The make-up of the new Senate has been finalised and it is grim news for anyone hopeful of more reasoned debate from Australia’s upper house on climate science and policy, and renewable energy.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party has won four seats, including that of Malcolm Roberts, the “project leader” of the Galileo Movement, whose primary purpose in life in recent years has been to declare climate science a hoax and to call for “investigations” into the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.
On learning of his election on Thursday, Roberts told a media conference: “We need an investigation into the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology … there is not one piece of empirical evidence anywhere, anywhere, showing that humans cause, through their carbon dioxide production, effect in any way climate [change].”
Roberts’ views already have strong supporters in radio personalities such as Alan Jones, who remains patron of the Galileo Movement, its website says, and former advisor Andrew Bolt. Its current advisors include well known climate deniers Lord Monckton, Jo Nova and Ian Plimer.
They now have a voice in the Senate with parliamentary privilege. On the ABC Radio National Breakfast program on Friday, Roberts was still railing against the UN “corruption” and the “trillions of dollars” being “scammed” from carbon credit schemes. He says carbon dioxide is a plant food and cannot affect level of greenhouse gas emissions.
He says he is determined to dismantle all Australia’s policies on greenhouse emissions, which includes climate policies and renewable energy policies, such a they are.
He joins not just three fellow One Nation senators, but also the returning Senators Bob Day and David Lleyonjhelm, who were key players in the Senate inquiry which tried to nobble the wind energy industry. And who also do not accept climate science or like renewable energy. And they have plenty of supporters in the Coalition.
Nick Xenophon, whose team has three Senators, is not a big fan of wind energy either, but the ability of the Greens to retain nine of their 10 seats means that proposed changes to legislation, like the Coalition’s push to scrap the unallocated $1.3 billion in funds for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, could be stopped.
That could be the one piece of good news from the new Senate make-up. But it is no sure thing. ARENA was saved by Labor, the Greens and some of the independents that no longer sit in the Senate, but Labor indicated before the election that it would also scrap $1 billion of ARENA funds if elected (keeping $300 million for solar tower and storage and community energy projects).
It is not clear if Labor will support the Coalition’s changes to ARENA.
Xenophon’s position on ARENA is also not clear. We asked the NXT spokesperson on the party’s position and it appears that there isn’t one at the moment.
But it would be extraordinary if Labor and NXT joined together in voting for ARENA to be scrapped, particularly given the fact that these three parties say they take climate change seriously, and all want much higher greenhouse gas emission targets than currently offered by the Coalition.
But, as others have noted, Turnbull now finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, with little room to move. His own Coalition, and his own Cabinet is deeply divided – between the more progressive and the Far Right; between those who accept climate science and climate deniers; and between supporters of renewable energy and its critics.
Turnbull has an option to increase Australia’s renewable energy target in 2017, when the Coalition is committed to a review. There is enough common ground between the policies laid down by Greg Hunt and what Labor now proposes, and Xenophon has long supported, that some sort of agreement could be reached.
But while the likes of Josh Frydenberg note that few in the Coalition pay attention to the details of climate policy, he would have noted from the savage reaction to his observation that renewable energy was not to blame for the recent South Australian energy “crisis”, that they are certainly alive to the prodding of fossil fuel interests.
In the wash-up, Labor has gained a seat and the Greens have lost one. The Coalition is down three, and gone are John Madigan, Dio Wang, Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus.
On the cross benches now are the Hansonites, the three NXTs, Leyonjhelm, Day, Jacquie (let’s have nuclear) Lambie and Derryn Hinch, whose online party platform makes no mention of climate change.
And then there is another, undeclared political party – the Institute of Public Affairs – which on Friday, according to Crikey – was celebrating the success of its current and former members – Day, Leyonhjelm, James Paterson and Tim Wilson (the latter two standing as members of the Liberal Party).