Thursday, October 14, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Fear and showboating
The Nationals are worried about a net-zero backlash of their own making

Image of Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, leader Barnaby Joyce and leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie, June 21, 2021. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, leader Barnaby Joyce and leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie, June 21, 2021. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Australia cannot run, and it certainly cannot hide, from a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That’s the conclusion of the Reserve Bank’s deputy governor, Guy Debelle, who this morning told an investment conference that the costs of emissions-intensive businesses were already being driven up by the global push towards net zero, and that net zero was going to happen no matter the opinions of Australians. After years of questions about the cost of acting to mitigate climate change, and not nearly enough scrutiny of the cost of inaction, the balance has tipped: the focus is firmly on the financial toll of passivity. But, as the Coalition inches ever closer to its long-overdue commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, it’s apparent that the more conservative members of the government are worried not just about the economic cost of achieving net zero but the political cost too. As both the Herald Sun and The Australian report, several Nationals are digging in their heels over the deal, concerned that, whatever the government comes up with, net zero will trigger a backlash at the ballot box – especially in Queensland, where the federal government is worried about challenges from independents even more backwards-looking than those in its own ranks. There’s little wonder the conservatives are spooked, having spent years demonising net zero, implying that the sky would fall in if the nation went anywhere near it, and refusing to countenance policies that would help their communities prepare for a coal-free future. Any voter backlash will be of their own making. But, even now, they can’t seem to stop.

The Nationals have done more than their fair share of net-zero fearmongering in this country, and they are expecting to face more than their fair share of the blowback if the Coalition does finally sign up to the target. A recent report from the climate sceptics at the Institute of Public Affairs found that the Coalition holds 17 of the top 20 electorates “with the most jobs at risk from a net zero emissions target”, with six of the top 10 electorates held by the Nationals (the Liberals, meanwhile, dominate the list of electorates with the least to lose). But rather than doing anything constructive to address the impending “threat” to their constituents, or encourage support for a fair transition, as experts have called for, the Nationals have instead played into their fears, promising to protect their communities from the apparently life-ruining (but inevitable) target. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Nationals are now doing everything they can to extract the best possible price for their agreement to the government target. But what sweetener could possibly be seen as sweet enough, after years of threatening it would mean $100 lamb roasts? Even now, the Nats’ demands that regional communities not be “hurt” by the target and that coal be necessarily part of the solution are only throwing further fuel on the fire that may come to engulf them later. Their challengers will no doubt be eager to capitalise on their shrill insistence that decarbonisation is bad.

Speaking on RN Breakfast and at the National Press Club today, mining magnate turned climate advocate turned green hydrogen cheerleader Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest begged the Nats to stop “scaring Australians” over the move to renewables. The Nats, he said, were only fearmongering to chase votes – something he had expressed in conversations with party leaders Barnaby Joyce and Bridget McKenzie yesterday. Those votes, Forrest warned, wouldn’t last far beyond the next election, once coal begins to subside. But they could even disappear before the election if the Nationals don’t stop pretending that the target the government is gearing up to lock in would somehow mean the end of the dairy industry.

The National Party isn’t the only one responsible for years of net-zero alarmism, and nor will it be the only party responsible for the impending voter backlash when the target is finally adopted, even if it may be the hardest hit by it. The Liberal Party and News Corp have also played their parts – though they somehow feel comfortable backflipping on the issue with little to no explanation, as critics from within their own ranks continue to point out. As former Abbott chief of staff Peta Credlin today writes, “how can something be dead wrong two years ago – in the words of Scott Morrison, ‘a reckless target … [that] will come at a tremendous cost to Australians’ – but now be absolutely right?” The prime minister is doing little to allay the fears his party has spent years stoking, hoping he can pull off the bait and switch. But those years of fearmongering are going to be hard to undo – and not just among his Coalition colleagues.

“We should not forgo a capability that our region needs.”

End COVID For All spokesperson Tim Costello says the decision to end local AstraZeneca manufacturing at the end of CSL’s current 50-million-dose contract is “highly regrettable”, noting that it forecloses our ability to donate to countries in our region.

“The first-dose vaccination rates for Indigenous peoples have exceeded the national averages for the last three days. That’s the first time that we’ve experienced that.”

The head of the government’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, tells a Senate hearing that vaccination rates among Indigenous Australians are catching up – even though Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders were supposed to be a priority cohort. 

‘I just want to look at you’: The sisters reunited after lockdown
This week, after more than 100 days in lockdown, NSW residents were officially allowed back into restaurants, bars, shops and gyms. But for many, the end of lockdown wasn’t about being able to drink beer in a pub again but the chance to see family after months of isolation.

The amount of political donations disclosed over the past 22 years linked to entities with a stake in gambling.

“Some of Australia’s top economists and policy experts are calling for higher taxes on capital gains, the introduction of death duties and a hike in GST as part of a major reform to help the federal budget, strengthen the economy and cut taxes on ordinary workers.”

Nine continues its look into what needs to be done to fix the tax system, after both the OECD and the IMF urged wide-ranging reform.

The list

“One of the strangest developments in recent Australian parliamentary politics has been the growth of hero-worship in the two most populous states, Victoria and NSW, which has elevated premiers Andrews and Berejiklian to a kind of cult status … Leaders don’t just spontaneously develop a cult-like status with the public. Our parliamentary politics are entirely mediated. Leaders and voters both depend on journalists. When a leader transcends criticism, it’s mostly because journalists have allowed them to.”

“The new albums have sunk further and further back in the picture, to the point where they are little more than the name of the next world tour. How seriously is it even possible to take the Stones? Once – sure. Now – they still put on a great live show. But how much ambition do they have left? And can they ever make another decent album?”

“Rose and Kevin Davies* married in 2013. It was a modest civil ceremony, followed by a one-night honeymoon, donated by a local motel owner. Afterwards, the pair clambered down a sandstone headland overlooking the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, back to the cave they called home.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Images via ABC News

Morrison’s mandate

Barnaby Joyce acknowledges that a net-zero target is cabinet’s call. But what exactly is their mandate?

Image of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

Rush hour

The Nationals have had far more than four hours to figure out their position on net zero

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

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

The little guys

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

From the front page

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Images via ABC News

Morrison’s mandate

Barnaby Joyce acknowledges that a net-zero target is cabinet’s call. But what exactly is their mandate?

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