Friday, March 8, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Peak finger-pointing
On climate, the politics of doubt have led straight to the politics of confusion


In 2001 former science minister Barry Jones got himself into trouble when he presented to the media a flow chart of his Knowledge Nation policy, which was quickly derided as “Noodle Nation” by the then treasurer, Peter Costello, and disappeared without trace. Yet Jones’s diagram is a picture of clarity compared with the mess of contradictions presented by the Coalition’s climate and energy policies. In a kind of parody of “all of the above”, PM Scott Morrison seems to wants to have bits of everybody’s climate policies: Tony Abbott’s direct action and Paris Agreement targets; Malcolm Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0; Matt Canavan’s “about ten” coal-fired power stations; and the environment department’s emissions safeguards setting pollution “caps” so high they are meaningless. (These policies conflict with each other, by the way – e.g., new coal undermines Snowy 2.0.) The only thing the PM doesn’t want to use is Angus Taylor’s “big stick”, but suddenly that’s just what a bunch of energy rebels from the Nationals want to force him to pull out, or else they’ll bring down [$] Deputy PM Michael McCormack.

As the country heats up, we are near peak finger-pointing: Abbott now says it is no longer to necessary to pull out of Paris because the government lost its emissions obsession when it dumped Turnbull, who last night told the BBC he was removed by conservatives who feared he was about to win the election. Abbott’s position is really about keeping his head down while he fights off climate-motivated independent Zali Steggall, who today accused [$] him straight-out of “lying”.

The former PM has gone beyond weather-vane to head-spinning hypocrisy. As Katharine Murphy tweeted: “Tony Abbott is unbelievable, honestly. For Paris, when he signed Australia up. Against it, when Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister. For Paris again, now Angus Taylor is energy minister. I mean you are having a colossal lend M8, right?” (Read her column here.) The only person making sense is arch sceptic backbencher Craig Kelly, who has kept his head down this side of an election. Liberal and Nationals voters with even the faintest concern about climate change, meanwhile, are surely heading for the exits.

What does the Coalition expect voters to think? We are expected to believe Australia will reach its Paris targets “in a canter” while Environment Minister Melissa Price tells fibs about whether emissions are going up (as they have each fiscal year since 2013) or down (as they did, slightly, in the last quarter). Meanwhile, a debate is running about whether it is reasonable for Australia to rely on carry-over credits from the commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, ending in 2020.

As Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway wrote in Merchants of Doubt, the fossil-fuel industry (like the tobacco industry before it) has been funding climate-science denial for years. We now have the politics of doubt and, reaching the end of the road, the politics of confusion. Because once you give up on science – on rational, evidence-based policy-making – where else would you expect to end up? Confused, and shouting at each other.


“From September 2015 … Peter Hughes and I have pointed out repeatedly that Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison triggered the surge in boat arrivals from September 2011 [by rejecting the Malaysia solution] and did not stop the boats as they claim from December 2013 when Operation Sovereign Borders commenced. The facts that Peter Hughes and I have set out have not been challenged … But the mainstream media continues to accept Coalition spin on boats.”

John Menadue, who has held a variety of roles in the public service, including as secretary of the department of immigration in the 1980s, lays out facts on boat arrivals that the mainstream media “won’t face”.


“I’ve maintained the same line; I have never asked one of my colleagues for a vote, I don’t intend to. I’m not driving the process. I’ve never challenged. The first time I heard about this was when I read about it in the paper … If it was called open, of course I would stand.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce tells The Northern Daily Leader that he wouldn’t say no if a Nationals leadership spill was called.

The Number

The increase in wages over the last decade, according to the federal minister for women, Kelly O’Dwyer, who compared this to a 23 per cent increase in living costs over the same period, saying that “wages have outstripped living costs over the last 10 years, five years, three years … and over the last year”.

The Policy

“Rebalancing the tax burden will be central to achieving long-term budget balance and maintaining Australia’s social compact. This requires reining in tax concessions to begin to broaden Australia’s tax base … Dividend imputation credits [are] an increasingly unsustainable tax arrangement in light of the increasing numbers of Australians subject to concessional tax treatment in retirement.”

The list

“Every International Women’s Day, or when Australia Day honours are handed out, we ruefully observe that, despite decades of feminism, equal opportunity laws and a higher percentage of female tertiary graduates than male ones, we still have a gender pay gap and far fewer women in positions of power. We consider overt and covert discrimination, sexual harassment and other barriers to women’s advancement. Yet the central reason that the revolution is unfinished is right there under our noses in everyday life: women’s unpaid work.” 


“How does she not see herself as a victim? Is it the unwavering devotion of her father, whose immediate pledge of support after the attack was highly unconventional in a society that at that time almost universally blamed rape on women? Is it that she never once shied away from using the word ‘rape’ at any point, always boldly claiming ownership of her experience? What clever trickery lives within her and where, how, can someone else attain it?” 


“It would be fair to say … that until his half-botched attempt on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in August, Peter Dutton had not fixed himself deeply in the affections or even the short-term memories of his constituents. Unlike Benedict Coyne and Ali France, he is not a natural campaigner, not what you might call … a people person.” 

Paddy Manning

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?


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