It is widely accepted that one of the key factors in the May 2022 federal election result was the Coalition’s unwillingness, throughout its nine years in office, to take any meaningful action to reduce Australia’s contribution to the emissions that cause climate change. Even some in Coalition ranks have said as much, eg Simon Birmingham.
Not only did the Coalition lose seats to Labor and the Greens, they also lost a swag of seats to independent candidates who campaigned strongly on climate change.
So, you’d think there might have been a change of tune by now, as well as signs of an effort to bring the relevant policies up to scratch. I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it? Well, let’s look at where they stand, five months on from their electoral humiliation.
Firstly, they opposed legislation to enshrine Labor’s commitment to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030. Why? Because that wasn’t consistent with the policy they took to the election and they received nearly as many votes as the ALP. So there!
Subsequently, they have continued to bad-mouth renewable sources of energy, especially those that involve sun or wind. (They daren’t criticise hydro because they initiated Snowy 2.0. Sadly, that project seems to be treading water.)
However, Dutton and his team have been positive about one type of electricity generator – nuclear power. Commentators are mystified as to why they’d be pushing this barrow when all the available evidence is that it can’t compete with renewables, even when you add in the cost of battery and other types of storage. It might be a point of difference with Labor but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
Just a couple of days ago, the opposition’s nuclear folly was joined by something even sillier. Responding to suggestions that the new Australian government will join more than 100 other nations by signing up for the Global Methane Pledge, the leader of the Nationals claimed that this would bring an end to the great Aussie BBQ and Dutton himself chimed in by saying it would lead to “a tax on cows”. Udderly laughable! (Methane released by cows and the like is a significant component of carbon emissions but work is progressing to reduce the volume through measures including dietary changes. Barbecued beef sausages will continue to be on sale outside Bunning’s stores for many years to come, not that I’m a fan!)
Beyond this pattern of opposing for opposing’s sake, it is possible to find some logic to Dutton’s approach to the energy/emissions nexus. As the estimable Katharine Murphy explained yesterday towards the end of her weekly round up of national politics for Guardian Australia, the opposition leader might be banking on two scenarios that, whilst being bad news for the country, would work to his advantage electorally.
The first scenario envisages Labor’s pledge to bring down the average cost of electricity through a massive boost to renewable power generation proving to be erroneous. The second, in part a factor in the first, is that Labor will fail to orchestrate all the infrastructure required to fully integrate the large, disparate renewable energy producers into the main grid system that supplies the main centres of population and industry outside Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
I have to admit that I believe the chance of these scenarios becoming reality is real; not likely but not impossible. Despite what the Greens would have you believe, Labor’s 43% emissions-reduction target is ambitious. The path to its achievement – preferably, its over-achievement – is not a done deal. This is the very worst of the legacy of the Morrison government and its predecessors – the situation is urgent and Labor begins from a long way behind after years of wilful neglect by the Coalition. So, hop in the electric ute – yes Virginia, they do exist – strap yourself in and hang on for a wild, if quiet ride.
Cheers for now