Written by Mitch Collier, Media and Communications Consultant
One of Australia’s longest running policy sagas has taken yet another dramatic twist this past month. Climate change policy has bedevilled each federal government since John Howard occupied the Prime Ministership.
Kevin Rudd was seen by many to have lost credibility when he dropped his Emissions Trading Scheme policy in 2010; Julia Gillard never recovered from implementing a Carbon Tax without a mandate; and Malcolm Turnbull lost the Liberal leadership twice over an inability to take the party room with him on climate policy.
The crux of the issue has been concerns over a warming planet and the impact that would have on Australia versus the fact that coal is Australia’s biggest export and the domestic jobs provided by the resources sector. Time will tell if this latest iteration of the ‘climate wars’ marks a bipartisan consensus moving forward or the destruction of yet another Prime Minister.
What is without doubt is that Scott Morrison has certainly changed his tune compared to years gone by. As Treasurer, he once famously brought a lump of coal into parliament and opposed Labor’s policy of net zero by 2050 at the last federal election. His conversion to net zero is arguably the biggest political backflip since Paul Keating advocated or GST as Treasurer only to then oppose it as Prime Minister on the way to winning an unlikely victory in 1993.
The Coalition finalised the policy following the Nationals holding a week-long discussion to thrash out their position and seek compromises. On Tuesday this week, the Prime Minister and Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, unveiled a $120 billion investment in regional infrastructure, renewable energy projects, and low-emissions technology. The Government is running on a mantra of ‘technology not taxes’ to distinguish their approach from Labor and the Greens.
It will be interesting to see if there is a backlash against the government in regional seats, particularly in Queensland. In 2019, the usually razor-thin marginals of Capricornia and Flynn swung wildly to the LNP. George Christensen in Dawson received a double-digit 2PP swing, while the LNP convincingly won the Townsville seat of Herbert off Labor. All these results were considered to be primarily due to strong opposition to Labor’s emissions reduction policy and equivocation on Adani. Time will tell if voters in these electorates feel as though the LNP has sold them out and they drift to parties such as One Nation, Katter, or Palmer United Party.
This could also present a political trap for Labor. Although for both major parties are at one on the 2050 target of net zero, there could still be a difference on the respective 2030 targets. Anthony Albanese as Opposition Leader jettisoned the ambitious policy Labor took to the last election of a 2030 emissions reduction of 45 per cent based on 2005 levels. He now has two choices: re-commit Labor to a larger 2030 target above the Government’s 26-28 per cent; or fall in line with the Government’s approach. If he chooses the former he risks allowing the Prime Minister to argue Labor’s policy is more expensive, if he opts for the latter Labor could come under siege from the Greens in inner-city metropolitan seats.
The last 15 years have demonstrated just how electorally volatile climate policy can be. Only one thing is for certain, no one can safely predict where it will be in another 15 years and some would argue that is the biggest problem of all.