The Politics    Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Morrison’s mandate

By Rachel Withers

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

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

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

The Coalition’s internal battle over a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 seems to be drawing to its inevitable conclusion, following yesterday’s declaration from Prime Minister Scott Morrison that it was ultimately a cabinet decision. Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, having yesterday railed that the Nats wouldn’t be rushed into net zero, conceded this morning that the prime minister had a “mandate” and the “prerogative” to decide on the policy, and could forge ahead without the junior Coalition party. The concession from Joyce feels big, as it all but admits that the Nationals don’t have the power to stop this going through, although Morrison has made it clear that he still wants them onside. It prompts speculation that a deal must be close at hand – otherwise why admit you’ve got no standing to be making demands? Joyce’s declaration that Morrison has a mandate to act on net zero was also strange considering this was the exact logic Morrison used in parliament yesterday against increasing the government’s 2030 targets – a decision that has disappointed both key allies and global leaders. “We said we would reduce emissions by 2030 by 26 to 28 per cent,” Morrison said, as justification for not setting a more ambitious target. He noted Labor’s proposal of a 45 per cent reduction by 2030 had been rejected by the Australian people at the last election. It’s not clear how anyone in the Coalition could claim a “mandate” in this space, considering that at the last election it ran mostly on Labor’s plan being too expensive, although the fact that most Australians now want to see net zero could very well be considered a directive. But if there is a national mandate for net zero by 2050, why are the Nationals still demanding concessions to remove their (minority) veto?

Liberals and Nationals lined up to deliver their standard lines on the net-zero debate to the media this morning, in what is fast becoming an exasperating ritual. Resources Minister Keith Pitt (a key Nationals holdout) told RN Breakfast that the junior partner was still not convinced, but he was closely followed on the same program by “moderate” Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who insisted the climate wars were coming to an end. LNP Senator Matt Canavan was, as usual, marching to the beat of his own drum, warning things could get “ugly” if Morrison tried to ram through the target. Despite all the public chatter surrounding net zero, however, today’s long-awaited joint Coalition partyroom meeting didn’t directly address the target, Guardian Australia reports. Morrison and Joyce both talked about the need to crack down on social media giants, while Morrison talked up growing vaccination rates, noting that the federal government had successfully avoided getting dragged into “short-term tactical contests” on the rollout (also known as valid criticism over its devastatingly slow start). Canavan, however, was keen to return to the subject of environmental mandates, arguing that the Coalition actually had a pro-coal mandate from the 2019 election. The Coalition, he noted, had backed Adani, despite negative polling. “We approved it, and when Bob Brown turned up we stood by our values, and we went on to win an election,” Canavan said. He’s not wrong.

Labor, meanwhile, believes there might be an opportunity to set new mandates sooner than expected. Leader Anthony Albanese told his caucus that the PM might call an election for December 11, potentially announcing it just after he returns from the Glasgow climate summit. “At heart of the Morrison government is a focus group,” he said, adding that Labor would be ready for the election “whenever it happens”.

Today’s Question Time also seemed focused on mandates, with Morrison harping on about Labor’s defeat at the 2019 election at every opportunity – something Speaker Tony Smith shut him down for. When asked by Labor’s climate spokesperson Chris Bowen whether the government would release its confidential roadmap modelling (which reportedly shows gas and resources exports exceeding current levels by mid-century), Morrison insisted he would be “very transparent” with the Australian people about his commitments, “unlike Labor”, which hadn’t been able to explain its costings at the last vote. (Bowen’s question, funnily enough, echoed Canavan, who earlier tweeted, “If this modelling is so good why does it have to remain a secret?”). Asked when he would release the modelling, Morrison claimed it would be soon, adding, “I suspect we will do it a lot sooner before they make their mind up about the 2030 commitment.” When questions finally moved on from “the modelling”, Labor was more than happy to remind the PM of the things he had said during and prior to the last election. “When the prime minister arrives in Glasgow in a fortnight’s time, will he tell the meeting ‘electric vehicles will end the weekend’, ‘batteries to store energy are as useful as the Big Banana and the Big Prawn’ and ‘renewable energy targets are nuts’?” Labor MP Milton Dick asked. “I don’t accept the caricature that the member has put forward,” an affronted Morrison replied.

Electoral mandates are often tricky things to discern, with politicians regularly claiming elections were won or lost on whatever policy they like. Morrison certainly has the power to push ahead with net zero here. But it’s hard to say he has a mandate, whether on the 2030 target or the 2050 one, having dramatically backflipped on the need for strong climate action at all (along with his friends at News Corp and the Business Council of Australia). It’s rather convenient for the government that it can claim authority in whatever it decides. But there’s no doubt that the Coalition’s extremely broad church will deliver a whole new range of conflicting mandates should it win the coming election.


“No, Mr Kelly, GPs are not in it for the money. We are delivering vaccines to protect our patients … We deserve more respect than this.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price calls out United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly, after he tweeted that doctors were making “$$$” from vaccines.

“Anthony Albanese needs to back these new laws this week for the safety of the community – or explain to all Australians why he will not.”

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has reintroduced a bill allowing the government to cancel or refuse visas on character grounds, as the government attempts to wedge Labor on “national security”.

Closing the vaccination gap
While the national vaccination rate continues to surge, many vulnerable groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, are being left behind in the race to get vaccinated. Today, Rick Morton on the disproportionate burden Indigenous communities have borne during this pandemic.

The number of Australian AstraZeneca doses set aside for donations to Pacific nations last week – down from 308,000 and 200,000 in the two weeks prior, and the lowest number of doses since June.

“Australia is set to ratify an Asian mega trade pact that will create the world’s largest single trading bloc and help boost export opportunities for farmers and other businesses.”

The Labor caucus has reportedly agreed to support legislation for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, despite the ACTU arguing it would encourage further exploitation of migrant workers.

The list

“What a writer de Kretser is. Her opening to ‘Lili’ – ‘That was the year we went to Sardinia to meet John Berger’s mistress’ – is worthy of Camus (‘Mother died yesterday’). Whoosh. Off we go into some extraordinary world, remote from the one we inhabit daily. John Berger? He wasn’t dead then. Paris 40 years ago is as remote as Camus’s Algeria.”

“In my view, John Howard’s decision to commit Australia to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is grounded far less in rational calculation and far more in sentimental dreaming than he or his supporters either understand or would be willing to admit. In preparing for this essay I have read dozens of Howard’s speeches on the US alliance. Unless he is an extraordinary deceiver, what emerges most clearly is romantic attachment to American civilisation and a vision of Australia’s future as ally of the great American Empire. Because of his hostility to republicanism and his love of cricket, Howard is often portrayed as an Anglophile. This seems to me quite wrong. He is an Americanophile.”

“It is not clear exactly who leaked the document. Was it the environment minister? Her office? Or did it come from elsewhere in the government? Whoever the culprit, their actions were improper. In an apparent desire to amplify the Morrison government’s attacks on judicial interventions in climate policy, they broke court rules.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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