Why Adani is a proxy war and campaigners need to focus on transition

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In the wake of the election result, the Adani mine is being labelled a proxy war, and a failed campaign to engage rural Queensland voters about the future.

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Credit: Dean Sewell
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What happened to the climate change election?

The finger pointing has begun essentially as soon as the election result became clear.

Had Labor failed to make clear its position on Adani and climate change?

Did the Stop Adani campaign, and its convoy spook voters in Queensland?

Did Clive Palmer run effective interference for the Coalition, channelling preferences back to LNP Queensland candidates?

The results of the election are likely to be a combination of all of these factors. It’s silly to suggest that Australian voters are one-dimensional, and that their vote, as a group, is swayed by a single issue.

But good communication is critical to electoral success, and the strengths of good policies can be lost if voters are unable to be sold on the merits of those policies.

Climate policy was clearly a big issue during the election campaign, and while the end result may not be reflective of the degree to which voters said it was an issue of concern, there are lessons to be learnt for how to find a way to make the issue resonate with voters when they are standing at the ballot box.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale, who saw all of his party’s incumbent parliamentarians re-elected on the weekend, albeit failing to pick up any of the additional seats they were hoping to gain in Victoria, sees a failure to engage with concerned voters on the transition away from fossil fuels.

“There are a number of factors around this election result, but the reality is that when it came to climate change, what we saw was a Labor Party not offer a clear enough alternative. Indeed, they said one thing to people in Queensland, a different thing in Victoria, and they weren’t trusted on the issue.” Di Natale told ABC’s RN Breakfast.

“What Labor needs to do, indeed what part of the Union movement needs to do, is to understand is that it is giving people false hope by not having a real, honest, frank conversation with them. And they see through it.” Di Natale said.

“When you have a real conversation, what that looks like is that ‘we are going to support you through this transition, we’re going to make sure every coal worker is looked after, that they have job opportunities, reskilling opportunities.’”

“That they are going to be supported through what is an inevitable and absolutely critical transition for this country”

“And we didn’t have that conversation. Only the Greens had it.”

The election campaign revealed a split between Unions on the question of Adani. Some Unions, including the National Union of Workers, embraced the Adani issue as an opportunity to talk about the future economy and the future for workers in Queensland.

However, this was contrasted by the position of the CFMEU, whose membership covers the mining sector, has openly supported the mine.

Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt concedes that Labor had failed to present a future vision for regional Queensland beyond coal.

In his own interview with RN Breakfast, Watt highlighted that the issue of the Adani mine had become a proxy war for a range of different issues for Queensland voters.

By failing to engage with the actual underlying issue that concerned voters, which is driven by concerns about the future Queensland economy, Labor saw disaffected voters in Queensland pushed to minor parties who ultimately funneled preferences back to the Coalition.

“Unfortunately, that narrative around coal completely dominated [in Queensland], and we were unable to break through”

“The problem around Adani is that it actually is not about one mine, it has become a proxy for the future of regional Queensland. For the Greens it has become a proxy for the future of coal, and if you’re living in regional Queensland, it is a proxy for whether you’ve got any future or any job in the future.”

“Frankly, I think Labor needs to do a much better job at outlining where the jobs are going to be coming from in regional Queensland as we do see the thermal coal market decline.”

Watt also agrees that Labor needs to move “to a more unambiguous position on Adani”, but refused to suggest what that might be.

ABC’s Vote Compass, which measured the level of support for the Adani Mine in Queensland, highlighted how the issue split voters. Amongst residents of ‘inner-metro’ regions of Queensland, 26% indicated support for the mine. This figure rose to 48% in rural Queensland, and just 38% of responders registered opposition to the mine.

With the Labor leadership shaping up to be a contest between left-faction stalwart Anthony Albanese, and right-faction leader Chris Bowen, Labor’s final position on the Adani coal mine is likely to reflect the result of the contest.

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