Friday, November 13, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Bushfire misfire
On climate, the Morrison government is stuck in denial

If you’re trying to solve a problem, the first thing you do is stop making it worse. But reducing greenhouse gas emissions was the one thing Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reluctant to talk about today, when asked about Australia’s response to the recommendations of the bushfire royal commission. With all states and territories targeting net-zero emissions by 2050, the PM was asked whether the federal government had come under pressure from the national cabinet over its reluctance to take practical action to reduce carbon emissions. Morrison responded with some of his signature waffle. “One of the key findings – conclusions – of the royal commission was that the locked-in impacts of climate change – already that are there – largely set an elevated risk for the next 20 years,” Morrison said. “And as a result, a key part of dealing with climate change in this country is dealing with the resilience to what is already there.” He went on to make the same point he made at the very beginning of the year – in the wake of the Black Summer, but before the pandemic – which is that resilience and adaptation have to be a key part of Australia’s response to global warming. Hazard reduction is as important as emissions reduction, Morrison said repeatedly. This is a big red herring. There is no point trying to reduce the hazards from warming, while continuing to add fuel to the fire by opening up new coal and gas precincts and building more power plants that burn fossil fuels. 

Morrison could not even mention the net-zero emissions by 2050 target, saying only that “our commitment is we would like to achieve the outcome you’ve indicated as soon as we can”. That leaves the federal Coalition looking increasingly isolated, both at home and abroad.

Announcing the government’s response to the bushfires royal commission, Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud this afternoon tried to turn the tables back onto Labor (which supports the 2050 target), saying that, under the Paris Agreement, Australia had committed to achieving net zero at some point in the second half of the century. “Obviously, the prime minister’s saying, if we can get there quicker, then we will,” Littleproud said. While the Paris Agreement commits Australia to reducing emissions by 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, Littleproud said, “The other mob can’t get to 2030. They don’t know how they are going to get to 2030. They don’t know who’s going to pay for it – they say they are going to get to 2050 and it is zero, by 2030 that’s around a 40–41 per cent reduction in emissions that you’re going to pay for.”

This is pure sophistry, especially coming from an emergency management minister who is announcing increased expenditure for responses to national disasters on the very same day that the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO confirm, in their biennial “State of the Climate” report, that Australia is already suffering increased bushfire severity and extreme weather events due to climate change. In other words, we are already paying the price of our inaction. And that price is escalating rapidly while Morrison, Littleproud and the rest of the Coalition try to make political mileage out of the (supposed but unquantified) extra costs associated with raising 2030 targets from 26 per cent to 41 per cent. Really, how much flogging can a dead horse take?

In fact, the Coalition is barely serious about climate resilience either. Morrison, as treasurer, previously defunded the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, and he is now playing catch-up by establishing a new body, Resilience Australia. Littleproud’s announcement baulked at the cost of establishing a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet, as recommended by the royal commission. Instead, the government will expand Emergency Management Australia, establish a new national disaster recovery agency, and introduce legislation allowing it to declare a national state of emergency. It is resilience on the cheap. 

Bogged down in denial about the causes (and even the existence) of global warming, and its costs, the Coalition can get away with its merry inaction on climate change, partly because Labor continues to tear itself apart, courtesy of the indulgent antics of Joel Fitzgibbon, rather than hold the government to account.

“It is clear that the government is absolutely determined to ram through and roll out this ideological obsession with broad-based compulsory income management.”

Linda Burney, the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians and for families and social services, slams the Morrison government’s cashless debit card legislation for the Northern Territory, observing that the legislation (which disproportionately impacts First Nations people) was brought on during NAIDOC Week.

“We’ve got 14 days of doughnuts, but the premier is giving us doughnuts in terms of eased restrictions.”

The Victorian Opposition leader, Michael O’Brien, is complaining again.

How Biden is changing Australian climate policy
Joe Biden’s victory in the United States has already had ramifications for Australian politics, particularly on the issue of climate change. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the political shockwaves rolling across the Pacific.

The value of a federal government grant given to Foxtel, despite it having no plan for how the money will be spent, according to documents obtained under freedom of information laws – and which Sports Minister Richard Colbeck attempted to block.

“CSL will now move for regulatory approval to commence phase-three clinical trials before the end of this year … It means that this vaccine will potentially be available, subject to the results of those trials, for delivery to Australians early in the third quarter of 2021. Our national goal is to ensure that all Australians who seek to be vaccinated are vaccinated by the end of 2021.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt, speaking at the University of Queensland on the progress of its trials of a vaccine, to be manufactured in Australia by biotechnology company CSL.

The list

“The authors of Cynical Theories have gone to great lengths to make it look like they’ve done their homework and they are being praised for ‘the exhaustiveness of their research’. The book has a lot of references, and this may be one of its more seductive qualities … But don’t be fooled. Readers with a more confident grasp of postmodern philosophy – or its ‘applied derivatives’ – will sniff out the omissions, misattributions and cherrypicking that props up the applied-to-reified hypothesis.”

“The experience of war very much depends on where one happens to be standing at the time. This is true for those whose fate is decided in battle and for those who, having sent them to fight, watch from an expedient hillside. It is also true for those who come later: writers of all descriptions who go on scavenging among the dead and wounded long after they are dust, and base members of the political horde who fashion convenience from their memory and make them cannon fodder a second time, in culture wars. And then there are we citizens, ever willing to sun ourselves in a myth’s reflected glory. War is horrible: so horrible, without it we would not know ourselves.”

“In the music industry, endurance is an underrated commodity. Only the most exceptional artists have the flexibility and staying power to accrue popularity and success over a whole career. The Bull sisters, Vika and Linda, proved they are one such act this year when 'Akilotoa (Anthology 1994-2006) – a rich, vivid double album of their most beloved songs – was their first record to hit the top spot on the ARIA album chart.”

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 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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The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

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