What does the government really want in terms of environmental and climate change outcomes, aside from a clear desire for a further term in office? Listening to the Prime Minister speech, announcing 2 Billion $A over 10 years for the revamping of Direct Action under the new name of a Climate Solutions Fund gives no clarity to this question.
Since he took the leadership, the PM has been repeating, ad nauseum, his mantra that Australia will meet it 2030 obligations ‘in a canter’. If we were expected to believe this, why does he need to spend more money?
The truth of course is that far from meeting the obligation in a canter, emissions have been increasing, not decreasing while the Direct Acton Plan has been in force; this year the highest level since 2011. (see https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/dec/13/australias-carbon-emissions-highest-on-record-data-shows) Given it is now to be extended, adorned with a more glamorous name, why should Australians have any confidence that the result is going to be any different? In the meantime a considerable amount of tax-payer money will have been spent to aid the Coalition look as if it is serious about climate change, while in fact doing nothing.
Direct Action pays for many initiatives that should be happening anyway. Increasing carbon retention in soils should be happening anyway. Planting trees should be happening anyway. Taking steps to be more efficient in the use of energy should be happening anyway. Stopping the clearing of virgin scrub should be happening anyway. How much of the ‘gain’ attributed to the strategy would have (should have) happened anyway?
Several important matters are simply avoided in this statement. First, if environmental issues are important why has the government treated the issue with contempt, refusing on multiple occasions to agree a workable energy policy. Why has Melissa Price been made the environment minister when clearly she has no meaningful commitment to the issue. She has been silent and invisible over some traumatic summer months. Why has the government treated international conferences on climate change with disdain, sending lower ranked representatives and seeking to minimise responsibility in relation to other countries. Rather than ensuring Australia makes the smallest commitment it can get away with, given the precariousness of our continent to climate change, we should be maximising our commitment, in large part to put pressure on other countries to do far more. The one statement Morrison makes that is true, is that Australia cannot, on its own, make the continent safer from the impact of Climate change. If we are serious we would not be cobbling together figures that suit us best in an audit, including bringing forward ‘credits’ from the Kyoto agreement, we would be setting targets to ensure that every year our emission reduction exceeds the year before.
It is great that money is to be spent on a connector from Tasmania so that its abundant hydro energy can be used as a battery on the mainland. It is also great that money is to be expended on increasing the electric car fleet.
But the one single, tangible and effective requirement is simply not on the table – an energy policy through which carbon is priced. There are many mechanisms to do this, the NEG is one of them, probably not the best, but perhaps politically the most possible.
Scott Morrison is recycling Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott did Australia and the world enormous disservice when he exercised the levers of power. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister wants to use the same lever. If he is about being ‘fair-dinkum’, this speech leaves him naked, without any clothing of integrity with which to adorn himself.