Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

A PM blackened
Scott Morrison is stuck with his bushfire response

Source: Twitter

The first Question Time of 2020 was dominated by the Morrison government’s response to the “black summer” of drought, bushfires and smoke, which continues to threaten Australian lives. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese peppered the PM with questions: Why reject Labor’s proposal to convene a COAG meeting to hammer out a national response? Why, on a day of catastrophic fire, post a political advertisement that included “defence imagery, a jingle, and a link to a Liberal Party donation button”? Labor’s questions continued: Why ignore the fire chiefs’ recommendation to provide a permanent boost to Australia’s aerial firefighting capability? How come the PM’s office had time to spend a day with marketing professional Russel Howcroft on how to better sell the government’s climate policies? Why not meet with the former fire chiefs pleading for the government to take the bushfire crisis seriously? The prime minister’s responses were predictable: “Those opposite … are seeking to politicise this disaster, and it’s very disappointing.”

It took the independent member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, to bring the discussion of the bushfire crisis back to the climate emergency, with a question designed to build cross-party support for her impending climate-change bill, directed to the PM: “In a time of crisis, the Australian people have rallied and been united in their response. They are looking to us now, in this place, for unity and leadership to be safe in the future. It’s been predicted that without action now, impacts and events resulting from global warming will get much worse. Will you honour the sacrifice of all those impacted during this bushfire crisis by showing bipartisan support for effective, long-term plans to lower our emissions, mitigate the worst of climate change and united keep Australians safe?”

The prime minister’s answer, in a word, was no. Morrison referred to the bushfires royal commission, which the government has officially requested and hopes will be headed by former defence chief Mark Binskin, and in his answer noted that the draft terms of reference “accepted that climate change has impacted Australia, and that we’re in for longer, hotter, drier summers. And there are actions that we need to take to protect Australians into the future.” But then he went on to pre-empt any findings of that royal commission by saying he had already outlined what those actions were in his National Press Club address last week. And nobody who is worried about dangerous climate change – and, according to recent polls from Ipsos and Essential, that’s a clear majority of Australians – believes the agenda the PM outlined last week is enough.

The prime minister said this morning that he was feeling “bullied” over the whole thing. That’s because he is stuck, like a rabbit in the headlights on fly paper. The Coalition’s climate wars show no sign of letting up: the Nationals’ George Christensen says five Queensland seats depend on building a coal-fired power station, and Barnaby Joyce asks why we’re not building a wind farm off Bondi, while moderate Liberals are finally standing up and pushing for tougher action. In his bushfires condolence speech today, Member for Bennelong John Alexander said: “The elephant in the room, of course, is climate change. Today is a day for commemoration, not politics. But one thing I would like to say is the need to recognise that these fires are not a warning about climate change – they are climate change. The leader of the Opposition said that ‘this is not normal’. I fear this is actually the new normal.”

What’s more, as investigative journalist Michael West’s website has exposed in its “Revolving Doors” project, the prime minister’s office is stacked full of ex–Minerals Council executives, such as John Kunkel and Brendan Pearson, hardened pro-coal warriors who will never budge. The Morrison government owes its very existence to a staggering $89 million advertising campaign by would-be Galilee Basin coalminer Clive Palmer, and other fossil-fuel donors contributed heavily. A federal ICAC – with teeth – cannot come soon enough.  

“This is a complete rort. It needs exposure because it’s taxpayers’ funds – not Liberal and National party funds – that have been used here.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese, discussing the Opposition’s push for a full Senate inquiry into the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program.

“I would like to get this [industrial relations] bill over and done with as soon as possible … So as soon as the attorney [general] and I can come to an agreement that we’re happy with what we’ve got, then we’ll get it up there – we don’t want to be mucking around with it. The attorney [general] has got things to move on to as well. Then everyone has stability, we all know what’s going on, and all the other unions have got stability.”

Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie, announcing she is keen to strike a deal to pass the government’s “Ensuring Integrity” union-busting bill.

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The cost to taxpayers of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s private holidays to Fiji and Hawaii, including flying AFP officers overseas to guard his family, which will never be known after a freedom of information request was knocked back on the grounds that it was not in the public interest and could harm international relations.

“The Morrison government will establish a permanent National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention … [to] perform two roles: the commissioner will be an independent and permanent public accountability body, with the same powers of a royal commission to compel the production of evidence and summon witnesses, and make findings and recommendations to government; the commissioner will also provide an ongoing investigative function of individual cases of suicide, working with each state and territory coronial office, making recommendations to government.”

The federal government today announced $40 million to set up a new standing body to investigate and prevent veteran suicides.

The list

“Into a national debate riven with shock, sadness, hurt and anger, independent MP Zali Steggall will next month put forward a private member’s bill that could make a lasting difference were it to achieve majority support in the federal parliament. Steggall’s bill copies the framework of the United Kingdom’s climate legislation, which locks in a 2050 zero-emissions target and a credible pathway to get there, and has depoliticised the country’s response to global warming.”

“Attackers of Dark Emu and its author, and those who defend them, organise around the major cleavage introduced by the new histories of the 1970s and 1980s … This is how Australian intellectual life works now. On one side sit those who see the need to synthesise Indigenous and settler experiences, hitherto about as divergent in our histories as one can imagine. On the other, those who strive to resist this synthesis and retain pride in the colonial story. This cleavage has dramatically reorganised the national culture.”

“On Australia Day, I was standing at a bus stop in Sydney’s inner west with an old friend… when he asked what I thought of Bettina Arndt receiving a Member of the Order of Australia in the honours list … My response was, really, raising questions about the award itself: What did this say about the honours processes, one of the rare recognitions of unpaid merit efforts? … Her being given an AM has made me seriously consider handing back my own award.”

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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