The Politics    Monday, October 25, 2021

Net-zero detail

By Rachel Withers

National Party members David Littleproud, Barnaby Joyce and Bridget McKenzie. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Nationals are so proud of the concessions they have won for the regions that they are unwilling to share them

Mystery remains around what exactly the National Party secured in exchange for “in-principle support for the commitment” to “the goal” of net-zero emissions by 2050, with the Nats using pop culture references to justify their secrecy. “The first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club”, Senate leader Bridget McKenzie told Senate estimates this morning, when asked what the party got in return for its support. “What happens in our party room stays in the sanctity of that party room,” deputy leader David Littleproud told the ABC. Details have nonetheless started slipping out. It was reported that a fifth cabinet spot was part of the deal, with Resources Minister Keith Pitt to be elevated, though party leader Barnaby Joyce refused to say whether that was one of their demands. “That’s a decision for the prime minister,” he told RN Breakfast. Lo and behold, PM Scott Morrison has since announced Pitt’s return to cabinet, though he reportedly denied a request to add “managing the transition in regional communities” to Pitt’s portfolio. Joyce himself, who last night refused to say whether he backed net zero, and this morning claimed he was “100 per cent on board” with the target, is now widely reportedly to be one of the eight or nine Nats who spoke against it, along with McKenzie and Pitt – though all three will be required to publicly back the policy once it passes cabinet, or resign their positions. The one thing National leaders do seem willing to share is that they have secured a fantastic deal, claiming the regions are in a “vastly better” position following negotiations. But why, then, are its supposed wins such heavily guarded secrets, with punters likely to never know the full extent of the “private negotiated settlement” that has determined Australia’s climate policy?

That’s not the only way in which the government’s climate policy remains confoundingly opaque. In today’s particularly outrageous Senate estimates (which saw Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Stephanie Foster wink at government Senate leader Simon Birmingham during questions over Christian Porter’s blind donation), officials avoided multiple questions about the net-zero plan, including how it would be achieved, citing cabinet confidentiality or public interest immunity. Attempts to reveal the elusive “modelling” upon which Energy Minister Angus Taylor is basing the target were rejected, with government senator Zed Seselja repeating claims that the all-important modelling had immunity (the Senate last week passed an order for the modelling’s release, to little effect). “The answer is those policies will be released,” Seselja said, when asked when the government’s overdue electric vehicles strategy would be released, adding that the timing would be a matter for Taylor – the MP he was theoretically representing. Energy estimates was at one point even forced to break to deal with the fact that department officials weren’t answering questions regarding whether they had been consulted on Pitt’s controversial $250 billion loan facility demand, Guardian Australia reports, eventually agreeing that department officials should take the question. Over in Finance and Public Administration, meanwhile, Birmingham refused to confirm whether Pitt would be returned to the cabinet, just an hour before his elevation was announced by Morrison.

The lack of transparency continued in Question Time, where Labor attempted to grill the government over the deal, including multiple shots at freshly returned cabinet minister Pitt. Asked whether he had signed away his opposition to net zero for a seat at the cabinet table, Pitt accused Labor of being “all about digging up dirt but not the way the resources sector does”, before providing no real answer as to how he had found himself back in cabinet. Greens leader Adam Bandt was unable to secure a proper answer from Morrison over his failure to secure a stronger 2030 target; instead the PM accused Bandt of “talking down” regional and rural Australians. And despite the fact that his government has done everything it can to have its climate modelling and 2050 deal kept private, Morrison took every opportunity to rail against the Opposition for failing to offer costings on its climate plans, warning, superfluously, of “a re-run of Bill 2.0”. “Soon enough,” Morrison said, when pushed on when he would be releasing the plan he is supposedly taking to Glasgow for COP26 at the end of this week.

That, of course, is the same COP26 that Morrison originally wasn’t going to attend, because it was far more important to him to explain his emissions plan to Australians ahead of “people overseas at overseas conferences”. Now, apparently, the plan is highly classified, with Australians unlikely to find out what it contains before it is revealed on the world stage. Ultimately, nobody expects much from this net-zero plan, with the government’s refusal to commit to a higher 2030 target proving that the 2050 pledge is nothing but “symbolism”. But at the very least we ought to be able to see how it plans to achieve net zero, along with the concessions that went into achieving the deal.

“Such negligence can only be understood in the context of a government policy that insists the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum don’t matter.”

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul labels the growing COVID-19 outbreak at the Park Hotel in Melbourne a national scandal, with the failure to evacuate the refugees reflecting “deliberate indifference”.

“Mr Gaetjens indicated through the secretariat that he had made available the senior officials from the department who were best placed to assist the committee … therefore he is not here.”

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens did not show up for Senate estimates, and in doing so dodged questions about his never-ending inquiry into who knew about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

The billionaire and the conspiracy theorist
Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is back with a new leader: Craig Kelly. A former Liberal MP, Kelly is known for his controversial views, and says that under his leadership the UAP is stronger and bigger than ever.

The number of private members’ bills introduced in the House of Representatives today, a new record for the highest in one sitting.

“Attorney-General Michaelia Cash on Monday released an exposure draft of new legislation to create a binding privacy code for social media services, data brokers and other large online operators.”

The federal government has announced several policies “cracking down” on social media, including a code requiring parental consent for users under 16. Further legislation would give the eSafety Commissioner power to issue defamation notices to social media platforms.

The list

“Born and raised in Texas, Anderson has lived in Paris for the past seven years, yet nothing of his adopted home town appears to have rubbed off on him; he has about the same feel for France as some hick in Lubbock demanding you call them ‘Freedom fries’. Some colleagues have expressed surprise at this. I am not surprised. So solipsistic is his universe, so self-contained and self-referential, that I expect he would be precisely the same were he based in Shenzhen, Kinshasa or Nantucket.”

“China’s multibillion-dollar investments in the Pacific have brought hospitals, schools and other infrastructure as well as training for more than 6000 government personnel, but they have also put considerable pressure on Pacific nations to choose sides in the burgeoning battle for regional supremacy.”

“Using the Doherty modelling as a guide, it is clear there will be many COVID-19 cases in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people as Australia moves to a delicate balancing act between baseline or low-level public health measures and opening up. While the vaccines limit transmission and infection, they do not entirely prevent it.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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