The Politics    Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The world is watching

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who is now secretary-general of the OECD. Image via Facebook

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who is now secretary-general of the OECD. Image via Facebook

The OECD recommends that Australia take action on climate change. Is our government listening?

What will the government make of the recommendations contained within the OECD’s 2021 Australian economic survey, the first since former finance minister Mathias Cormann took the reins? The OECD says Australia’s economy has done well through the pandemic, but warns it could face a slow recovery – something Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not emphasise in his rush to talk up the good bits. The recommendation that the Reserve Bank should face an independent review – which has not occurred since Australia had $1 notes – has been tentatively endorsed by the treasurer, though it wouldn’t happen until after the federal election, according to the AFR. The government reportedly has no plans to address the recommendation to increase the GST to 12.5 per cent, or to include the entire value of the family home in the aged pension assets test, things the OECD says would help ease debt. It’s unlikely, too, that the government will be willing to increase the JobSeeker rate, which despite a recent increase of $50 per fortnight is still “very low by international standards”, with the organisation suggesting it could be indexed to wage inflation. And what of the calls for Australia to take climate change more seriously, amid warnings that we must massively accelerate our decarbonisation or pay the price? In information that is hardly news to anyone, the OECD warns that declining fossil fuel demand could create shocks for Australian industries, and notes that the nation is “uniquely placed to benefit” from decarbonisation, if it were only willing to take advantage of its natural assets. The report repeatedly laments the lack of a carbon price, “the least cost approach” to reducing emissions, while acknowledging the political difficulties of introducing one here – a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who this week watched SBS’s Strong Female Lead, with its stark reminder of what happened when Julia Gillard did try to implement one. What a shame that Cormann himself once referred to it as a “job-destroying carbon tax”, before voting very strongly to repeal it.

The OECD isn’t the only one heaping pressure on Australia this week. US President Joe Biden is planning to put even more on Prime Minister Scott Morrison when they meet at the first ever summit of the “Quad”– comprising Australia, the US, Japan and India – next week, with the White House to make the climate crisis a key agenda item. (It will no doubt also come up in the leaders’ first ever one-on-one talk.) The Australian speculates that Morrison will bring emissions announcements to the table, something the AFR’s Phil Coorey says is unlikely, adding that the government’s focus is much more on the Glasgow climate summit in November.

That’s the summit where Australia is expected to be “the villain”, at least according to a CNN headline, with a Dutch member of the European Parliament noting that Australia has “the poorest standing on climate” of all the developed countries. This week has also seen a stark new Climate Council report, warning of increased security risks and decreased geopolitical influence for Australia if it does not reduce its emissions, while the defence department’s former head of preparedness Cheryl Durrant has warned that the nation has its “head in the sand” regarding the national security implications, calling for Australia to follow the United States in spelling out the risks. Doctors are urging the federal government to commit to more ambitious emissions-reductions targets, warning that the health of Australians is being put at risk, while farmers want stronger action too.

The warnings are no doubt only going to ramp up ahead of Glasgow, though there is nothing necessarily new contained within them. These sentiments have been aired since back when Secretary-General Cormann was in a position to actually do something about them. It’s become increasingly clear that Morrison is going to have to bring something firm to the table within just a few short weeks, after seven months of talking up net-zero carbon emissions “as soon as possible, preferably by 2050”. On Monday, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce indicated that “certain ideas have evolved” when it comes to striking a deal on net zero, though he refused to give any details about what those ideas might be. What the Liberal Party plans to trade away to finally be able to commit to that lacklustre target remains to be seen. The OECD survey, unfortunately, was silent on such recommendations.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“For the nation’s former highest law maker to claim ignorance of their financial aid is as insulting as Scott claiming ignorance of an alleged rape down the hall.”

Australian of the Year Grace Tame lays into former attorney-general Christian Porter over the anonymised contribution to his legal fees, noting that “there’s no way $1 million would be unconditional”.

“They said to me, loud and clear, they want to have a choice of vaccines. Well, I say, let’s give it to them.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces her state will join WA, SA and NT in offering the Pfizer vaccine to over-60s, even though it only just became available to (and is the only vaccine approved for) children – the same children she wants to see vaccinated before opening up.

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The expected shortfall of aged-care workers in the coming decade, with one of the country’s major aged-care providers warning that international border restrictions are beginning to cause workforce problems.

“At 70 per cent, if you’re not vaccinated, it will be a health order and the law that if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t attend venues on the roadmap. You can’t go into a hospitality venue. You can’t go to ticketed events unless you are vaccinated.”

Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirms that it will be against the law for unvaccinated people to enter certain venues when New South Wales reaches 70 per cent fully vaccinated, prompting several questions about the legality of such orders.

The list

“Standing in the middle of the colony, I understood how I’d passed by without noticing a single orchid. It was the scale. I had the scale all wrong. I was never going to see an orchid the way I’d been looking. And it wasn’t simply a case of whittling down my focus, of trying to spot something small. There was also an element of enchantment involved.”

“Lots of us use the internet to resolve factual disputes or queries; to jog our memories and revisit our past; to retain basic particulars of everyday life (addresses, phone numbers, to-do lists, cat gifs); to give step-by-step solutions to common practical obstacles. At least some of these functions are, or get close to, the core business of the mind. When we ship them off-skull, we’re not just opening up a new branch. Over time, we’re making the location of head office (pun fully intended) less clear.”

“The prime minister says there are ‘a lot of heroes of hindsight at the moment’. The real issue, though, is the complete absence of foresight. It’s an absence that marks almost every part of Morrison’s leadership – a total, crippling inability to engage with the future.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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