The Politics    Monday, September 27, 2021

A plan to have a plan

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via ABC News

Morrison foreshadows a “clean energy” roadmap, but will this really make a difference in the divided Nationals party room?

The never-ending “inching towards net-zero emissions by 2050” saga appears to be reaching a conclusion: the prime minister has joined the treasurer in talking up the economic imperative of not being left behind, while the Nationals are about to combust as they squabble over where they are going to fall on the decision. Scott Morrison may not yet have agreement from his party room on net zero, but he does have a “clean energy export plan” – or, as is so often the case with Morrison, a plan to have a plan. In an “exclusive”, The Australian revealed the PM is “preparing an integrated climate change plan”, one that will “more swiftly transition Australia’s energy exports from fossil fuels towards new low-emissions technologies and cleaner energy sources” – though the fawning report is rather thin on the details. Speaking to The Australian, Morrison leaned heavily on the economic arguments for taking action (arguments climate advocates have been making for years, literally), adding that he hoped this could be a bipartisan plan, while conveniently ignoring the fact that he can’t even get consensus on climate change from within his own government. This “plan” is, of course, as much for the Nationals as it is for voters, as Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy noted on the weekend. But how much impact will the plan really have on the more recalcitrant Nats, who have for so long insisted they couldn’t possibly sign up to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 without seeing one?

Much focus has been on the climate fight brewing within the junior Coalition party, as the issue that has long wedged Liberal leaders is now seemingly wedging the leader of the Nationals. Barnaby Joyce, who only a few months ago was returned to the leadership on the back of his willingness to push back against a net-zero target, has begun softening his language, indicating that the balance may have now tipped the other way. (It’s not yet clear what came out of today’s virtual partyroom meeting, which was expected to focus on the climate dispute.)

Former veterans’ affairs minister and pro–net zero MP Darren Chester, who on the weekend announced he would be taking “some time away” from the party room, has today been making the media rounds, visiting ABC News Breakfast and RN Breakfast to slam the “dysfunctional” leadership and to call for the Nationals to adopt a “credible policy” on climate change. But so too have the most staunch anti–climate action Nats. Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Senator Matt Canavan, both of whom spoke out against net zero over the weekend, continued their campaigns today. On Radio National, Pitt insisted that coal would be “around for decades”, saying that any move to support net zero would come down to who would pay the price, while Canavan appeared on 2GB to label net zero a “utopian target”. “Before we blindly pursue something like this, surely someone would show us the bill,” he said.

As much as he might call to see the bill, it doesn’t seem likely that Morrison’s “clean energy export plan” will have much sway over Canavan, who is “dead set against” net zero, and whose position hinges not on the cost, but on whether or not Australia gets to keep digging up coal. While there appears to be certain concessions Joyce might be willing to bend for, Canavan clearly won’t be agreeing to any plan that sees Australia phase out fossil fuels – something that Morrison hints at in his vague new plan to have a plan for a transition. (Of course, there is no mention of the word “coal” in News Corp’s so-called exclusive.)

After all, any “clean energy export plan” that doesn’t include a strategy to phase out coal – which experts say Australia must do ASAP, with wealthy nations required to stop using it by 2030 – wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on, especially not in the inner city Liberal seats Morrison is looking to save. As vague and flexible as Morrison likes to keep his roadmaps and announceables, there is no real climate action plan that will satisfy the likes of Canavan.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“Australia has a moral duty toward the people of Afghanistan and should not abandon them, particularly in light of alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers as documented in the Brereton Report.”

More than 100 prominent Australians have signed an open letter calling on the federal government to do more to assist the people of Afghanistan, including committing to an additional humanitarian intake of at least 20,000.

“We have done everything we can within our state jurisdiction.”

Blaming the feds, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian shows no intention of delaying reopening until all Australians with a disability have had the opportunity to be vaccinated – something called for in a scathing report from the disability royal commission.

Who polices the police?
As a law professor at the University of Sydney, Simon Rice went to observe a rally on campus. But then police moved in, and Simon was physically restrained, arrested and fined. When he tried to challenge the fine, he discovered a serious lack of accountability at the heart of the police force.

The upper limit of the “woefully inadequate” indicative budget for the government’s “Respect @ Work” portal. This is compared to the $3.8 million spent on the infamous “milkshake” consent website.

“We would like to see [at-home COVID-19 testing] available by Christmas if not well before.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt wants rapid antigen tests available for home use as soon as the Therapeutic Goods Administration has given approval, and “subject to effectiveness against Delta”.

The list

“I had been reading the Universal Declaration following difficult conversations with my son. Twenty-three years old and locked in a flat on the other side of the city, outside my permitted 5-kilometre radius of travel, he is angry. His generation will, I think, be angry. They are hobbled when they would otherwise be embarking on adult life. But my son’s anger transcends his own situation. I have basically bought into and accepted the public health justification for the restrictions on our liberties. He does not. This is no small thing between us.”

“When he successfully ran against independent Tony Windsor for the seat of New England in 2013, Joyce became the only federal politician to have won back a seat for his party in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. He fears the Nationals are sliding into irrelevance, but reckons he knows how to stop it. ‘You don’t do it by saying, “I’m a stooge that’s only going to vote the way I’m told to vote”,’ he says. ‘You do it by saying, “When the issue is right, I will vote on behalf of you.”’ If that means crossing the floor, or even just threatening to do so, Joyce says that’s not being a renegade, ‘that’s a democratic right’.”

“Sullivan says there was a ‘massive moral failure of leadership’ when Pell led the Australian church. The cardinal’s quiet return to Australia is being treated with suspicion by reformers. When asked, the church would not say why he was in the country. One progressive offered this explanation: ‘I presume he was back to stiffen the sinews of the bishops about the plenary, to make sure they didn’t make any decisions they shouldn’t make.’ Those decisions are on the future direction of the church.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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