The Politics    Friday, November 15, 2019

2009 forever

By Paddy Manning

2009 forever

© Bianca De Marchi / AAP Image

Blame the Coalition, not the Greens, for Australia’s decade of climate dysfunction

Who does it suit for Labor and the Greens to keep blaming each other for the failure of Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation in 2009–10? The Coalition, of course. Throughout this week’s climate apocalypse, the major-party line has been that nothing the Greens say about climate change can be taken seriously because they voted against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Let’s unpick that argument a bit – nobody else is going to do it.

It is undisputed that Labor’s strategy with the CPRS in 2009 was to sideline the Greens and negotiate the scheme with the then Opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull. The more the Greens complained – as they did – that Rudd’s emissions-reduction targets were too low, and that the scheme was too brown, the happier Labor was. Labor was also happy to have a double-dissolution trigger in its back pocket and the first vote, in August, went down with the Coalition and Greens in the Senate voting against it, as universally expected. Bob Brown wrote to Rudd seeking talks and got no reply.

The government business manager in the House of Representatives at the time, Anthony Albanese, was keenly aware of the rising backlash against Turnbull from the Nick Minchin–led hard right, crowing that “we’ve got the Libs on the canvas and they are more internally split than any major political party since the great Labor split of the 1950s.” He was right. Australia’s politics broke when Tony Abbott rolled Turnbull by a single vote on December 1, and the Liberal party room voted decisively to oppose the CPRS. Suddenly – literally in the middle of a debate in the Senate – Labor needed the Greens. They had no plan B. Having barred the Greens for months, did Labor now ask for the Greens’ support? Sit down to talk? No. It was a take-it-or-leave it proposition. Should Labor have tried to negotiate a compromise? In my view, yes. It might have worked.

That day the Greens helped vote down the CPRS a second time, and they have stood by the decision even in retrospect. Was that the right call? No. They should have supported it despite valid policy reservations, on the grounds that something was better than nothing, just as the WA Greens did in the Mabo debate in 1993, and as the Greens subsequently did (with even less justification) on the heavily compromised but poorly designed Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

At their most expansive, Labor would have you believe that everything that followed was the Greens’ fault, right up to the present day. Rudd went to Copenhagen without an emissions trading scheme (he still had his targets), the conference failed, and a wounded leader came back a basket case. The rest is history.

Rubbish. Firstly, it wasn’t the Greens’ fault that Abbott rolled Turnbull. It wasn’t the Greens’ fault that Copenhagen failed. It wasn’t the Greens’ fault that Rudd lost his nerve and decided against calling a double-dissolution election, as he was primed to do, while he was still riding high in the polls and the unpopular Abbott was finding his feet. Specifically, it wasn’t the Greens’ fault that Labor’s darkest internal forces started to rally behind challenger Julia Gillard on a dump-the-CPRS platform.

Most specifically – and this is almost always overlooked – the Greens tried, off their own bat, to put a compromise plan to Labor in February 2010, ahead of the government’s third and final attempt to pass the CPRS. On Christine Milne’s account, Penny Wong summarily rejected the Greens’ written proposal at a meeting in Hobart, saying “I’m not even going to show this to the prime minister.” This is not disputed in Margaret Simons’ recent biography of Penny Wong. The CPRS bill went through the House that month, when the deposed Malcolm Turnbull crossed the floor, and was reintroduced to the Senate. There was still time for Labor and the Greens to talk.

Instead, Rudd made the gravest error of his prime ministership by walking away from the greatest moral challenge of our time and shelving the CRPS. In The Killing Season, he argues that he was forced into a premature decision by a devastating leak to The Sydney Morning Herald, and in his recent memoir explicitly points the finger at Gillard’s office. His polling numbers collapsed, and the rest truly was history.

Labor was returned to power in 2010, the Greens got their highest vote ever (as a direct function of Gillard walking away from climate action), and the two parties worked together brilliantly with the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to produce the Clean Energy Future package, which was regarded as template legislation for the developed world. In The Australian Financial Review today, Phillip Coorey suggests that the package was browner than the CPRS, which is debatable. Although it had more compensation for generators, it also had a much higher carbon price, plus the $10 billion Clean Energy Future package, which has proved a linchpin of Australia’s climate response. In any case, it worked to get emissions down for two successive years, without crashing the economy. Coorey writes that the 2011 carbon price was “never going to survive because Labor was such a rabble”, but other acts of the Gillard government did survive: the NDIS, for example, and the Gonski reforms. Abbott and his cronies took to Labor’s emissions trading scheme with a precision sledgehammer.

Labor and the Greens should admit there was fault on both sides and move on. Or not. It’s fine for Labor and the Greens to hate each other – they hate themselves internally just as much, and still manage to keep some sort of show on the road. The two parties have worked together constructively in the ACT for a decade. The Greens and Labor both want climate action, to varying degrees, and are fundamentally on the same side. Blaming either Labor or the Greens for Australia’s climate failure is ridiculous.

While everybody’s hating everybody, let’s not forget who the real enemies of climate action are in this country: the Coalition. It’s way too easy to pick on the clown deniers who say it’s all crap, from Gerard Rennick to Barnaby Joyce to Craig Kelly. The really dangerous opponents of climate action are the ones who say they accept the science, but whose every action speaks to the exact opposite. It’s actions, not words, that count. The Coalition is full of these coal-huggers, from bottom to top – with the Marshall government in South Australia a notable exception.

And if there was one person who broke climate politics in Australia, it’s Tony Abbott, who spied a personal political opportunity in 2009, sold the truth down the river and, in 2014 in an act of pre-Trumpism, became the world’s first national leader to abolish a carbon price. He inspired the backlash against the National Energy Guarantee last year that knocked Turnbull off a second time, and is now bathing in some kind of glory after the May election result, as we saw last week at a Liberal Party celebration of his 25 years in politics. Abbott put the country back a decade and counting, and his influence lives on in the Morrison government. That’s Australia’s problem on climate right there.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

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“There are 300 million people in India who don’t have reliable energy … If we don’t import coal from Australia, we will just import it from somewhere else. I would ask the people of Australia to review their opinion of the situation.”

Adani Ports chief executive Karan Adani defends the Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin and says Indian demand for Australian coal will continue to grow.

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The takeover value of Bellamy’s Australia, by China Mengniu Dairy Company Limited, which was approved today by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and denounced by Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.

“Australia and Canada are countries that are not known for good climate work. Greenhouse-gas emissions per capita are among the highest in the world. As a result of the new investment policy, we sold our holdings of bonds issued by Alberta in the spring. For the same reason, we have recently sold our holdings in bonds issued by the Australian states of Queensland and Western Australia.”

Martin Floden, deputy governor of Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, outlines a new policy to avoid bonds issued by countries with a high carbon footprint.

The list

“Atwood might be the wiliest writer alive. And brilliant, though this does not do justice to the scope and playfulness of her imagination, the depth of her moral questioning and her fury about the state of the world, which she loves so profoundly and mourns. Her work is magnificent and urgent.”

“All I really knew about Palm Island were the headlines I’d been reading: ‘Tropic of Despair’, ‘Island of Sorrow’. On November 19, 2004, a drunk Aboriginal man had been arrested for swearing at police. Less than an hour later he died with injuries like those of a road trauma victim. The Queensland State Coroner reported there was no sign of police brutality, backing up the police claim that the man had tripped on a step. The community did not agree.”

“Never has it been more obvious: getting elected is one task, governing is another. While Labor tries to move on from its election loss review, Scott Morrison is finding that running the country is harder than winning the unwinnable election.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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