continue pushing for a climate trigger, and has not ruled out amending October’s budget in the Senate to remove fossil-fuel subsidies. But it does seem, as one journalist pointed out, as if the Greens have given up one of their best chances to push the government further on climate without having extracted all that much. It’s clear the Greens have accepted that people broadly want to see something passed (someone tell that to the Coalition), and want to avoid a repeat of the CPRS debacle of 2009 – even if it disappoints many of their supporters. Indeed, as much as Bandt insists the bill has been strengthened, it is a disappointing day for proponents of stronger climate action, with little to show for that so-called greenslide.

Labor was quick to claim victory, unsurprisingly. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen almost immediately held a press conference in the PM’s courtyard – this government’s first to be held there, journalists noted, with the PM clearly saving it for a big moment. “On May 21, Australians voted for action on climate change,” Albanese began, before outlining all the reasons parliament should vote for the bill – not exactly the most gracious response to the Greens having just conceded over it, but certainly a great opportunity to rip into the now-outliers in the Coalition. This is no doubt a good day for Labor, which has secured passage of one of its signature bills. But it was something of a stretch to declare it a “good day for Australia”, as Bowen did. It’s not a particularly good day for the many Australians who voted specifically on climate change (most of them voted for much more ambitious targets) or for those affected by it. Asked whether he gave the Greens any credit for their pragmatic concession, Albanese offered credit to “everyone” prepared to vote for moving forward, before reminding reporters that Labor didn’t actually need to legislate this.

Question Time began, confusingly, with condolence motions for former Labor MP Bob Brown. (Although today did feel like a death of sorts for the former Greens leader of the same name, with the party eschewing his protest stance.) Opposition Leader Peter Dutton once again opened questions by asking about Labor’s power bill promise. One has to wonder if Dutton is some kind of sadomasochist, with Albanese ripping him a new one every time he tries it. A buoyant Labor used several Dorothy Dixers on climate to lay into the Coalition, which is now the only group that will not be voting for tomorrow’s bill. But the government’s answers did have an element of gloating to them, with Bowen once again confusing a “good day” for the ALP with a good day for Australia. It wasn’t until near the end of the session that the Coalition began trying to wedge the government over the Greens’ concessions, but there wasn’t much there, with the Greens not having secured much. As Bowen rightfully pointed out: “If the Opposition wanted to engage in conversation with the government they could have, instead of opposing the bill.”

Much like the Coalition’s ongoing obstinance, today’s concession from the Greens came as no great surprise. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the Greens would be compelled to support the government’s 43 per cent “mandate”, with both sides sensing that the minor party would cop the blame if Labor walked away. The Greens may have read the writing on the wall here politically, but, as Bandt kept repeating during today’s address, there is far more existential writing on the wall that makes ongoing support for coal and gas simply “untenable”. And there’s plenty more writing on the wall coming from the electorate, a growing swathe of which voted for far more urgent action to reduce emissions. That is a message the government ignores at its peril.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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