Monday, May 20, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

How good’s climate change?
We’ll keep having climate elections until a safer climate wins

Source: Twitter

For anyone concerned about the climate emergency, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s shock victory on Saturday is depressing. It was supposed to be a climate election, and the coal-hugger won. No ambitious action against climate change will be taken at the federal level over the next few years – in fact, the government will be doing its best to cook the planet faster by underwriting a new coal-fired power station or two, and revving the start-up of Adani’s still-giant Carmichael coalmine. Parliament can’t do much, because neither policy requires legislation. Arch-denier Tony Abbott has gone, but so too have moderates like Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Kelly O’Dwyer, and on balance the Liberal Party is likely to be more conservative, not less. The Nationals appear to have defied the predictions and hung on everywhere. Just about everyone, except a few pundits in the Murdoch press who sketched out Morrison’s improbable path to victory, called it wrong.

The silver lining is thin, but there is one. Simon Birmingham and Arthur Sinodinos have both flagged a potential reach across the aisle on energy, perhaps via another look at the National Energy Guarantee; self-styled “modern Liberals” such as Dave Sharma in Wentworth and Tim Wilson in Goldstein might do something, as might independents such as Zali Steggall in Warringah and Helen Haines in Indi. Business still wants certainty. At least there should be no more talk of pulling out of the Paris Agreement: Morrison told 2GB this morning he would do in office exactly what he said he would do, and at a minimum that means meeting the Kyoto and Paris emissions reduction targets for 2020 and 2030 respectively. Depending on the final numbers in the Senate, the Greens could emerge with more influence, which will be useful to the extent that the government’s agenda on climate and energy requires legislation.

The election was not all about climate change, as it turned out. The electorate had other concerns. As Alan Kohler acknowledged [$] this morning, Labor’s plan to abolish cash refunds for franking credits upset many more people than the tiny proportion of self-funded retirees who would have been affected. Labor presented a range of other economic policies and changes to the tax system, but many voters either didn’t like them, didn’t trust them or couldn’t be bothered learning about them. And Labor’s attempt to make a virtue of stability backfired by saddling the party with an unpopular leader in Bill Shorten. This afternoon, a popular contender in Tanya Plibersek announced that she could not contest the leadership ballot because “now is not my time”. Should the party necessarily straightjacket itself by making a quick and binding decision on the leadership straight after an election?

What was Labor offering on climate policy anyway? Perhaps, to be brutal about it, not so much. While the ALP presented stronger climate change–related policies than the government did, its position was pro fossil fuel, with no serious plans to phase out coal. Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon described the party’s climate policy as “light touch” on RN Breakfast this morning. 

David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, says 2019 can hardly have been the climate election given that both major parties were committed to expanding the fossil fuel industry. He says that “1983 was the Franklin election, when one side was clearly for [and] the other strongly opposed.” Fairly or otherwise, Spratt blames Shorten for a “complete own goal … His climate policy was to piss off both sides.” Hallmarks were the absence of a carbon price and adoption of the NEG, fence-sitting on Adani, Labor’s commitment to a $1.5 billion gas pipeline from the Northern Territory to Queensland, which would have opened up fracking in the Beetaloo Basin, and renewable energy and emissions reduction targets that shadowed what the market was capable of doing anyway. The upshot? On the weekend, Labor hardly won any seats anywhere. Bob Hawke, by contrast, did not gain any seats in Tasmania when he promised to save the Franklin, but was rewarded with a swag of seats on the mainland. 

In Guardian Australia today, ANU climate centre policy director Frank Jotzo wrote that the election outcome might seem like a hard blow but “do not despair, do not retreat. Continue your work, with objectivity, integrity and dedication. Countries that produce and export large amounts of fossil fuels have an uphill battle for forward looking policy on climate. But the opportunities in the global shift to clean energy are compelling, and coal is not the future.”

“I’d like to express my profound gratitude to … the staff and volunteers … They believed that we could do politics differently. They believed that there was a sensible centre in Australian politics, that it wasn’t always about right and left, that it was about what’s right and wrong.”

Former member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps concedes defeat today.

“Scott Morrison has been returned as prime minister and he’s only done so because of the 3.5 per cent vote of United Australia Party. That 3.5 per cent gives you a 7 per cent margin in play and that’s been the difference. Our Shifty Shorten ads across Australia … I think have been very successful in shifting the Labor vote.”

Billionaire Clive Palmer talks up the impact of his $60-million advertising spend.

The proportion of votes cast for a minor party or an independent in the House of Representatives. This is a new record, and up from 23.5 per cent in 2016.

“Passing the federal budget; Passing the income tax cut package; Banning animal activists going onto farms; Temporary exclusion orders to ensure returning foreign fighters are put on a watch list and subject to probation-like controls; Axing ‘medevac’ legislation and mothballing Christmas Island; Underwriting of baseload power stations, based on shortlist of 12; Murray–Darling water plan review; First dams to be rolled out under regional water fund; Domestic violence national action plan; Expanding youth mental health and suicide prevention support; Guaranteeing part of house deposits for first home buyers.”

The Australian’s Simon Benson bullet-points the new Morrison government’s agenda.

The list

“I did not support him in his relentless quest to become prime minister; I thought he was too ego-driven, too erratic and too impulsive, and would not work with a team of ministers, some of whom were almost as ambitious as himself. But I was completely wrong: Hawke became a superb leader in cabinet, and the finest political tactician I have ever met.”

“Between 1952 and 1957, Britain tested 12 nuclear weapons in Australia – on the Montebello Islands off the Pilbara coast, and at Maralinga and Emu Fields in the South Australian outback. The tests were hurried, incautious and showed extraordinary disregard for Australian assistance and the local Indigenous people who had been forcibly but imperfectly evacuated from their land.”

“Writing for FT Magazine ... journalist Gillian Tett pointed to how many female leaders – including Hillary Clinton, United States national security advisor Susan Rice, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde – played competitive sport as girls and young women.”

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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