The Politics    Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The little guys

By Rachel Withers

Composite image of Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (via ABC News) and News Corp presenter Andrew Bolt (via Sky News)

Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (via ABC News) and News Corp presenter Andrew Bolt (via Sky News)

A vocal minority that has for so long controlled the climate debate is now painting itself as marginalised

The federal cabinet is today meeting to finalise “the Liberal Party’s plan” to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is set to take that plan to his party room on Sunday, insists the deal is not done until his party says it’s done. The secretive roadmap, which was first briefed to Joyce and his ministers on Monday afternoon, reportedly includes promises of a clean energy jobs boom for regional Australia, with a focus on green hydrogen production. The states are already jumping on board – NSW has committed $3 billion in grants and tax exemptions for producers – and mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest seems happy. Momentum has clearly shifted on the net-zero debate, especially in light of News Corp’s late-stage conversion: 69 per cent of Australians want the government to commit to the target, according to the latest Climate of the Nation report, while a whopping 82 per cent back the phasing-out of coal, and these numbers have been growing for a long while. But as we draw closer to a consensus on this bare-minimum commitment, a vocal minority that has for so long held disproportionate sway over the climate debate is eager to paint itself as marginalised. From Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie to Sky News presenter Andrew Bolt, the soon-to-be losers of this idiotic debate are “howling” that they have been ignored by big business and big media – never mind the fact that they have successfully delayed urgent climate action for more than a decade.

Speaking on RN Breakfast this morning, McKenzie congratulated herself on that very fact. “We’ve actually been able to avoid very bad outcomes for our country and our communities,” she boasted, noting that Australia doesn’t have a carbon tax. (Incidentally, the OECD recently labelled a carbon tax the “least cost approach” to reducing emissions, ruing the fact that Australian politics had damaged the idea beyond repair.) But she then went on to claim that her party – the one currently holding the nation to ransom over emissions targets – was simply standing up for the little guy. “We represent the poorest, the most marginalised people in the country,” McKenzie said, conveniently forgetting that many of those constituents actually want stronger climate action. “Out of sight, out of mind; outside of big business, out of sight of Adam Bandt,” she added. As host Fran Kelly pointed out, mining companies – which are driving so much of the Nationals’ hesitancy – are big business. But that didn’t seem to matter to McKenzie. “We have been out of sight, out of mind of the Greens, the Labor Party, big business…” she continued. (“If the Nationals are out of sight, it’s only because you’ve hidden yourselves under a rock,” Bandt tweeted.)

If there’s one thing the Nationals haven’t been during this debate, it’s out of sight. For weeks now, the nation has been subjected to their tantrums over net zero, with a parade of interviews and highly publicised demands. Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who appeared on RN Breakfast not long after McKenzie, acknowledged the Nationals’ concerns, saying it was important to be listening to every point of view. (Ley, a “rural Liberal” herself, said she hadn’t picked up any sense of worry or threat from within her own community.) The Liberal Party has been accommodating the Nationals’ point of view for some time now, and the junior Coalition party’s stance is loud and clear – so loud and so clear that it has often run roughshod over the views of those it claims to represent, as they call for stronger action.

Another figure whose views definitely haven’t been ignored is News Corp’s Andrew Bolt, who yesterday threw his own tantrum over his workplace’s change in editorial position, labelling the company’s “Mission Zero” campaign “rubbish” (though he did at least get that right). “My whole company’s against me,” he told viewers of his Sky News program, where he is free to say whatever he likes. “I know that against these huge players, all the big political parties, my own employer, all the media and big media outlets, what am I? Just someone on the sidelines. Someone just howling on the sidelines, but telling you the truth.” Bolt, like McKenzie, railed against “big business” (no doubt referring to the Business Council of Australia’s sudden interest in targets that it once considered “economy wrecking”), adding “big media” and “big government” into the mix – as if he himself wasn’t a powerful player in the “big media” ecosystem.

There have also been efforts to portray climate sceptic academic Peter Ridd’s loss in his High Court battle as some kind of silencing – despite the fact that the decision upheld his right to free speech. The court found that the marine physicist, who was sacked by James Cook University after challenging his colleague’s views on climate change, was protected in his criticism by academic freedom, but that his conduct did contravene the university’s code of conduct, justifying his termination. The Institute of Public Affairs, which supported Ridd through his case, has claimed the decision shows Australian universities are mired in censorship, while Education Minister Alan Tudge has released a statement implying it had “a chilling effect on free speech”. In a statement, IPA executive director John Roskam added that Ridd would be joining the institute as an unpaid research fellow to work on “real science”. So much for censorship.

A 2050 target for net-zero emissions is now all but inevitable ahead of the Glasgow climate change talks, assuming the Nationals are satisfied with the sweeteners the prime minister has thrown into the deal. But the Coalition has wasted literal years fighting against something that was always an inevitability in an effort to appease a small minority. That minority has grown smaller in recent years, and smaller still in recent days. But it’s clear that, for these players, being in the minority certainly hasn’t made them the little guys.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“No wonder young people turn away from politics.”

Nine reporter Nick McKenzie, who broke the Victorian Labor branch-stacking story, laments that “young, decent” political staffers are forced to do their bosses’ dirty work, as yet another former Adem Somyurek staffer appears before IBAC.

“Decisions have to be made and that’s how it goes.”

Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie shrugs off criticism of the Coalition-skewed Building Better Regions Fund, amid revelations that Coalition MPs were given the chance to lobby for projects that were set to miss out.

The management consultants that ate Canberra
Since coming to power, the federal Coalition has chipped away at the public service, increasingly outsourcing key functions of government to private companies. The trend has raised important questions about transparency, and the long-term sustainability of government services.

The number of people hired using the JobMaker credit – around 1 per cent of the 450,000 forecast by the government in the October 2020 budget.

“Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews will on Wednesday release a ransomware plan that includes mandatory reporting requirements for companies with turnover of $10 million or more a year.”

Under the government’s ransomware plan, companies will have to tell the Australian Cyber Security Centre if they have been subject to a ransomware attack, with civil penalties for failing to comply.

The list

“I am a big believer in the human story of art. In fact, I’d go as far as arguing that to not grasp at least something of the social landscape upon which art is made is to risk missing its true spirit entirely. It’s for this reason that, regardless of whether I find the individual practices of its associated artists engaging or not, Heide still intrigues me. As with any story one returns to again and again, there’s a distinct sense that no matter how well known it is, a mystery lies somewhere under its surface, waiting to be solved.”

“In Bodies of Light, Maggie is the vehicle through which Down seeks to interrogate suffering, and she is attentive to Australia’s recent failures when it comes to protecting women and children. Many of Maggie’s experiences are inspired by real-life events. The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse sparks the narrative, which is told retrospectively after Maggie, living under a pseudonym, is contacted by an acquaintance who also grew up in foster care, and who thinks she would benefit from making a submission.”

“While most children still only experience mild to no symptoms, they are more likely to transmit the Delta variant than previous strains. So, as pupils return to mingle in the classroom, what can be done to make schools COVID-19 proof?” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Image of former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro giving evidence during the inquiry into his New York trade appointment, August 8, 2022. Image © Bianca De Marchi / AAP Images

Mental health day

Whatever John Barilaro’s personal issues, Australia’s mental health system is in an appalling state

Image of China’s ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 10, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

No time for sabre-prattling

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton needs to start taking the China threat seriously

Image of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton speaking during a press conference in Brisbane, August 8, 2022. Image © Jono Searle / AAP Images

Stunted growth

Will the Coalition, which has declined Labor’s jobs summit invite, ever grow up?

Image of Treasurer Jim Chalmers during Question Time in the House of Representatives, August 2, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Stage Three clingers

The Stage Three tax cuts are going to come up every time the government can’t afford to pay for something

From the front page

Still image from ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’

Was that it: ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’

This loving portrait of the indie scene of the early 2000s will likely mean little to those who weren’t there

Image of Heraclitus of Ephesus, known as the “Weeping Philosopher”.

Forecasting the future

What is humanity’s destiny in the Anthropocene era?

Frank Moorhouse, Ewenton Street, Balmain, circa 1975

Frank recollections

Remembering Frank Moorhouse (1938–2022)

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

What the James Webb Space Telescope reveals

Why NASA’s new telescope is a huge step forward for understanding the universe