Otis and Albo
Labor declares a climate truce… sort of
It’s been pretty clear since at least the 2019 election that Labor under Anthony Albanese – who recognised conflict fatigue in the community and is searching for solutions not arguments – does not want to pick a fight with the Coalition on the dreaded climate and energy policy. In fact, Labor has supported every Coalition attempt at an energy policy since the fateful abolition of the emissions trading scheme in 2014. It supported an emissions intensity scheme, a clean energy target and the national energy guarantee – all of which failed – and I reckon if the government wrote “climate action one day” on a beer coaster, Labor would support that too. Spurred on by resources spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon and other members of the pro-coal “Otis Group” in shadow cabinet, Albanese has duly written to the prime minister proposing bipartisan negotiations to develop a national energy investment framework. Albanese told the National Press Club today that Labor could work with a NEG, a CET, an EIS or any other model that provides investment certainty. “It must be flexible, and it must be enduring,” he said. “An enduring energy policy is one that can adjust to different emission targets.”
Albanese’s speech was billed in this morning’s papers as an attempt to end the decade-long carbon wars, which is true, but Labor has been trying to do that for a while. The Greens immediately accused Labor of trying to end the climate wars by surrendering, and there is an element of truth to that also. But if a bipartisan investment framework was to be somehow agreed on – one whose ambition could be scaled up – that would be a concrete achievement, so why not make the offer in the spirit of recovery from the COVID recession, even if it is likely to be refused? There is plenty of scope left for Labor and the Coalition to wage climate wars over levels of ambition, or small-scale nuclear power stations (but not in resources minister Keith Pitt’s backyard), or carbon capture and storage, which Labor is once again – amazingly – proposing to support. In reality there was more continuity than change in Albanese’s speech, which was pro-science, pro-jobs and pro-growth. Probed by Sky News, Albanese was commendably clear on the use of carry-over credits from the Kyoto Protocol towards our Paris Agreement targets, which would effectively halve Australia’s level of ambition. Albanese drew a hard line against it, describing carry-over credits as a “rort”. Beyond committing to a long-range target of net-zero emissions by 2050 – which is uncontentious and in line with most states and many businesses, including the Minerals Council – Albanese will not be pinned down on all-important 2030 targets this side of the Eden-Monaro byelection, the Queensland election or December’s national conference, except to say that they will be “based on science”. It’s a fight for another day, in other words.
A couple of questions from the press gallery focused on the tenth anniversary of the dumping of Kevin Rudd as prime minister after he shelved Labor’s original emissions trading scheme, but Albanese showed little appetite for the history wars. Asked whether Labor would revert to supporting a price on carbon, Albanese all but ruled it out, effectively arguing the price of renewables had dropped so much it was now unnecessary. “Renewables today are looking for a different framework. See if you ask, ‘Are we going back to the old system?’, the answer to that is no. We’re looking forward, not backwards.” It’s a disappointing answer: as Albanese knows, a carbon price is not meant only to support renewables, but to internalise the externalised costs of carbon pollution across the economy.
Felicity Wade, national co-convenor of the Labor Environment Action Network, tells The Monthly Today that Albanese is trying to progress action on climate change by negotiating towards some form of mechanism in the electricity sector that provides investment certainty as well as emissions reduction. “Albo is saying, ‘Let’s sort out that mechanism and we can ramp it up when we’re in government.’ He has said nothing to suggest Labor won’t have its own interim targets, and LEAN will work hard to ensure they are ambitious,” says Wade.
“We have all got less purist about climate policy over the years. What we most need is a workable mechanism – policy elegance was ditched on this years ago! Getting a bipartisan emissions reduction mechanism in place would be a huge positive step in Australian climate politics. Today Albo has endorsed a whole bunch of things LEAN supports: initiatives to invest heavily into the renewable energy sector, restoring ARENA funding, banning nuclear power and having an ability to scale up our emission reduction targets when we can. We’re not huge fans of wasting taxpayer funds on carbon capture and storage but it’s not a ‘die in a ditch’ issue.”
Predictably, Labor’s offer was treated with some derision by the federal government, with Josh Frydenberg telling Sky News it reminded him of the Groucho Marx line: “These are my principles and if you don’t like them I have others.” The PM will use the offer to attack the Labor leader as “each-way Albo”. Meanwhile, LNP backbencher Matt Canavan is arguing [$] that Shine Energy, proponent of a new coal-fired power station in Queensland, should be given compensation for any change in climate policy; some 40 jobs in the energy division at CSIRO are going under reappointed chief Larry Marshall; and the Berejiklian government is planning a future for the Hunter Valley on the basis that demand for thermal coal exports will only drop by 10 per cent by 2050. With each passing day, it becomes clearer that the Coalition remains wedded to inaction – and energy minister Angus Taylor’s denial of his government’s climate denial only proves the point.
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“The modern history of university fees can be divided into distinct ‘Labor’ and ‘Liberal’ periods, with the demarcation point being John Howard’s election in March 1996. Unconstrained by any imperative to redistribute, Howard unleashed the culture war that generations of young Liberals had trained for since he was at Sydney Uni in the wake of Khrushchev’s speech to the 20th Congress. His and subsequent generations of Liberals saw campuses – and humanities faculties specifically – as controlled illegitimately by cabals of Marxists and other labour-movement fellow-travellers. Howard wanted to smash student unions and slash public spending, at least for people who weren’t going to vote Liberal. Tehan, Morrison and Frydenberg are still fighting this culture war.”
“Last night, I slept for ten hours. For the first time in months I woke gradually to a clear, benevolent world. My vision was sharp, the air soft. It’s pretty rare for a working urbanite to sleep long and sound, and wake full term. And it’s unusual for us to allow something that feels this good to occur so rarely. You’d think we would have worked out some efficient and cheap way of fulfilling our requirements. After all, we can deal with the other basic bodily functions in this way: fast food, water bottles, porn. Why can’t we deliver a big fat sleep in a way that takes up less of our time?”
“Every morning, after first coffee, I do what I jokingly call my tour of the grounds – a three-minute journey from rear fence to front strip. It begins with using an old soft-drink bottle to water the mushroom farm that I keep just inside the back door, next to the vacuum cleaner. Then I rinse the sprouts on the kitchen sink before going out and checking that the possums haven’t eaten the peas growing on the sundeck. If it isn’t raining I go down the spiral staircase to my brick-paved backyard and pick a few mandarins – citrus fruit are surely the biggest thrill of winter.”
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?
It’s been pretty clear since at least the 2019 election that Labor under Anthony Albanese – who recognised conflict fatigue in the community and is searching for solutions not arguments – does not want to pick a fight with the Coalition on the dreaded climate and energy policy. In fact, Labor has supported every Coalition attempt at an energy policy since the fateful abolition of the emissions trading scheme in 2014. It supported an emissions intensity scheme, a clean energy target and the national energy guarantee – all of which failed – and I reckon if the government wrote “climate action one day” on a beer coaster, Labor would support that too. Spurred on by resources spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon and other members of the pro-coal “Otis Group” in shadow cabinet, Albanese has duly written to the prime minister proposing bipartisan negotiations to develop a national energy...
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