Zali’s game plan
Backing a climate-emergency declaration is just the beginning
More than 11,000 scientists, including over 350 from Australia, have marked the 40th anniversary of the first international climate conference in Geneva to sign on to a climate-emergency declaration, warning that the world faces “untold suffering” if it does not finally act to urgently reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. That declaration will increase pressure on the Morrison government to allow a conscience vote on a climate-emergency declaration, which independent member for Warringah Zali Steggall is pushing for. Last month, Steggall tabled the largest e-petition yet received by the Australian parliament, instigated by 23-year-old Sydney resident Noah Bell. In a recent interview in her electorate office, Steggall said that the climate crisis should be above partisan politics: “I do feel strongly that we need to get away from this idea that, once in, backbenchers are only ever there for the parties. There are certain issues that need to transcend that, and I believe this is one of them.”
In September, Bell was browsing Twitter on the bus to his home in the outer-suburban electorate of Berowra when he found himself on the federal parliament’s e-petitions page. Off the top of his head he wrote an 80-word call for a climate-emergency declaration, and clicked upload. A week later, some friends asked if the petition was his, and told him it had 10,000 signatures. Soon the parliament was in touch, and the petition closed with more than 405,000 signatures. Bell, who has never been a member of any political party, decided to ask Steggall to table it, rather than the chair of the petitions committee, the LNP’s Llew O’Brien. “The Liberal Party have proven themselves incapable of listening to, or acting on the science,” says Bell. He calls the whole experience “bizarre”.
Steggall will push hard for a conscience vote on the climate-emergency declaration, but has a bigger game plan: “To be totally honest, I am more interested in the climate-change bill that I want to present in February–March.” Steggall outlined her approach in a recent op-ed [$] for The Australian Financial Review, proposing that Australia pass something like the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, setting immutable long-term emissions-reduction targets and five-year carbon budgets backed up by plans for each sector of the economy – energy, agriculture, transport, manufacturing and so on. “At the moment we have just this overwhelming focus on, ‘what is the energy plan?’” Steggall says.
Steggall is not wedded to a carbon price, and in this respect is critical of professor Ross Garnaut’s 2008 Climate Change Review. “Unfortunately, Garnaut was very focused on the emissions trading scheme, because it was under Labor,” she says. “What I’m proposing is actually above that. It is the framework, which sets the goals, of how much we’re trying to reduce emissions … That is what the UK has. Under that framework you have the capacity to set up, within sectors, what are their plans.”
Steggall, who unseated the hard-right climate denier Tony Abbott in a campaign backed by more than $1 million in private donations, admits that developing her own climate bill will be a detailed and complex process, but sees it as the most significant work of her first term in parliament. She is hoping to replicate the success that the former independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, had with her private member’s bill to establish a federal integrity commission, which secured cross-party support and a government commitment to legislate. She will not comment on her negotiations with the government members to date. At the first meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Climate Action group, none of the Liberal members showed up after an initial burst of publicity. “Which I felt kind of defeated the purpose,” says Steggall.
The prime minister last Friday pledged a crackdown on radical climate activists who were “apocalyptic in tone”. He cannot smear the world’s scientists so easily. It will be even harder to dismiss the many Australians who, for the first time since 2011, according to a Roy Morgan survey this week, have nominated the environment and climate change as their number-one concern. Once again, the climate crisis is becoming a political crisis for the Coalition.
“The government legislated to allow new options. We’ve seen those options being taken advantage of to allow Australian media businesses to build scale and be more competitive. And so I think that’s a process that we want to see play through.”
The twice-defeated Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Mayo (an electorate she was unlikely to have been preselected for were her father not Alexander Downer) told a party meeting that she’s moving back to Melbourne.
Ross Garnaut – the man who wrote the Rudd government’s response to climate change – says Australia has more to gain from a zero-carbon future than any other developed country.
“There was a high incidence of funding recommendations not being agreed to with the Ministerial Panel not approving 28 per cent of applications the department had recommended, and instead approving 17 per cent of applications that had not been recommended (the proportion of overturn decisions increased over time).”
“What did Queensland voters see in an evangelical ad man that was missing from the unsure Victorian? Themselves. Morrison smashed pies, sculled schooners and bashed eskies after Sharks wins. Indeed, the King of Cronulla seemed more like a Queenslander than a southerner. He told punters in the Deep North that Australia needed to be more like them, not the other way around, eliciting pride instead of inferiority.”
“Last month, NSW Police Force publicly released a new training manual for person searches … It advises officers that they can ask a person to ‘lift testicles’, ‘part buttock cheeks’, ‘lift breasts’ and ‘squat’ when conducting a strip search, even though this is not permitted by law.”
“There is a very rational reason why Australian schoolkids are now taking to the streets – the immensity of what is at stake is truly staggering. Staying silent about this planetary emergency no longer feels like an option for me either. Given how disconnected policy is from scientific reality in this country, an urgent and pragmatic national conversation is now essential.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
More than 11,000 scientists, including over 350 from Australia, have marked the 40th anniversary of the first international climate conference in Geneva to sign on to a climate-emergency declaration, warning that the world faces “untold suffering” if it does not finally act to urgently reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. That declaration will increase pressure on the Morrison government to allow a conscience vote on a climate-emergency declaration, which independent member for Warringah Zali Steggall is pushing...