The Politics    Thursday, August 4, 2022

Phantom of the Opposition

By Rachel Withers

Image of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and other Opposition members during divisions on amendments on the climate change bill in the House of Representatives, August 4, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and other Opposition members during divisions on amendments on the climate change bill in the House of Representatives, August 4, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Coalition opposed every amendment to Labor’s climate bill, including one favouring regional input

The government’s emissions-reduction bill has passed the lower house, 89–55, with Labor, most of the crossbench and Liberal MP Bridget Archer voting for it. But it remains, despite the triumphant proclamations, a mixed day for climate outcomes: good, because the parliament has finally voted for a tangible target, but also slightly sad, because that target is far below what is required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, all but damning the Great Barrier Reef. (Fact: things can be both happy and sad.) Many amendments were passed, including all those from the teal independents, who praised the government for its willingness to collaborate. Others didn’t pass, including attempts by independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Greens leader Adam Bandt to lift the target, and to acknowledge that achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 requires no new coal and gas projects. (Curiously, one Greens amendment, from new MP Elizabeth Watson-Brown, did pass.) The Coalition demanded a division on each motion so it could formally oppose every one – proving itself to be a bunch of sore losers until the very end. It’s almost funny that the Coalition is still ranting about Labor’s bill being “symbolic” and “window dressing”. That, after all, is exactly what the Opposition has become.

It was telling that the Coalition wanted to be on the record opposing amendments to this bill, wasting everyone’s time, despite its position making no difference. (Labor, with its majority, had the final say on each amendment.) The Opposition made itself irrelevant to negotiations by refusing to engage with the government. But it then opted to throw a tantrum, refusing to engage on any amendments to a bill that was guaranteed to go through, like it or not. Successful motions from independents that the Opposition pointlessly voted against included Kate Chaney’s (an amendment to the Objects clause to firm up its intention), Zoe Daniel’s (to make clear that the 43 per cent target was a floor, not a ceiling), Allegra Spender’s (ensuring that the government reports on the effectiveness of policies), Kylea Tink’s (that the government publicise and table climate advice), and Zali Steggall’s (to ensure advice is sought when putting forward a new nationally determined contribution). It’s clearer than ever that the Opposition has little hope of winning back the previously blue-ribbon Liberal seats these independent MPs now occupy.

But perhaps most embarrassingly, the Coalition also opposed Indi MP Helen Haines’ amendment, which was expressly about ensuring regional views were considered – a baffling move from the Nationals, the supposed party of the regions. As Haines tweeted, it “beggars belief”. Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen challenged the Nationals to support the “very sensible” measures to no avail, with leader David Littleproud saying the amendments “would be like the climate change authority [assessing] its own homework”. As Haines tweeted, “the Coalition complains about this bill but has not bothered to put up a single amendment themselves. How deeply disappointing.”

Disappointing, juvenile, tedious, pathetic – and highly predictable. It will surprise no one to learn that the Opposition was as pointless as ever in this afternoon’s Question Time, the last for this two-week sitting period. It was likewise true to form for the Coalition to refuse to engage on this morning’s climate bill, intentionally dragging out the long overdue legislation for as long as it possibly could. (What’s two more hours when you’ve been holding the nation back for a decade?) The Coalition allegedly has some vague plan to turn around and pretend it does care about the climate ahead of the next election, and to convince voters that they are no longer “weirdos”. (Someone tell that to Barnaby Joyce, whose speech last night contains more than a whiff of denial.) But in the meantime they are making themselves utterly irrelevant, miserable ghosts – to borrow a phrase – merely looking on as the government and the crossbench make law.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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