Monday, December 9, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Morrison on top
… but voters want climate action too


The Australian Election Study results for the 2019 federal election confirm that voters like Scott Morrison, and yet they simultaneously care deeply about the environment and climate change. It’s a confounding recipe that will only lead to more climate wars. On one reading, Morrison is the most legitimate leader since Kevin Rudd: the 2019 election was the first since 2007 where a party leader’s popularity exceeded the measure’s mid-point. “Each of the elections between 2010 to 2016 were won by unpopular leaders, competing against even more unpopular opponents,” write the study’s authors. So Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull… all flops. Morrison was popular even though three out of four voters disapproved of the coup against Turnbull, and even though a record one in five voters indicated that global warming or the environment was the most important issue at the ballot box. It’s a fair vindication for Morrison, especially when combined with today’s Newspoll, which shows Coalition primary support climbing despite a scrappy fortnight in parliament and a country in the grip of unprecedented drought and wildfires driven by climate change.

The ANU study, which has been conducted every election since 1987, provides an authoritative interpretation of the shock 2019 result and is terrific reading. It suggests our ageing population is favouring the Liberals, who increasingly appeal overwhelmingly to the over 55s; at this election, the Liberal Party had a massive 18 per cent margin in that demographic, its biggest ever. The Liberals appealed to men more than women, higher-income and asset-owning voters, the middle class more than the working class but also to less-educated voters. While most people didn’t vote on leadership, Morrison was helped by Shorten being the least-popular leader of a major party since 1990 – the only leader less popular was the Liberal moderate Andrew Peacock that year. 

The study shows that, in Queensland, the state most hostile to climate action, 59 per cent consider global warming to be very or fairly serious. Recent polls from the Lowy InstituteScanlon Foundation and ABC’s Australia Talks all suggest Australians are more worried than ever about climate change. Yet the voters have just elected a Morrison government unable to get past climate denial, as reflected in the downgrade to environmental functions in the sweeping departmental restructure unveiled last Friday, and the survival of Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, now representing this country at the UN climate talks in Madrid. If Morrison could somehow square this circle and come up with a credible climate policy, he would be on a massive winner. More likely, he will hope that the drought breaks between now and the next election, in the expectation that voters’ climate worries will ease as they have done before.

Alternatively, Morrison will chance his arm on the likelihood that in 2021–22, as in 2019, economic management and taxation will trump health, environment, climate or education. As the study’s authors Sarah Cameron and Ian McAllister write drily, among all-important swing voters in an era of record low partisanship, “there were a greater number of voters that switched from Labor to the Coalition based on economic issues, than from the Coalition to Labor based on environmental issues”. They summarise that “Labor was unable to convince voters that the increased taxation they proposed would lead to greater prosperity.”

Certainly, Labor appears utterly divided on climate and energy with former environment minister Peter Garrett warning on the weekend that the “true believers are dying”, while the member for Paterson, Meryl Swanson, complains that coalminers shouldn’t have to transition to renewables and “what used to become a worthwhile well-paid job has somehow become dirty and I resent people who refer to coal as dirty”. Somehow?

When Labor folds like that, Joel Fitzgibbon style, it becomes a laughing stock. After Albanese told 2GB he supported coal exports this morning, Resources Minister Matt Canavan took the opportunity to yank Labor’s chain, telling Sky News Australia what the Labor leader needs to say on his tour of regional Queensland this week: “They say now they support the export of coal. I haven’t heard Anthony Albanese say three simple words: I support Adani.”

Labor can never win a contest where it tries to out-deny the Coalition. Why even try?

“They broke their promise, that’s un-Australian. So what I’m saying is they can get back their social licence. They can show that they care about a sustainable dairy industry … Australians are the ones that have the power in this: they can vote with their wallets and with their feet.”

Federal Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud contradicts the PM by calling for a boycott of Coles, after the ACCC alleged the supermarket failed to fully pass on to milk producers a 10c per litre price rise that it charged consumers.

“It is currently the government’s position, as it has been all the way through, to resettle people from Nauru in a way that doesn’t give the green light to people smugglers. That doesn’t start the people smugglers sending people to Australia again. We’re totally focused on resettling people to the United States. These were arrangements that were severely undermined by Labor’s bad medevac laws and, indeed, that is our focus now.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann reiterates that the government made no deal with Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie in exchange for her support to repeal the medevac laws.

The man who didn’t kill Colin Winchester (part one)
David Eastman was thought of as a serial pest, until he was convicted of killing Australia’s police chief. The problem was, he didn’t do it. Sam Vincent on a case that sent the wrong man to prison for 19 years.


The number of ABC jobs likely to go in a voluntary redundancy round as managing director David Anderson struggles with an $84 million budget cut.

“In a move to streamline the Expenditure Review Committee process, the Prime Minister has contained permanent cabinet membership to himself, the Treasurer, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Health Minister Greg Hunt … [The] ERC is now meeting twice a week during parliamentary sitting periods and having more frequent contact, accelerating the government’s pace in responding to policy and expenditure.”

PM Scott Morrison has slimmed down his “razor gang”, according to part two of The Australian’s “Power List”, which quotes an insider saying the ERC is “where the heart of government now lies”.

The list

“I spent five months in court reporting the retrial and won’t forget the moment the verdict came: gasps in the packed public gallery, Eastman mouthing “Thank you” inaudibly, a cop behind me punching a seat.”

“‘Australia has one of the most inequitable, opaque and dysfunctional education funding regimes in the world,’ says Alan Reid, emeritus professor at the University of South Australia and author of Changing Australian Education. ‘In the past 20 to 30 years, the dominant purpose of education has been the economic purpose.’”

“Everywhere you look, it seems, complex systems are accelerating towards breakdown. It feels fatuous to talk about Australian art and culture amid such overwhelming global crises – and yet it also feels impossible not to note this context … The same ideologies that accelerate ecocide and political extremism are also destroying our cultural memory, starving our institutions and disenfranchising artists.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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