The Politics    Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Wilful ignorance

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Perth last week. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Perth last week. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

The Coalition dismisses climate warnings as “politicisation” and “chattering” – even when they’re coming from the polls

What more can the global community do, one has to wonder, to warn Australia against the destructive self-harm in which it is wilfully engaging? Overnight, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described Australia as a “hold-out” when it comes to climate action, singling the nation out in a direct and highly unusual swipe. Doubling down on fossil fuels right now would be “madness”, the UN chief said, warning countries against turning to gas to make up the energy resources shortfall left by Russia. That, of course, is exactly what the Coalition is doing, with Energy Minister Angus Taylor today announcing the acceleration of seven new gas projects (before the floodwaters have even receded, lamented Greens leader Adam Bandt). Unsurprisingly, the UN’s warning has already been mocked by the same government that brought us “negative globalism”. Speaking to News Breakfast, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher dismissed it as the “chattering classes of the UN”, before parroting misleading statistics about Australia’s record on emissions. (“Technology not taxes!” he quipped.) Unfortunately for the Coalition, these warnings aren’t just coming from the UN. They’re coming from scientists, they’re coming from flood victims, and, perhaps most pertinently, they seem to be coming from the polls. But what will it take to get the government to actually listen?

It’s hard to say. The prime minister clearly isn’t willing to listen to the Lismore flood victims, whom he has refused to face, not even after they dragged their flood-ruined possessions to Kirribilli House in protest yesterday. (“Morrison, your climate megaflood destroyed our homes,” a damaged-door-turned-protest-sign read.) “Scott Morrison came to Lismore and refused to speak to us,” said protestor Kudra Ricketts, who lost everything in the floods. “What’s happened to my community is just going to happen to more communities,” she warned, in keeping with what the science has long indicated. Speaking to reporters not long afterwards (to promote a south-east Queensland infrastructure package he may have already announced ahead of the last election), Morrison suggested that those who had lost everything and were demanding something be done about climate change were “politicising” a natural disaster. “I think the politicisation of natural disasters is very unfortunate,” he said, insisting his government had done lots of stuff since the floods.

Indeed, since the floods, the government has done plenty, including but not limited to: fighting to overturn a legal duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis when it comes to assessing fossil-fuel developments; announcing plans to spend around $500 million on a questionable dam to help the coal industry expand in Queensland; finding a way to allow mining companies to bypass environmental protection laws; and announcing those aforementioned plans to accelerate gas projects. All of these actions would be galling at the best of times. But to actively seek to make the climate crisis worse while people are still cleaning up from the current climate-related disaster, is, as the Greens keep noting, absolutely mind-boggling.

Voters seem to think so too, with the latest Guardian Essential poll marking the government down on its flood response, with a clear link to its climate denial. (In his searing analysis, Essential executive director Peter Lewis noted that the floods had highlighted all of Morrison’s biggest failures.) A majority of respondents – 57 per cent – agreed that we could “expect flooding in Australia to be even worse in the future if there isn’t significant action on climate change soon” (only 18 per cent disagreed), while 45 per cent believed the government had “contributed to the extent of the recent flooding … by not doing enough about climate change” (26 per cent dissented). If that’s not a clear warning to take this seriously, I don’t know what it is. What a shame the government can’t or won’t listen even to dire electoral warnings – the pivot is likely just too hard at this stage, even for people as adept at backflips as the Coalition.

Morrison and co may be able to ignore the scientists, the flood victims, the bushfire victims, the defence experts, the emergency leaders, the Bureau of Meteorology and the UN, but the voters of Australia ultimately cannot be ignored. 

“Read the room”, said Nationals Senator Matt Canavan of the UN chief’s comments this morning. Perhaps it’s time the Coalition began doing just that.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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