The Politics    Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Zero-sum game

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack during a Parliamentary church service.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack during a Parliamentary church service. Image © Dominic Lorrimer / AAP Image

The Nationals are not letting emissions go down without a fight

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison moves gradually – glacially – towards an emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050 (which is now the global norm), the “coal” half of the Coalition is still fighting to hold him back. The always simmering tensions between the Nationals and the Liberals are heating up, even as the Liberals attempt to cool things down by suggesting that the “preferable” target won’t actually be legislated by parliament.

The Nationals have this week made their displeasure with Morrison’s subtle shift towards net zero known, with leaders past and present (and future, one suspects) making contentious comments in the media. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Sunday mooted excluding agriculture from Australia’s attempts to reach net zero (despite the fact that, as noted in yesterday’s column, farmers have already committed to it), while Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie have said they would cross the floor to vote against it. Canavan is today warning of the “complete destruction” of regional towns, spruiking an Institute of Public Affairs paper arguing net-zero targets would cost 600,000 jobs and tweeting that the global norm is a “crazy, loopy idea”, while George Christensen has taken to his influential Facebook page to suggest the media has “over-egged” what Morrison has suggested, and that “there should be no move towards net zero”. Deputy leader and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud appears to be the only one on the Nationals side trying to keep the peace, issuing a rebuke to those Nationals backbenchers threatening to cross the floor.

Unfortunately for Littleproud, the Nationals do not appear to be backing down. But the Liberal Party may be. The senior Coalition partner is reportedly considering avoiding the contentious vote, by not legislating the 2050 target at all – a plan economists say would undermine the business confidence required to make it work. Environment Minister Sussan Ley played down the prospect of a vote in an interview on 2GB, saying, “I don’t know that it’s a legislative issue”, but former Reserve Bank board member and ANU professor Warwick McKibbin hit back at the idea in the Nine papers, saying a binding, legislated target was required to lower emissions while doing the least economic harm. 

The Nationals are also intending to reignite their other climate bugbear – the climate risk policies of banks and insurers – with sources telling Guardian Australia that Resources Minister Keith Pitt wants to reboot a controversial inquiry into the issue. It follows news that ANZ has refused to keep funding the world’s largest coal port, at Newcastle, under its new policy to cut back on loans to fossil-fuel industries. Pitt is trying to “strengthen” the inquiry, which stalled after Liberal backbenchers pushed back, seeing it as a witch-hunt against banks managing carbon risk. The National Party is deadly opposed to such risk-management, with McCormack last year calling ANZ’s new policies “virtue signalling”. Unsurprisingly, they’ve got NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham in their corner, suggesting ANZ’s refusal to keep supporting a declining industry is “a classic case of market failure”. They’re probably not going to be happy with the new pick for CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Daniel Westerman, an engineer with extensive renewable experience who looks set to push the electricity sector further in the direction of decarbonisation.

It’s difficult terrain for the Liberal Party leader, but it’s also complex for the Nationals frontman, with some suggesting the climate revolt – dominated as it is by Joyce and Canavan – is also about destabilising McCormack’s leadership. With no actual vote on the table, this is mostly just inconvenient noise for the Coalition leaders, noise McCormack must buy into and Morrison must weather. The two men are no doubt hoping the heat will soon be back on Labor’s target disputes. I’m sure they’re keen to hear the new shadow cabinet’s policy on 2030 and 2035. As are we all.

“This ‘ground-breaking’ legislation, as the government and its big media supporters constantly describe it, should not just be a mechanism to ensure the bulk of Google and Facebook money lines the pockets of a couple of multibillion-dollar public companies for whom news journalism is a small part of their business.”

Chair of Private Media and Solstice Media Eric Beecher argues that the news media bargaining code should not be about serving the interests of the two big media companies… in one of those companies’ mastheads.

“I know you have strong views … you seem to be the most exercised of any person in the Australian media about this.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt accuses the ABC’s Michael Rowland of “identify[ing] with the left” when asked about his use of the Liberal Party logo on a government vaccine announcement.

The Liberal MP who wants to empty your super
The Coalition’s surprise win at the last federal election is largely attributed to a relentless campaign targeting Labor’s key economic policies, led by Liberal MP Tim Wilson. Now Wilson has launched a new campaign to reshape the four trillion dollar superannuation industry.

The amount that could be sucked from the economy each fortnight when coronavirus welfare supplements end.

“[Premier Daniel Andrews] flagged that Victoria was considering creating an independent casino commission separate from the under-fire Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.”

The Victorian government is under pressure to review its regulation of Crown Casino, after a NSW inquiry deemed the company “not suitable” to hold a casino licence in that state.

The list

“Living in a pandemic reminded me of my younger nightclub days, a time when I’d think to myself, You’re in the jungle now. It was before my motor neurone disability had progressed too far, and I could still pass as able bodied if you saw me sitting on a lounge. We usually arrived at the nightclub before the 11pm crowd filled the place. I would slide into a seat at a table, and a friend would put my wheelchair away somewhere out of sight. I would arrange my already too thin legs, my only slightly crooked torso and some slinky little number I had on into something I hoped resembled an able-bodied hottie. Now I just had to concentrate on not making any weak or awkward movements. It never took long. It was amazing – guys looked at me. You know, that wolfish look.”

“Bernard Collaery is offering me an olive branch. You might think he’d be a worthier recipient: the lawyer, alongside his former client Witness K, stands accused of revealing a spying operation against Timor-Leste, a charge that could land the two men in jail. But there’s a fine Olea europaea already growing in Collaery’s front garden, and I get the impression he offers to take a cutting for anyone who compliments it.”

“The exhibition spans Tiwi artworks from 1911 to 2020, dividing the work into thematic sections across two gallery spaces. A curatorial statement says this is to ‘avoid a linear chronology’, instead celebrating the work as ‘art [and] not ethnographic artefact’. Despite the clear curatorial intention to sidestep the long shadow that ethnography has historically cast on Indigenous art, the gallery fails to acknowledge its own complicity in that history. For example, it wasn’t until 1987 that the NGV acquired two collections of Papunya Tula paintings, its first artworks by Aboriginal artists.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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