Less than two weeks out from the election and one of the fiercest policy battle fronts of the campaign, climate and energy, has gone eerily quiet. Well, at least the detail of the policy has.
Labor’s energy and climate spokesman Mark Butler has lamented the fact that – unlike in previous election campaigns – the Coalition government ministers have refused his invitations to debate climate and energy at the National Press Club.
The environment minister, Melissa Price, did not even respond to his letter from April 26 (in keeping with her policy of not responding or accepting media interviews). Energy minister Angus Taylor, a regular on Murdoch’s Sky News and in the Daily Telegraph, also refused the NPC invitation, saying only that any debate would have to be in western Sydney.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Butler noted that he did a televised debate with former environment minister Greg Hunt last time round, and other portfolios have done the same this time round.
Taylor replied that he won’t budge from the Sydney proposal.
Given that climate and energy are supposed to be front line issues, with an overwhelming majority agreeing in a Lowy Institute poll that the climate emergency is the nation’s No 1 threat, the lack of a detailed debate is frustrating, especially given the fact that the leader debates have barely touched on the issue, apart from shadow boxing around modelling.
Butler, meanwhile, told the 6th Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday, that the debate around climate and energy has hit ridiculously low levels.
“This campaign has had it all. I have spent five years in the health portfolio … and the worst thing I got called is a fish-slapper,” he said, adding that he had no idea what that particular insult meant.
“I’ve been accused of all manner of things over this campaign. …I’m going to destroy the meat pie, apparently. Sausages are going to be far too expensive to buy in this country.
“Night-time sport is going to go, the Aussie weekend is going to go; the utes of this country are not safe under a Labor government.
But Butler said that by far the most disturbing element of this election campaign had not been the Abbott-era hyperbole and rhetoric, but the misuse of modelling.
“The misuse of modelling by Brian Fisher’s ridiculous assumptions around the cost abatement, the cost of energy storage, the lack of a carbon farming sector, all of which underpins his “scary numbers.”
Butler also pointed to the modelling that was the subject of a front page the Daily Telegraph story on Tuesday, that contained “ridiculous and unrealistic assumptions” about what it would take for Australia catch up to the rest of the world on the shift to electric vehicles.
“We’ve got to get some rationality back into this debate,” he said. “I don’t expect it to happen between now and the 18th of May, but when we see what the UK has been able to do, when we see what New Zealand, over the ditch, has been able to do…
“At some point we’ve got to get over this madness, we’ve got to get over this silliness and recognise that this is an extraordinary opportunity for Australia, but most importantly, most solemnly, it’s a responsibility we have to future generations that we just have to deliver.”
As for delivering a state of bipartisan agreement on climate policy in Canberra, Butler isn’t holding his breath – not with the current make-up of the Coalition, anyway.
“You’re not going to get a consensus on climate change that Tony Abbott will agree with,” he told the Summit audience.
The biggest hope is that the opinions of Abbott and his merry band of clime deniers and coal power supporters go the way of the dinosaurs, as business and industry take the charge.
“The government might have 10 new coal-fired power stations on their desk – which Angus Taylor does have, from the underwriting (new energy generation) reverse auction, … but ask anyone in the energy sector… the course they’ve charted is irreversible.
“(And) I think once we start, finally, down the path of cleaning up our transport sector, that will also be irreversible given enough time to develop.
“There is a degree with which I think history is just passing Tony and his group by, and the real question, particularly if we win the election… will be how long it takes the Coalition party room to recognise that they are now increasingly out of step with community opinion and with business opinion as well.”