Monday, May 18, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Building back green
The pandemic recovery could prove a battleground

From the World Economic Forum to the Reserve Bank of Australia, it seems there is more support each week for a small-G green stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Today, the Australian Greens launched their $300 billion “Invest to Recover” plan, including $60 billion to revive manufacturing and $59 billion to supply 100 per cent of Australia’s power from renewables – this is all part of leader Adam Bandt’s Green New Deal policy. Tonight, a Four Corners episode titled “Climate Wars” will look back on a decade of failed climate and energy policy since Tony Abbott weaponised global warming to pull down Malcolm Turnbull as Opposition leader in December 2009. Martin Parkinson, a former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, describes Australia’s politicians as “incapable of grappling with this … I don’t know how many reports have been put in front of them.” 

Over the weekend, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers again called for bipartisanship on climate change after a “decade-long barney”, urging the Coalition to reintroduce the National Energy Guarantee. In the face of all this, the Morrison government is riding high in the Newspoll [$] on the strength of its coronavirus response so far, and the prime minister is pushing [$] for a new industrial compact, accusing the Opposition of having an unconstructive “fighting Tories” mindset, and arguing “they think driving up wages artificially, higher taxes and big spending programs is the way to achieve this, and that is completely at odds with how the government sees it.” Surely all sides would like to see an end to decade-long climate wars, but the bipartisanship of the initial pandemic response is already fraying if not entirely over. It is much easier to imagine everyone retreating to their respective ideological positions than it is to see the major parties coming to terms on the most vexed issue in this country’s recent political history. 

That’s a pity, because there is plenty of research suggesting that the root causes of global warming and the latest coronavirus pandemic are the same, with infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans more and more, often as a result of pressures including deforestation and urbanisation, as well as overpopulation and overconsumption. In a thoroughly researched article in The Conversation, the executive director of the Climate and Health Alliance, Fiona Armstrong, and scientific colleagues have argued that the COVID-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises are “deeply connected”, and they called for post-COVID responses to “reverse our war on nature … [because] a war on nature is ultimately a war against ourselves”.

The Greens policy is a comprehensive package that would include job and income guarantees, provide a free university or TAFE course to anyone under 30 and, over a decade, would lift Australia’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 44 per cent. Adam Bandt says that is still below that of most OECD countries, and well below the 110 per cent level reached in World War Two. The plan includes constructing half a million social housing units over 15 years – recognising that new homes are “shovel-ready” projects – as well as $2.3 billion to save the arts and entertainment industries, which have received no assistance from the Morrison government. 

Tonight’s Four Corners will again rake over the Greens decision to vote down Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009, with Parkinson telling the ABC that decision was “unconscionable”. That point has been covered extensively, including in this column and in Margaret Simons’ excellent essay for The Monthly. Bandt tells The Monthly Today that he gets frustrated by the debate about that fateful vote, which occurred before he was in parliament, and would prefer to focus on the Greens’ collaboration with the Gillard government to introduce an emissions trading scheme. “Labor loves to talk about 2009 but they don’t want to talk about 2010,” he says. “We actually succeeded. We actually had a policy that passed through both houses of parliament, where no one party had a majority, and which required significant levels of cooperation and compromise, and it was called a carbon price, and Julia Gillard should be thanked for being able to do what Kevin Rudd couldn’t do, which was get various players together and get everyone to agree on a compromise position. It was Tony Abbott and Rupert Murdoch, and the fossil fuel sector, that tore it down.” 

“The number of countries that have indicated their support, in fact are co-sponsoring the resolution, drafted by the European Union, is very encouraging and we hope to a positive outcome later this week.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne expresses cautious optimism about international support for Australia’s push for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

“I don’t think it should be kept at the level where it is, where JobSeeker is higher than the aged pension. That’s not a reasonable proposition. But … I think that jobseekers shouldn’t go back down to $40 a day.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese says he won’t be advocating for the JobSeeker allowance to stay at its current level of $1100 a fortnight, which is still well under minimum wage.

The push to expand ASIO’s powers
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has recently introduced legislation that would expand the surveillance powers available to Australia’s domestic spy agency. Lawyers and civil-rights groups are arguing the proposed laws are too broad, and could contravene a range of human rights.


The number of Australian newsrooms that have closed temporarily or for good since January 2019, according to fresh data from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative.

“The World Health Assembly … requests the [WHO] director-general to … initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with member states, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.”

From the text of a motion calling for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which is expected to pass with the support of more than 110 countries at a virtual meeting of the Assembly tonight.

The list

What have we done to deserve this? A taxonomy of Zoom transgressions, by Oslo Davis. 

“Mundey was that rare species: an honest, unselfish and unassuming politician who always knew that the outcome, not the credit, was what was important … Many have said – rightly – that Mundey deserves a state funeral, but he would have hated the idea of such pomp and egotism. So, let us just be grateful for his brilliant career. Vale, old comrade.”

“Unsurprisingly, as the list of questions unanswered or taken on notice grew, some members of the senate committee became a little testy. Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, frustrated by Harris’s reluctance to say who was directing the NCCC’s activities or to provide a list of the tasks commissioners had undertaken, snapped: ‘You’re not paid to just sit around making your own stuff up…’ And they are paid a lot. Power, the committee was told, is getting $500,000.”

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.


The Monthly Today

Surveillance grates

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

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Game over

Premier Berejiklian’s position is untenable

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

Image of Government Services Minister Stuart Robert

Government dis-services

Stuart Robert is doing the PM’s dirty work

From the front page

Surveillance grates

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

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

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In light of recent events

Shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!
Image of Earth from the Moon

Pale blue dot

The myth of the ‘overview effect’, and how it serves space industry entrepreneurs