The Politics    Thursday, January 31, 2019

A challenging climate

By Paddy Manning

A challenging climate

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Can independents force action on climate change?

Independent MP Julia Banks’s announcement today that she will jettison her inner-Melbourne electorate of Chisholm and will instead run for the safe Liberal seat of Flinders, against former environment minister Greg Hunt, underlines that climate change will be front and centre at the next election, whether Scott Morrison is ready or not.

The Liberals’ decision to replace Malcolm Turnbull over the National Energy Guarantee in August has created a spectacular backlash from the sensible centre. It began with Kerryn Phelps’s historic win in Wentworth, turned angry with the landslide Victorian election, and has been followed this year by former Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief Oliver Yates’s tilt at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s Kooyong electorate, and former Olympic skier Zali Steggall’s candidacy in Tony Abbott’s Sydney seat of Warringah. There may be more to come.

When she quit the Liberal Party in September, Banks didn’t mention climate change, but today she is unequivocal: “Climate change is not only real – it is happening. Clean renewable energy is the future. It will be cheaper, healthier and better for our environment and effective climate change action is an urgent imperative.” Greg Hunt is a deserving opponent: much worse than a climate sceptic, he is a hypocrite who understands the science but sells it short anyway. As a law student at the University of Melbourne in 1990, Hunt co-wrote a prize-winning honours thesis on the need for a polluter-pays carbon price, but then became the first environment minister in the world to repeal one. Australia’s emissions climbed as a result, and Hunt responded with a pay-the-polluter scheme, called the Emissions Reduction Fund, which was so ineffective that it was axed by his own government. To cap it off, in an act of spectacular career self-harm, Hunt chose to run as deputy to Peter Dutton in last year’s botched leadership challenge, which would have seen Australia pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Is the Liberal Party getting the message? It doesn’t seem so. RN Breakfast host Fran Kelly put precisely that question to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on Tuesday, and he answered: “We do of course have a commitment to effective action on climate change. We are committed to the Paris emission reduction targets. We have the policies in place to ensure we meet those targets.”

The OECD begs to differ, warning overnight that Australia was likely to miss its Paris carbon reduction targets, and highlighting that “fossil fuel consumption [is] still benefiting from government support” and “the power sector – the country’s top emitting sector – is not subject to emission reduction constraints”. One wonders what the OECD might say about Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s dubious plan to invest taxpayer dollars in a new coal-fired power station proposed by Liberal donor Trevor St Baker.

We await new polls, but it does seem as though something has shifted in the public mind over the course of another angry summer, between record heatwaves, unprecedented fish kills in the Murray-Darling Basin and wildfires in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area. As when John Howard felt he faced a perfect storm of anxiety in 2006 – from the drought, Al Gore and Lord Stern – climate anxiety is back with a vengeance. The energy industry knows it, and today released its own energy charter, committing to invest in more sustainable power.

Yet with Banks, Yates, Steggall and Phelps all campaigning on climate, there is an obvious danger: if none of them wins, the Liberals could take precisely the wrong message from the experience, and conclude that they can safely ignore the climate crisis from here to eternity. That would be unwise.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers


GOOD OPINION

“The injustice in this case is putrid and we can’t just let a young man who is a torture survivor to be sent back there to be tortured again.” THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster on the fight to stop the Thai government extraditing 25-year-old refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi back to Bahrain.

BAD OPINION

“That bill, which the Labor Party has already voted for in the Senate by the way, that is effectively the same bill. That will abolish offshore processing as we know it. It will see hundreds and hundreds of people who are already on Manus Island be able to be brought to Australia by getting onto Skype and talking to a doctor who is an advocate.”the australian [$]

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, talking to Alan Jones on 2GB radio this morning about Kerryn Phelps’s stalled bill allowing asylum seekers to get urgent medical treatment.

The Number

The extent of the windfall for Catholic schools over the next decade under Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s funding “fix” last year, according to Department of Education documents revealed by Nine newspapers. READ ON

The Policy

“Regrettably, from prior to the time of the enactment of the Basin Plan, the MDBA [Murray Darling Basin Authority] has shown itself to be unwilling or incapable of acting lawfully. That state of affairs exists today, and is the principal reason why there are serious doubts whether the current senior management, and Board, of the MDBA are capable of fulfilling their statutory obligations and functions.” Commissioner bret walker sc, murray-darling basin royal commission report

The list
 
essay

“The moment was freighted with all of the tension and bad blood of past years. ‘If you’ll just have the courtesy to let me finish my sentence,’ Turnbull said reprovingly. ‘If you’d just had the courtesy of letting me finish my term,’ Abbott responded. This was not just about energy policy.” the monthly

news

“‘I’ll tell you how bad things are,’ a senior Victorian Liberal says of the party’s national standing. ‘We’ll soon deliver the first budget surplus in over a decade, and it’s not resonating. I can’t tell you the number of people who have pulled me aside and said that the Liberal Party has lost its way.’” The saturday paper

archive

“This was the incineration of something ancient and irreplaceable. These King Billy pines, eastern cushion plants and pencil pines were ancient species, dinosaurs of the plant world that had survived unchanged for 150 million years in a land of ice but no fire.” the monthly

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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