The Politics    Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The man with a ‘Plan’

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison committing to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison commits to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Image via ABC News

Listening to Morrison describe his net-zero “plan” was a deeply unsettling experience

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has released his long awaited, capital-P “Plan” to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and it contains (as anyone who has been paying attention could have predicted) no policy or strategy whatsoever. In this morning’s dispiriting press conference, it quickly became apparent that the government’s booklet-slideshow combo was nothing more than a vision board, peppered with meaningless symbols and slogans (“principles”) that you can expect to hear repeated nonstop between now and the next election. “The Plan is based on our existing policies,” the slides state, without a hint of shame, prompting one to wonder what exactly the PM has been grappling over so painfully with the Nationals these past two weeks. It contains no modelling, simply offering up unsubstantiated percentages proposing how much various categories will contribute to the goal, including the “Technology Investment Roadmap” (40 per cent), “Global technology trends” (15 per cent) and “Further technology breakthroughs” (15 per cent). It projects that Australia will “meet and beat” its dangerously lacklustre 2030 emissions target by achieving emissions cuts of up to 35 per cent, while still refusing to sign up to a more ambitious 2030 target. It was patently obvious to anyone listening that the government has no plans to do anything serious to drive towards net zero. But rather than acknowledge this, Morrison overcompensated by repeating the word “plan” ad nauseam, as if this would mean there actually was one. Grilled by journalists on when he would release modelling, costings or any of the things he continues to attack Labor over, Morrison waved away the requests, saying only “eventually”, before doubling down on the Opposition’s lack of a plan. It was, quite frankly, deeply unsettling to watch, with the Orwellian messaging made worse by the fact that we are talking about preventing apocalyptic warming of the Earth.

The newspeak continued in Question Time, where the PM waved printouts of his ridiculous slides around, talking up the “Plan” he had apparently set out “in great detail”, while accusing Labor of not having one. Asked by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese for the cost of his plan, Morrison claimed the government was investing $20 billion in (questionable) low-emissions technologies, and accused Labor of only using taxes – as if that $20 billion isn’t made up of Australians’ taxes. “Isn’t it the case that instead of delivering a climate change policy after almost one decade in government, today the prime minister presented a 15-page slideshow [with] no new policy?” Albanese asked. “No,” the PM answered, before sitting down, his only direct answer of the entire afternoon. Debate surrounding whether the now supposedly bipartisan net-zero goal should be legislated prompted Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to go on several rants against laws. “We wanted to make absolutely certain there was no legislation in there that enforced things,” he said. “We don’t believe in penalties. [Labor] believe in penalties, they believe the state reigns supreme over the individual, and we believe the individual rises above the state.” (“We believe in the inspiration of the individual and the smarts of the individual to rise above the enforcement of the Labor Party,” he later concluded.) Morrison, when asked whether he would be willing to support Labor’s policy for an electric car discount since he was now on board with net zero, offered up this strange pivot: “I don’t support Labor’s policy, they don’t have one, there is nothing to support!” (There is). His answer – along with his responses to every excruciating Dorothy Dixer – then dissolved into slogans, rambling about “technology not taxes” and “choices not mandates” in a truly nonsensical fashion that went far beyond the usual sloganeering.

At one point during Question Time, Joyce and former Nationals leader Michael McCormack were spotted peering at a phone together in the chamber – no doubt viewing a report concerning a leaked blow-up in the Nationals group chat over a video where Senator Matt Canavan, appearing as the Terminator, promises to “terminate” the net-zero target. It says a lot that this was among the least farcical things to happen today. A later attempt by Labor to suspend the standing orders in order to call out the government’s flimsy plan and legislate net zero by 2050 failed, it goes without saying. But they hardly needed it to succeed.

No one was expecting much from today’s net-zero announcement, especially following the Nats’ public displays over the past month. But the ludicrousness of the “Plan” is far worse than anyone imagined, falling far below the lowest expectations of even the government’s strongest critics. Morrison’s choice to make a mockery of the net-zero target may just turn out to be a gift to the Opposition. With News Corp, the Business Council of Australia and the vast majority of the public on side, it seemed that perhaps all the Coalition had to do to neutralise the climate wars and wedge Labor on a 2030 target was present a reasonable and mature effort at aiming for net zero. But the government couldn’t resist taking the piss.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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