The timing of the federal Coalition’s attack on good policy, good science and good technology is rarely random. Think of how and when Malcolm Turnbull was deposed by Tony Abbott as Liberal Party leader ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit, and then as prime minister by Scott Morrison in August, 2018. Think of the deliberate moves the Coalition made to scrap the carbon price and the relentless attacks on every institution and policy instrument put in place to support the transition to clean energy.
Saturday, July 17, was the seventh anniversary of the day Australia’s carbon price was abolished, a day indelibly etched on the minds of many – not just for the bloody minded stupidity of the repeal, but the scenes of joyful celebration from members of the Coalition government, some of whom would still seek to pass themselves off as “moderates”.
Former Greens deputy leader Christine Milne noted that anniversary with a tweet on Saturday, remembering the tears she shed at the time, and the cheering and backslapping from the Coalition. The conservatives are still utterly unrepentant.
So it was no coincidence to read on this seventh anniversary that Barnaby Joyce had declared there is “net zero” chance that he or his National Party – who now represent only the mining moguls who insist on keeping coal in the Coalition – will support Australia setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
And it is not a random thought. The federal Coalition’s position on just about everything to do with climate and policy is baked in denial, and a complete rejection of expert advice, in direct contrast to the efforts on Covid-19.
The federal Coalition laughs dismissively at new technologies. It still clearly hates wind and solar, and refuses to even concede that battery storage can do what it does. It dismisses the market operator’s call to make the grid ready for 100 per cent renewables as “absolute nonsense”, and it dreams up the most ridiculous claims about the impacts of electric vehicles.
The federal Coalition wants to continue burning coal for decades without recognising its impact on the environment and the ever shrinking carbon budget. It wants to drive its fossil fuel vehicles for ever without acknowledging that many of the world’s biggest car makers probably won’t be making them in 10 years time.
The federal Coalition insists that Australia has done more than most countries on cutting emissions, able to point only to an accounting trick to cloud the fact that emissions from economic activity have gone up, not down. Many Coalition MPs still do not accept the climate science. They won’t even admit there’s anything much wrong with the Great Barrier Reef.
The Coalition ignores the deadly heatwaves and devastating fires that have raged across north America and Siberia in recent weeks, and Australia in the summer of 19/20, and last week’s deluge in Europe. It attacks the courts for daring to suggest that the environment minister should factor in the impact on the environment when considering approvals for coal projects. It funnel billions of taxpayers money to fossil fuel projects and suggests that anyone who is not supportive is a traitor to the Australian economy. Its song books and hymn sheets and talking points appear to be sourced only from the far-right Murdoch media.
The world is turning. It’s still too slow to meet the 1.5°C target, but the pace is starting to quicken. The response to the floods in Europe has been to call for even more ambitious climate efforts, over and above the new “fit for 55” proposal unveiled this past week, with its proposed ban on new fossil fuel cars by 2035 and the implantation of carbon border taxes.
The US is contemplating doing the same. Australian businesses, far from being prepared, now face the prospect of paying duties to international governments to maintain access to those markets. Finely crafted policies that would have seen Australians benefit from revenues earned from polluter payments, are now buried — too politically toxic even for Labor to embrace.
The question is, can Australia still protect itself and seize the opportunities from the transition of three trillion dollar global industries – electricity, liquid fuels and cars – to clean technologies with a federal government living and acting in a state of denial?
The states are pedalling hard to keep up. Be they Liberal or Labor, or in the case of the ACT still in partnership with the Greens, they are seeking to implement policies that reflect the science, the rapid advance of technology innovation, expert advice and the weight of capital.
The NSW Liberal government has a roadmap to replace its ageing coal fleet and now has the most progressive policies to support electric vehicles, the South Australia Liberal government aims to reach net 100 per cent renewables (wind and solar) by 2030, and possibly five times that much in the decade that follows to seize those opportunities.
Clearly, it is not conservative ideology that is getting in the way of progress and action. It’s plain stupidity. In the federal sphere, we get Joyce, now deputy PM again, and trying to compare the assessment of net zero emissions policy to choosing what to have for lunch at the local pub. You can’t make a choice unless you can see the menu and the prices, he told ABC Insiders on Sunday.
It’s totally incoherent, but indicative of a government that thinks and acts like it’s in Opposition, possibly because that’s exactly where it finds itself in respect to reality. Joyce and the Coalition trade in alternative facts: they are not the punters coming in for the meal, they’re supposed to be the government, or in Joyce’s folksy analogy, the pub owner. It’s their job to set the menu.
But imagine how hard that is to comprehend when the key players from the fossil fuel lobbies that helped bring down the carbon price now have a central role in policy formulation, and the prime source of news and opinion is from Murdoch media’s Sky After Dark. Or finds itself, as some commentators now openly suggest, indentured to fossil fuel billionaires.
As for the rest, as Malcolm Turnbull noted in a podcast interview with Alan Kohler last week, everyone knows what needs to be done, they just don’t know how to get it done and get or stay elected. Milne’s tears of despair and frustration aren’t and won’t be the only ones to be shed.