Thursday, October 7, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Shakedown politics
Extremist Nationals are making outrageous demands over net-zero emissions targets – it’s time to stop negotiating with them

Image of Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, June 22, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, June 22, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The prime minister, who this week accused the Queensland government of “shakedown politics” over calls for more hospital funding, is today facing a bout of extortion from within his own ranks. Resources Minister Keith Pitt has demanded that the government become a lender of last resort for the mining sector, backing a $250 billion loan facility, if it wants support from the Nationals on the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – thus asking taxpayers to further prop up the dying coal industry. Pitt appears to be a lone actor in this act of blackmail (“the most significant flexing of muscle so far”, as the AFR’s Phil Coorey describes it), but his comments were accompanied by some helpful thoughts from Senator Matt Canavan, who argued that the government should tell capital markets to “bugger off” if they were threatening higher interest rates should Australia not adopt net-zero. “If we are forced to pay a little bit more on our mortgages, we should do that,” he said. So much for being concerned about the costs for everyday Australians. Asked about the ultimatum on RN Breakfast, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce clarified these were not the positions of the Nationals party room, though he had “sympathy” for his colleagues’ “very fair” comments. “I don’t like the idea that our sovereignty is determined by a financing arm of another country or a board member,” he said (though apparently it’s okay for our sovereignty to be influenced by the nation’s most extreme net-zero holdouts). In this afternoon’s triumphant NSW reopening press conference (another sign of an early election?), Scott Morrison described negotiations with the Nats as a “good-faith process”. “We’re working through those issues,” he said, before falling back onto talking points about the plan no one yet has seen. But the prime minister really ought to stop negotiating with climate terrorists.

Pitt’s demand is obviously outrageous. It amounts to an effort to bankroll the undermining of the government’s climate goals, as a condition of accepting the government’s climate goals. As Crikey reports, the gargantuan request amounts to about one eighth of Australia’s GDP and could guarantee coal production until 2150 – that’s 100 years beyond when net-zero could be achieved should the PM accede to Pitt’s demand. (Pitt’s office was unable to say how it came up with the $250 billion figure.) “Metropolitan” Liberal MPs concerned about their inner-city seats are suitably dismayed by Pitt’s exorbitant request, well aware that a net-zero deal that props up fossil fuels for more than a century won’t satisfy their more moderate voters. “This is the equivalent to the Pyramid Building Society which blew up the Australian economy,” Sydney backbencher Jason Falinski told Guardian Australia. (He also told RN Breakfast that the government should not be lending money where the private sector won’t.) “We don’t want Argentine-style policies,” added NSW Senator Andrew Bragg, while Wentworth MP Dave Sharma tweeted that we should not be “bailing out industries that are no longer competitive”.

Fringe figures such as Pitt and Canavan have, for more than a decade, held the nation to ransom on climate action, and they are now attempting to extract a ransom on the net-zero target with increasingly desperate, frankly deranged demands that will do real harm to both the environment and the economy. While Pitt may be an extremist, his position is not without interest from the Nationals party room – not least because his leader has called it “very fair”. Joyce this morning refused to say whether taxpayer funds should be subsidising fossil fuels, arguing that they wouldn’t have to “if banks decide they’re actually going to be impartial”. Even former party leader Michael McCormack – a more “moderate” National, if that’s even possible – told Guardian Australia that Pitt’s proposal had “merit”. “We have to preserve and protect our resources industry as much as we can,” McCormack said, before suggesting that the resources portfolio should be elevated to cabinet again. And while Pitt may not be in cabinet at present, he nonetheless holds a ministry in the Morrison government.

A clear majority of voters want strong climate action – 77 per cent even want the prime minister to go to the Glasgow climate summit, according to the AFR’s latest poll, though it’s looking more and more certain that he won’t attend. But it’s not just voters: a clear majority of parliamentarians also now want to commit to the absolute bare-minimum target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. If only that’s how democracy worked. The Liberal Party has itself held the nation back on this in the past, with its right flank tearing down leaders who so much as thought about climate action. Now they’ve caught up and are collectively getting a taste of what that’s like from their extreme right. 

The difference this time is that, with the support of other parties, the Liberal Party could pass net-zero tomorrow – if only it were willing to stop negotiating with extremists. But it’s terrifying to think what the Nats might do next.

“I remind the secretary that he is not above the law.”

Senior member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Michelle Evans-Bonner has criticised the Department of Social Services, after government officials threatened to ignore an order to reinstate a man’s JobSeeker payments.

“We have been very transparent in relation to commuter car parks.”

Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher – who has refused to release documents showing how funding was allocated for the controversial $660 million commuter car park fund – claims the government has been “very transparent”.

Inside the Coalition’s climate war
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far refused growing international pressure to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. Now he’s facing a concerted push from MPs in his own party to embrace the policy. But, on the other side of the Coalition, right-wing Nationals are refusing to budge.


The number of respondents who rated the PM’s performance as “poor” this quarter, up from 35 per cent in the last quarter. Support for the Coalition has decreased in NSW and Victoria, but rebounded in Queensland.

“Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is pushing the states to make urgent reforms to the nation’s defamation laws to reverse a High Court ruling that has exposed governments and publishers to legal action over the offensive social media comments of third parties.”

Michaelia Cash has written to the state and territory attorneys-general urging a nationally consistent approach to reform, with a Council of Attorneys-General discussion paper offering a blueprint for changes.

The list

“When COVID-19 reached Australia last year, courts in affected areas had to pivot towards remote work and electronic hearings. Those courts are now heavily reliant on technology: applications are filed electronically; subpoenas and documents are viewed online; most trials and other hearings are conducted remotely, via telephone or Microsoft Teams. Some of this adds to the strain of court, and some of it relieves it.”

“It’s a common refrain: if you don’t break the law, there’s nothing to worry about. A more accurate refrain might be: if you don’t break the law, and the government (and each of its tens of thousands of employees) don’t break the law, and the computers don’t malfunction, and the system is well designed and maintained, and the government doesn’t economise on its implementation, and nobody enters data incorrectly, and all of the system’s users are adequately trained and think critically about it, and nobody hacks into it, and identities aren’t stolen, then there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Clinical trials have never been the only home for placebos. We know that people who believe they’re receiving a medical treatment will often get better anyway, and there are examples across the past several centuries of people trying to turn this into its own genuine medical treatment. This interest has intensified in the past decade.” 

For all of our NSW readers, enter the draw for a chance to win a double pass to the 2021 Sydney Film Festival. Running from November 3–14, and showing in cinemas, this year’s festival is showcasing the greatest, strangest and most exciting works that cinema has to offer.  


Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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