People’s Park and the warnings we had; 15th May 1969

Born on April 20, during its first three weeks People’s Park was used by both university students and local residents, and local Telegraph Avenue merchants voiced their appreciation for the community’s efforts to improve the neighborhood.[7][11] Objections to the expropriation of university property tended to be mild, even among school administrators.

However, Governor Ronald Reagan had been publicly critical of university administrators for tolerating student demonstrations at the Berkeley campus.[12] He had received popular support for his 1966 gubernatorial campaign promise to crack down on what the public perceived as a generally lax attitude at California’s public universities. Reagan called the Berkeley campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants.”[12][13] Reagan considered the creation of the park a direct leftist challenge to the property rights of the university, and he found in it an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise.

On Thursday, May 15, 1969 at 4:30 a.m., Governor Reagan sent California Highway Patrol and Berkeley police officers into People’s Park, overriding Chancellor Heyns’ May 6 promise that nothing would be done without warning. The officers cleared an 8-block area around the park while a large section of what had been planted was destroyed and an 8-foot (2.4 m)-tall perimeter chain-link wire fence was installed to keep people out and to prevent the planting of more trees, grass, flowers, or shrubs.

From wikipedia

It’s not a new story at all, as Leon Rosselson writes in his lyrics about events hundreds of years earlier.  It seems our lords and masters freak out if we start to take action that implies We. Don’t. Need. Them.

And where does this come from?  When I was in Sydney the other week I bought two books, both published in 1970, that had photos from the People’s Park.  Here are the covers. Once I’ve read the books, I’ll blog.

1970 protect earth front cover

1970ecocatastrophe front cover

8 reasons not to use the term ‘neo-liberalism’

I went to a conference (see my critique here) that had some nuggets of gold. One of them was a short and engaging presentation by one Bill Dunn. There’s a longer paper that I hope to link to, but for now, based on scribbled notes, here are those 8 reasons

1. The term is used so widely as to be impossibly vague
2. Internal (international) experiences of social change are too dissimilar to have the same label (cited Andrew Glynn, Captialism unleashed)
3. Term of abuse/opprobrium – could just as easily substitute ‘nasty’ or ‘horrid’ used almost exclusively by the academic left
4. Our opponents don’t accept the term
5. Most folks don’t speak ancient Greek – what doe neo’ mean…
6. Nothing new in neoliberalism. There’s some complicated maths, but basically it’s the same asocial methods/assumptions. Old practices in new bottles
7. Nothing liberal in neolieralism
8. It’s politically disabling, in that it has you arguing for softer forms of (old, social democratic) capitalism

I am ambivalent about this – I am in a [currently stalled] reading binge on Neoliberalism (David Harvey is a good starting point, btw), but there was sense in what Dunn said.

What do you think?

‘Resistance’ rituals: “Historical materialism” or the material of history

You’d think an academic conference – attended by people with the willingness to think and criticise, and a hunger for a transformed world – would be looking at the questions of what what went wrong, of how the ‘revolutionary’ fervour of “1968” gave us not the new Jerusalem, but the new Las Vegas. ‘Neo-liberalism’ (see another post on this – there was a good presentation at the conference on why not to use the term) is in the ascendant. Life may be much better for ‘minorities’ (women, people of colour, non-heterosexuals – especially those with citizenship) than it was 50 years ago, but if you can read a Keeling Curve and the emissions trajectories, you know that on the seriously big item – climate change –  ‘we’ failed.

But academic conferences have – like any human gathering – unspoken (even unconscious) rules and routines. Some people, the chosen, sit at the front and read out things they have written (god forbid they ever simply film themselves doing this and put it on youtube). Everyone else since in dutiful rows, and waits for the opportunity to stick up their hand to ask a question. Sometimes those questions are self-serving, or sycophantic, or mini-speeches because they couldn’t get the organisers to let them sit at the front, or they did but didn’t get enough of a feed when they were at t’front.) There are short breaks, during which time people who know each other (and perhaps like each other) catch up. Newbies are basically left to fend for themselves. This goes on all day (or all week. Sometimes a day can feel like a week).

I spent parts of Friday and Saturday at one of these things. My wife, far smarter than I, skipped the whole thing. I am not so smart.

I asked the same question twice. On Friday I said words to the effect ‘Assuming that you are right about the benefits of decentralisation, horizontaility’ etc, and given that this critique of high-energy mass society was made by Murray Bookchin, Lewis Mumford, Barry Commoner and others as far back as the mid 60s- Gregory Bateson warned about climate change at the 1967 Dialectics of Liberation Congress – then how come we lost? Not ‘what can we do differently’ because I think we are fucked, but ‘what did we do wrong?’

I got two answers
a) we used money
b) but there is an eco-village in Spain with 900 people.
[I genuinely don’t think I am being unfair to the people speaking. They will probably disagree]

Yesterday I offered the panellists a magic wand if they could change on thing about the culture of the left that makes it so unwelcoming to new people.

Two of the three panellists engaged

The first said we need a better understanding of the social circumstances/viewpoints, so that we (some Gramscian Trotskyist elite?) “can intervene”.

The second said she wasn’t sure, but that she’d like to see “us being more generous to each other”, that we should be more serious about ideas, and that activism was affected by the tyranny of the busiest (my term) – that the ‘correct position’ was being decided by whoever did the most activism (“what would you know, you’ve not been at the last 3 rallies”).

While I have a lot of sympathy for this critique, I was also able to imagine someone who was between placard-painting and flyer-printing sneering ‘so, you’re saying that the main change to the left is that you- you ivory tower layabout – need to be in charge and then everything will be fine? Srsly?’

So what is going on with the silence about examining the failure of the ‘left’? Why are movement intellectuals not engaging?
Let’s get rid of some potential answers;

  • They are not smart enough to examine the problem. No.
  • They don’t believe there is a problem. No, they mostly do. You talk to them in private, and many concede things are stuffed.
  • They don’t believe we can do anything about ‘left’ culture. This would be odd, and incoherent, given they are trying to change broader culture, a much bigger task.

I think there is something far more depressing going on. A critique of the left and its cultures and rituals would cost friendships and career opportunities. A critique of how we do things would be an implicit (or explicit) criticism of the ways of doing of our friends, allies and ourselves had used for years/decades. That would be very very confronting, even if delivered in the mother of all praise sandwiches. And the opportunities to speak at conferences , rallies, meetings etc would dry up.  You’d stop getting invited to parties.  You’d be labelled a splitter, a sectarian, mentally unwell.
It is far safer, therefore, to denounce MultiNational Corporations, Capitalism, NeoLiberalism, Tony Abbott, David Cameron etc etc etc, than to take a look at ourselves and go ‘hmm’ what have we been getting wrong, all these decades.

“What is to be done?” as someone once said (I forget who).

My basic line is that the only way to keep pressure on elites, and open up policy-making space that neoliberalism and bureaucracy have been shutting down systematically [there never was a golden age] is to build movements that grow, learn, organise and win.

For work not to fall on a small group that becomes overworked, bitter, cynical, factional, you need constant influxes of new people, and ways for everyone to fit their activism around the fluxs of life (children, jobs, parents, hobbies).

To do that, you need to make a movement organisation credible, welcoming and a space where busy and/or not terribly confident people can feel that they have at least a toe-hold.

However, most movement events are pretty unwelcoming for ‘newbies’ (the old hands simply cannot see this, they are the proverbial goldfish that says ‘what water?’) and there is the old problem of the only way to be involved is to come to endless meetings that ramble, that offer no opportunity for ‘legitimate peripheral participation’.

A couple of VERY simple things that could have been done at the Historical Materialism conference, for literally no money and very little time-

Keep the speakers to time (if we can’t share out an hour equitably, why should anyone believe we have the global answers?!)


Have a two minute ‘speak to the person next to you’ thing at the start of each session, making it easier for newbies to get chatting during the breaks.

Have a ‘before we go into questions, turn to the person next to you. If you have a question you want to ask, get feedback, hone it’ thing. This will increase the number of questions from, for example, women.


Will these things get implemented? Almost certainly not, because I am clearly just some crazy malcontent. So it goes.


See also

A short video about ego-fodder

8th July, 1996 – the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network first mentioned (I think)

Did I ever mention I do a blog about climate history (with a bias to Australia and the US)?

According to (my ability to search) Factiva, on this day in 1996 came the first mention (by name) of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, in an article called

When green and gold don’t mix

The Australian Financial Review, 8 July 1996

Australian industry will argue this week that proposed greenhouse measures will slow growth in the global economy, with Australia among the countries that would be hardest hit by a fall in trade.

This was at the second COP, held in Geneva. By this time pretty much every developed country bar Australia was pushing for some kind of emissions cuts to be agreed at the third COP, to be held in… Kyoto…

Meanwhile, the following year, another bosses’ union, the  US Business Round Table sent letter to Chuck Hagel, supporting his senate resolution (the 95-0 one), claiming “the science is less than compelling”

July 7th, 1997 – Australian Foreign Minister explains facts of life on #climate

The Government’s position was explained in a speech given by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, in the lead up to the Kyoto Conference in 1997, in which he stated:

A significant proportion of the Australian economy is currently geared toward the production of emission intensive products. As a result, the abatement costs in Australia are likely to be larger than in other countries that have lower reliance on emission intensive outputs. 84

After discussing the importance of emission intensive industries in the Australian economy and Australia’s linkages with rapidly developing economies in Asia, the Minister said the “only target that Australia could agree to at Kyoto would be one that allowed reasonable growth in our greenhouse emissions”.

  1. Downer Australia and Climate Change, Address by The Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the ‘Global Emissions Agreements and Australian Business Seminar’, Melbourne, 7 July 1997 (Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra: 1997).

Macintosh, A. (2008) Domestic Influences on the Howard Government’s Climate Policy: Using the Past as a Guide to the Future. 11 Asia Pac. J. Envtl. L. 51  Page 68-9


The Australian Climate Roundtable – what, who, why and what does it all mean? #climateroundtable

UPDATE: See this EXCELLENT piece by Ian Dunlop on how the Australian elites have fundamentally failed us on climate change

[minor corrections spotted by eagle-eyed people, and corrected]

The Australian climate policy soap opera is a bit like the TV show Neighbours. It’s been going since the late 80s. It survived the departure of some key characters. There have been times when it got quite ridiculous, times when hardly anyone was watching, and that you might in fact be wasting your time. And, just like Neighbours, you’re never that far from a new episode.

On Monday 29th of June, after a year of secret meetings, a new alliance was announced. The ‘Australian Climate Roundtable’ is made up of 9 groups – some green, a trade union and social care body and four business lobbies. It has a bland ‘statement of principles’ and its ultimate aim is to “to reset the tumultuous debate and try to establish a civil and constructive discussion”(1)

As much for me as you, gentle reader, I will try to situate the group in the context of recent (2009 onward) episodes of the soap opera (no, not Neighbours), and take some guesses at the motivations of the participants.
As for the likely impact of the group. Well, I will come to that, but the tl:dr is – ‘it ain’t earth-shaking’. Or saving.

The Roundtable is made up of the following groups;

Australian Conservation Foundation – set up in the mid 1960s by establishment figures, the ACF has shifted (a bit) to the ‘left’. It specialises in forming precisely these sorts of broad coalitions. For example, in April 2006 ago a group the ACF had brokered released a report called the “Business Case for Early Action on Climate Change.” (you could quibble over whether action on climate change almost twenty years after the scientists started raising serious alarm is ‘early’).

The Climate Institute – set up in 2005, during the dark days of Prime Minister John Howard’s until-then-successful efforts to keep climate change in the ‘too hard/too unnecessary/too unfair-on-Australia/technology will save us all’ basket. Crucially, the ten million that the Climate Institute was set up with is mostly gone, and the latest annual report is sombre about its future.

WWF- Australia – a corporate-friendly elite lobbying group that had worked with Howard during his dark days, much to the dismay of other greens (see ‘Taming the Panda’), but has been slightly less terrible since 2004 or so

Australian Council of Trades Unions – the peak trade union body, which had made some of the right noises in the late 80s/early 90s, produced a policy that may have been the first trade union statement in the world, and worked with ACF on a ‘Green Jobs Unit’ in the early 90s, before having to focus on core business during the long reign of Howard and his union-destroying habits.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is, to quote it, “the peak body of the community services and welfare sector and the national voice for the needs of people affected by poverty and inequality. Our vision is for a fair, inclusive and sustainable Australia where all individuals and communities can participate in and benefit from social and economic life.”

There are four business lobby groups/trade associations

Business Council of Australia – established in 1983 as a ‘peak body’ for big business, consciously modelled on US corporate political mobilisation of the 1970s, the BCA had taken a keen interest in environmental regulation in the late 80s and early 90s. Its example and some of its personnel/supporters had been crucial in the creation of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, which is the home of the ‘greenhouse mafia’, .

Australian Industry Group
The Australian Industry Group is, to quote it, “a peak industry association in Australia which along with its affiliates represents the interests of more than 60,000 businesses in an expanding range of sectors including: manufacturing; engineering; construction; automotive; food; transport; information technology; telecommunications; call centres; labour hire; printing; defence; mining equipment and supplies; airlines; and other industries. The businesses which we represent employ more than 1 million people.”

And the AIG on climate? In response to the Rudd Government’s May 2008 Green Paper on emissions trading the Australian Industry Group, claimed up to one million Australian jobs were at risk (Chubb, 2014: 50). By 2011, they seemed to have changed their position. In researching ‘Power Failure’, his excellent account of the struggles over Australian Climate Policy in the years 2008 to 2013, Philip Chubb spoke to many actors. One told him ‘that the Australian Industry Group, for example, representing more than 60,000 businesses, some of which had a lot to lose, operated rationally.’ (Chubb, 2014: 187)

Australian Aluminium Council
This one is a surprise. Set up by Western Mining Corporation’s Hugh Morgan, the AAC has been a long term member of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, and a key part of the ‘greenhouse mafia’. To quote Guy Pearse’s magnificent 2007 expose of that mafia, High and Dry –

Those with the greatest resources, or greatest enthusiasm, contribute relatively more [to the costs of economic modelling that provided the intellectual basis for special treatment] . For example, one AIGN insider told me that enthusiasm depended on the nature of the research to be done, but when the hat was passed around you could always rely on the Australian Coal Association and the Australian Aluminium Council.
(Pearse, 2007: 204)

The final group Energy Supply Association of Australia. They do what they say on the tin. Just remember, that most electricity in Australia is still generated by the burning of black coal (esp NSW and Queensland) and brown coal (Victoria). In 2014 the ESAA absorbed the National Generators’ Forum. That group had spent the period 2008 to 2011 predicting imminent blackouts if Labor so much as thought about legislating an emissions trading scheme. Times have changed, it seems.

Umbrella groups past and present
Three previous climate umbrella groups are worth a look, all formed in the climate-crazy year of 2011, when the pressure for action that had been building since 2006 peaked (and then spectacularly plummeted).

There was the ‘Say Yes’ grouping, which paid for an ill-judged advert with Cate Blanchett and staged a rally before disappearing into well-deserved oblivion. For further gory details, see Chubb, (2014:175-77)

sccc imageIn April 2011 the “Southern Cross Climate Coalition” formed, with what the social movements studies call ‘frame extension’. There are four groups – the Australian Conservation Foundation the Climate Institute, ACTU and ACOSS. In other words, the Climate Roundtable has bolted on WWF and some corporates…
The SCCC  was set up ‘to help lead an effective and fair response to climate change.’ The coalition called on ‘All Australians to work together to unlock substantial economic and job opportunities in tackling climate change and moving to a clean, safe economy.’

Meanwhile, in July 2011 the Australian Trade and Industry Alliance announced its existence.
With a $10m advertising budget, it was consisted of the “Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Australian Coal Association, the Plastics and Chemical Industries Association and the Australian Logistics Council, which is a loose collection of freight and transport companies’ (Coorey, 2011) The purpose? To ”build public opposition to the carbon tax so that it is either substantially modified or fails to pass the Parliament’‘ (Coorey, 2011).

To give you a flavour of them, here is an advert they released

Why are these groups involved in the Roundtable?
Before I get all cynical, let’s do some compassion. Let’s remember that (most) people don’t go to work everyday to find new ways of hood-winking the public and trashing the planet. People who work for (most) organisations take on the beliefs of the organisation they work for, or they get out. And most intelligent people know that we have a climate crisis of horrendous proportions, about which we did nothing in the decades that we could have. More and more people are waking up to just how screwed we are. It’s scary, and most people can’t face that abyss for very long, so retreat into ‘bargaining.’

Right, on with the cynicism: The green groups need some victories. They are over halfway through a miserable miserable three years (with no guarantee that Abbott will be gone after September 2016). They need to convince potential (financial) supporters, both individual and institutional, to keep sending the money
The ACTU and ACOSS know that their membership wants to see them acting on this issue, and that this issue is only going to become more relevant. ACOSS says it well

“People experiencing poverty and inequality will be hardest hit by the negative impacts of climate change and the least able to adapt. The only way to develop stable and equitable policies to avoid 2 degree global warming is to work together. The Climate Roundtable exemplifies the commitment of its members to help Australia maximize the opportunities and reduce the risks associated with climate change.”

What is in it for business? Well, clearly, they need a little bit more stability in domestic climate and energy policy than the last 8 years have brought. Funny that. To quote WWF,

“Delayed, unpredictable and piecemeal action will increase the costs and challenges of achieving the goals and maximising the opportunities. We also know that policies won’t work if they don’t last and stay on investors’ radars. The foundations of climate policy need broad and durable support, and we all have a role in building it.”

Australian Aluminium Council Executive Secretary Miles Prosser said: “It is time to set climate policy on a path that will efficiently reduce emissions while also enhancing economic prosperity and maintaining industry competitiveness.”

But there is I think something else going on.

This is speculation, but I think they are making a calculation that a global emissions trading scheme might not be too far off, and if the Australian government doesn’t knock it off with its cartoonish stupidity, they might be excluded. Let’s go back to the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol, where Australia extracted (extorted) an extremely favourable deal and then refused to ratify. According to Clive Hamilton’s ‘Scorcher’

When it heard that some businesses were worried that they would be harmed by exclusion from Kyoto, [the Government] insisted that Australian firms could still participate in international emissions trading even if Australia did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. At best this was wishful thinking; at worst the Government was misleading Australian businesses… Because of the misleading statements emanating from various Australian ministers, in [March] 2002 the European Commission’s Delegation to Australia issued an unambiguous denial…
(Hamilton, 2007: 105)

What do some of the groups that not involved think?
Let’s have a look at four; the Australian Greenhouse Network, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry the National Farmers’ Federation and the Minerals Council of Australia.

The Australian Industry Greenhouse Network was, for a very long time, able to ‘reverse engineer’ the policy of bigger and more public groups such as the Business Council of Australia.

The AIGN’s people are so well embedded in the BCA that ‘reverse-management’ has been pretty easy. There was some resistance a few years back as certain key BCA members came to appreciate just how insignificant the AIGN interests are to the Australian economy. There was particular concern when former BCA chief executive David Buckingham, and former BP regional boss Greg Bourne started pushing for a position more relevant to the interests of the whole BCA in 2000. They even toyed with ratifying Kyoto and backing a domestic emission trading scheme. It was tricky at times, but by reverse-managing the processes, and taking advantage of their aces in high places, the AIGN kept the BCA where it wanted it…
(Pearse, 2007: 241

As recently as March 2011 the AIGN and BCA were holding a joint forum on carbon pricing, as part of a concerted effort to defeat or water down the Gillard government’s Clean Energy Future package of legislation. Better informed people than me can tell you when the interests of the two diverged. If this does signal the final loss of the AIGN’s suppression/veto power, then all you can say is that they had a very good run – almost 20 years of being the sand in the engine, the monkey in the wrench (that’s a Die Hard reference). From the perspective of their funders, money extremely well spent.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of that 2011 anti-carbon tax alliance, has nothing to say either, but its latest media release on environmental matters breathes a sigh of relief that the Mandatory Renewable Emissions Target has been watered down again. So probably not converts to the cause of low carbon electricity just yet….

The National Farmers’ Federation, which finally started talking about the climate impacts on agriculture only as late as 2006 (see Pearse, 2007: 182). According to an in-depth article in the Australian Financial Review about the negotiations on the Gillard government’s ‘Clean Energy Futures’ package, an independent politician, Tony Windsor, tried to engage the NFF.

“I ran the what if: ‘What if you could get $2 billion a year for research and development in relation to agriculture. Can you let me know?’” says Windsor of his attempts to engage the NFF, and get them to come up with a wish-list of projects and funding requests.
“One bloke handed me a piece of paper with pencil on it as he walked out and it said ‘heavy vehicles’. And [exclusion of fuel for] heavy vehicles came out of the deal. None of these people said we really need $200 ¬million for plant breeding technology to overcome heat stress. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.”
(AFR, 2013)

On the subject of the Roundtable, Bettles (2015) writes

NFF natural resource management committee chair Gerry Leach told Fairfax Media he wouldn’t go as far as saying the NFF supported the Roundtable concept.
But he said the NFF acknowledged the new group had made a “high level statement” about climate change policy.

Finally, we turn to the Minerals Council, the home of intransigence and the enforcers of broader business silence. Well, the MCA has opinions about LOTS of climate issues. However, on the existence of the Climate Roundtable, the cat seems to have their tongue

2015 07 05 nowt on mca site

Mark Ludlow of the Australian Financial Review writes –

Interestingly, the resources sector has snubbed the Australia Climate Roundtable, even though they are the nation’s biggest polluters.
Apart from closing down older, dirtier coal-fired power stations, the industry is looking at adopting new technology to retrofit power stations to reduce emissions.
The Japanese are pioneering the ultra-supercritical technology, but it is yet to reach commercial scale.

What Ludlow doesn’t say is that the ultra-supercritical technology promise has been made since the very early 1990s, and that between then and now the ‘carbon capture and storage’ story has been told to death.

Meanwhile, another Fin journalist, Ben Potter (2015) observes

As the Minerals Council of Australia – a representative of the largest fossil fuel energy exporters but not a member of the Roundtable – points out, the pack leaders are vastly different, post-industrial, service-based economies.
They have outsourced much of their emissions-intensive production to China and Japan and those nations’ energy suppliers such as Australia and Canada.
On an end-user consumption basis, Australia is less emissions intensive – emissions per unit of gross domestic product – than the US, Canada, India and China, and not much more so than Japan, Germany and Britain.
The Minerals Council’s view is not going to hold sway in this debate. Advancements in renewable energy and storage are proceeding too swiftly for that. But their analysis will play a part in business and government deliberations on what constitutes Australia’s “fair part”.

What does it all mean?
That at long last the costs to business of policy uncertainty are outweighing inertia and the political power of the elements of fossil-fuel lobby that really have nowhere to hide. For some, this may be a moment of cautious optimism. For those of us who can read a Keeling Curve and the emissions trajectories, it’s a moment for a rueful smile and for thoughts of what might have been.

(1) The chief executive of the Climate Institute, John Connor, quoted in Taylor (2015)

AFR (2013) Climate of chaos: the backroom deals that set a government’s agenda Australian Financial Review 27th April

Bettles, C. (2015) NFF cautious on Climate Roundtable The Land 1st July

Chubb, P. (2014) Power Failure: the Inside Story of Climate Politics under Rudd and Gillard Melbourne: Black Inc.

Coorey, P. (2011) Industry push to wipe out carbon price Sydney Morning Herald 1st July

Hamilton, C. (2007) Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change Melbourne: Black Inc.

Ludlow, M. (2015) Tougher climate policy ‘inevitable’ industry says Australian Financial Review 29th June

Pearse, G. (2007) High and Dry: John Howard, Climate Change and the Selling of Australia’s Future. Melbourne: Viking

Potter, B. (2015) Climate roundtable’s detail-free principles will do little Australian Financial Review 29th June

Taylor, L. (2015) Australian climate policy paralysis has to end, business roundtable says The Guardian 28th June

2 pivotal years in Australian #climate history (2006-2007)

At the end of 2005, climate change was still a ‘non-issue’ for most Australian voters and politicians at the Federal level. Two years later the incumbent Coalition Government was swept from power in what has been called ‘the first climate change election’ (Rootes, 2008). This paper describes what happened, offers explanation as to why it happened (a combination of a) physical signals b) the perception that the incumbent government was stale and incompetent around the salient issue, and c) the arrival of new entrants who had previously been quiescent on climate change, such as farmers, insurers, investors and securocrats)

Waking up is hard to do

“During 2006 it was as if the Australian public suddenly woke up to what scientists had been warning of for decades. The climate was changing as a result of the carbon we were pumping into the atmosphere, and it was starting to change very fast.”
(Brett, 2007: 54)

“But it was one thing for Australians to express concern about climate change and another thing to do anything about it, and it took nine years before their anxiety ran deep enough for them to think about changing their votes. For that period most Australians were in a state of denial about the implications of global warming, simultaneously knowing and not knowing. In report after report, scientists rang the alarm bells ever more loudly, yet Australians would not connect their political or personal behaviour to the emerging crisis they were hearing about. The problem seemed so huge and so intractable that it did not bear thinking about.”
(Hamilton, 2007: 159)

John Howard became Australian Prime Minister in March 1996. By January 2006, having won four elections (1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004), he was 66. His opposite number, Kim Beazely, was 57. Both had been senior federal politicians since the early 1980s. Howard had no credible successors, but there was an awareness that he could not govern indefinitely.

Howard had a long history of opposing action on climate change, and had stated that if he had been Prime Minister in 1992, he would not have signed the UNFCCC [Pearse, 2007:72]. On World Environment Day 2002 he had told Parliament that Australia would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This was widely seen to be a decision that he personally owned. In 2003 he had personally vetoed a cabinet proposal for domestic emissions tradin. His vision for Australia’s prosperity, as elucidated in a 1997 Foreign Affairs and Trade White Paper and the 2004 Energy White Paper, hinged on energy exports (principally coal and natural gas) to the booming economies of Asia.

Pressures around climate change had been slowly building in Australia, for various reasons. In the public mind, climate change became linked to the prolonged drought that had been affecting rural Australia, and affecting reservoir levels. Several states built, or planned to build, expensive seawater desalination.

A series of international events in 2005 complicated the denial/delay narrative that emissions trading was impossible and that the Kyoto Protocol was ‘dead’.
• On January 1st 2005 the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme entered into force
• In February 2005, Russian ratification had revealed climate action opponents confidence that Kyoto would not happen as misplaced
• The June 2005 G8 meeting in 2005 had focussed on climate change, with a joint statement of National Academies of Science confirming that there was a consensus
• In August Hurricane Katrina had been regarded as a climate-related disaster
• In December 2005 seven US states instituted an emissions trading scheme

In July 2005 Howard had announced the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6), with its emphasis on clean technology and technology transfer to the developing world. The AP6, which was a proposed partnership of Australia, the United States, China, India, South Korea and Japan, was widely perceived to be an attempt to supersede, or at least weaken, the Kyoto Protocol of the UNFCC.

However, the inaugural January 2006 meeting of AP6, held in Sydney after already being postponed once to accommodate US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (who did not attend the re-arranged event), did not go well. According to Hamilton (2007: 193) it “met with sceptical press coverage and public bemusement.”

Meanwhile, in early February, an ABC documentary was broadcast, alleging that Australian climate scientists were being silenced and that Australian climate and energy policy-making had been captured by a self-described ‘greenhouse mafia’ of industry lobbyists.

Howard’s first attempt at containing rising the pressures around climate change, using the ‘technology’ frame had failed. An isolated failed attempt to neutralize or contain an issue may not harm an incumbent’s credibility, but if failures accumulate, the process can become non-linear.

Howard’s next major attempt to reframe climate change within a wider ‘ecological modernisation’ frame came in May, when he began to talk about nuclear power as a future energy source for an emissions-constrained Australia. This was part of President Bush’s proposed ‘Global Nuclear Energy Partnership’. Australian Green Senator Christine Milne took the view that Howard had done this to curry favour with US President George Bush (Milne, 2007)  If it had worked it would have also created political problems for the Labor party, whose supporters and members were more divided on the issues of uranium mining and nuclear power than the government’s.

However, the nuclear debate did not gain traction in Australia (though it has, again, returned in 2015). Instead climate change had risen on the agenda. Thanks to the aforementioned drought and (potential and actual) water restrictions, alongside a change in perceptions of business interests; in April a report had been released on ‘The Business Case for Early Action on Climate Change)

In June two new entrants to the climate debate made a splash. The National Farmers Federation, a politically conservative group aligned to the National Party and previously silent on climate change, released a report that highlighted the benefits for their sector if an emissions trading scheme were to be introduced. (Pearse, 2007: 341)

Secondly, what Pearse (2007:354) believes is ‘Australia’s first-in-depth consideration’ of the security implications of climate change was published. Written by Alan Dupont, ‘one of Australia’s leading defence and strategic studies authorities’, and the prominent climate scientist Graeme Pearman, who had organised the Greenhouse 87 conference, Heating up the Planet: Climate change and security claimed that ‘the wider security implications of climate change have largely been ignored and seriously underestimated by government, by academia and by the media.’

In July 2006  a BBC survey had found Australians to be particularly concerned about climate change, but this was, according to Hamilton (2007: 209), ignored. However,

“A Lowy Institute survey published in October (but conducted in late June and early July) found that 68 per cent of Australians regarded global warming as the third most critical threat to Australia’s vital interests, just behind international terrorism at 73 per cent, and the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers at 70 per cent.”
(Brett, 2007: 54)

This poll was conducted before Al Gore’s September tour of Australia to promote his film An Inconvenient Truth, and before Howard’s poor performance on an ABC Television program;

“The contrast between Howard and the phalanx of business leaders interviewed on a Four Corners program in August 2006 was stark. After more than a decade in office and a mountain of scientific reports from every credible source in the world, in response to a question about the need for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emission Howard could still say: ‘Well, I want to see the evidence, I want to see the science’.”
(Hamilton, 2007: 195)

Two weeks earlier, Howard had told what ‘was arguably the biggest lie in Howard’s thirty-three year political career’ (Pearse 2007:377) when he used economic modelling by ABARE to accentuate the costs of emissions reductions.

“To give the impression that deep cuts in emissions would mean an economy in 2050 10 per cent smaller than today with 20 per cent lower wages than today, Howard’s numbers cunningly excluded the words,; ‘compared with business as usual.’” (Pearse 2007:377)

According to Brett, (2007: 54) “The Howard government was caught entirely off-guard” by the Lowy Institute’s poll. The next Federal election was only a little over a year away. Clearly neither the AP6 nor the nuclear power proposal were going to be sufficient to convince voters that Howard’s government was willing and able to respond to climate change.

The next challenge that Howard faced was the release at the end of October 2006 of the United Kingdom Government’s Stern Review , that highlighted the costs of inaction on climate change. The Howard government, which had long been regarded as competent media managers, seemed in disarray.

“Following the lead of [Environment Minister] Ian Campbell, it conjured up the term ‘new Kyoto’, although there was no scheme, no grouping and no process associated with this term. In fact, it was no more than an incantation, one that left the rest of the world bemused. Labor’s environment spokesperson Anthony Albanese had never heard of the ‘new Kyoto’ proposal, so he googled it. The only reference he could find was to the New Kyoto Hotel, of which, he gleefully told parliament, a reviewer had written: ‘The worst aspect of the room was that the window didn’t open and there was no way to cool the room down or get some fresh air’.”
(Hamilton, 2007: 210)

November started badly, with the Federal tourism minister advocating the erection of shade cloth over the entire Great Barrier Reef as a solution to coral bleaching (Pearse, 2007:121), to widespread derision.

Three separate opinion polls raised the political pressure.
• An AC Neilson/Age Poll found that 91 per cent of Australians thought global warming was a serious problem and only 31 per cent were satisfied with the government response.
• Newspoll found that 90 per cent of Australians wanted a shift away from coal; 80 per cent said polluters should pay for their emission; and 79 per cent of Australians polled said Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol, including 71 per cent of Coalition voters.
• Another found, over 70 per cent of people agreed that big business is deceiving us by pretending that climate change doesn’t exist’. Over 70 per cent agreed that ‘the government and big business are in bed with each other to ignore climate change’.
(Pearse, 2007: 379-380)

Meanwhile, Howard, a long-term opponent of not only Kyoto ratification but also domestic emissions trading, consulted with a ‘following hand-picked group: Leon Davis (Rio Tinto), Kirby Adams (Bluescope Steel), Don Voelte (Woodside), Don Argus (BHP), and Michael Chaney (BCA and Woodside)’(Pearse, 2007: 262). He told a Business Council of Australia dinner on 13th November that he would establish a ‘task group’ to examine a (global) carbon trading scheme. (Hamilton, 2007: 211-2).
According to Howarth and Foxall (2010: 172) the terms of reference of the group were ‘designed to ensure the position of the resources sector was maintained.’ According to Pearse (2007: 262) “the taskforce included the big polluters: Xstrata, International Power, Alumina Limited, BHP Billiton and Qantas… and as we’ve heard, the AIGNs chief executive, John Daley has taken leave to work for the PM’s taskforce.”

Days later Howard’s Treasurer, and presumptive successor, Peter Costello, gave a disastrous performance on national television, giggling in response to pointed questioning about the proposed global scheme (Hamilton, 2007: 212-3).

In the same month an important business group that had previously been silent on climate, the Insurance Council of Australia [ICA] held an ‘outlook conference’ that was dominated by the issue of climate change. Its new chief excecutive said that the the ICA would produce a ‘strategic blueprint’ in 2007.
(Pearse, 2007: 187)

December brought no relief. Howard’s age was accentuated by the replacement of Kim Beazely as Opposition Leader by Kevin Rudd, aged 50.

During his period in office, Howard had made some political capital of his religious convictions, his belief in the importance of emissions-intensive export industry to the Australian economy and respected by business. All three of these perceptions were challenged in December.

common belief cover

Firstly, a newly formed non-governmental organisation, the $10m Climate Institute, released a report called Common belief: Australia’s faith communities on climate change which “brought together almost all of the main religious groups in Australia to endorse a statement on the need for action.” (Hamilton, 2007: 208)

Secondly, the investment group Citigroup released a report , Climate Change and the ASX100, that cited Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Caltex, One Steel and Iluka in its warning that focusing on emission-intensive exports ‘obscures opportunities and leaves us vulnerable not just to climate change, but to the greenhouse policy decisions of other countries’ (Pearse, 2007: 313)

Thirdly, Price Waterhouse Coopers conducted a survey of business leaders. The survey revealed that over half expected major change including an emissions trading system in Australia within two to five years, with 10 per cent rating the Howard government’s response to climate change as effective.
(Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 19th 2006)

The National Farmer’s Federation returned to the fray;

Accepting that climate change threatened ‘the long-term sustainability of at least 60 per cent of the Australian landmass, the NFF said their policy council had ‘made a unanimous decision to join with the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change in calling for early action on climate change.’
(Pearse, 2007: 182)

Finally, Howard was again seen to be out of touch with the science of climate change. While bushfires that raged in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, he dismissed the link between increased frequency and intensity of bushfires and climate change as ‘esoteric’.
(Hamilton, 2007: 216)

However, if 2006 was a bad year, 2007 would be much worse.

Howard also began by trying to reframe climate change as a water crisis. He replaced his Environment Minister with Malcolm Turnbull and expanded the title to “Minister for Environment and Water Resources.” At the end of January they together announced a $10 bn scheme for water projects. And according to Hamilton (2007: 219) “whenever asked about climate change and his Government’s indefensible record, he would immediately begin talking about water.”

In February the Fourth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released, and in March Nicholas Stern visited Australian briefly, and garnered positive press. Labor continued to make political capital of climate change, holding a well-publicised national summit in Parliament House in late March, having asked respected economist Ross Garnaut to produce a report about the most efficient way for Australia to respond to climate change.

In April, Howard’s lack of answers on even his reduced and reframed agenda of water security was highlighted when, at another joint press conference on the Murray-Darling Basin strategy, he “announced that unless there was heavy rainfall before mid-May, there would be no allocation to irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin. “We should all pray for rain,” he said.”  (Brett, 2007: 56)

Also in April the Federal Treasury Secretary was reported to have told a departmental gathering
‘All of us (in treasury) would wish that we had been listened to more attentively over the past several years (on water and climate change)… There is no doubt that policy outcomes would have been far superior had our views been more influential.’
(The Age, 2007)

At the end of May a report on emissions trading, which the business lobby had heavily shaped, was released. It did not help Howard recapture lost momentum and credibility, partly because he had spent ten years denying both the need for and effectiveness of emissions trading. The delay in the arrival of the scheme (2012) and its large compensation for industry, also weakened usefulness as a vote winter.

In this context Howard’s announcement of minor schemes such as “a program to improve energy efficiency in schools, and rebates for households which installed solar power” (Brett, 2007: 55) and a disastrous foray into internet campaigning, (Brett, 2007: 23; Hearne, L. (2007) made a weakening leader look even weaker.

Howard’s final hope to recapture credibility on climate change came with the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit (APEC) in September, held in Sydney, two months before what was widely regarded as the most likely date for the next Federal election.

Howard’s ‘APEC bounce’ never happened. The security for the event was penetrated by television comedians, leading to the perception of weakness and incompetence. Kevin Rudd gained plaudits for giving his address in Mandarin. Finally, the climate change declaration contained no targets or timetables for emissions reductions, but simply an “aspirational” statement around energy intensity reductions.

Nothing in the election campaign itself helped reverse the momentum of the last two years. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that at a Cabinet meeting in September Howard had once again vetoed ratification of Kyoto, over the wishes of his colleagues.

Howard lost not only the election, but also his seat (only the second time an Australian Prime Minister has suffered such indignity). Kevin Rudd’s first official act as Prime Minister was the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. He then flew to the UNFCCC conference in Bali and received a prolonged standing ovation.

Expectations were high.

Table 1 Howard’s tactics to contain the issue of climate change and why each of them failed.

howards tactics

What made people wake up?
I contend that there were a few international sensitising factors (Hurricane Katrina, Kyoto ratification) that undercut arguments for delay, amplifying factors (the release of An Inconvenient Truth, the fracturing of the united Business front), a perception that the Howard government was aging and exploitation of the issue by the political opposition. Above all else there were physical impacts (water restrictions, drought and bush fires) to which the Howard government’s response was perceived as inadequate.

For Brett (2007: 57) “The Howard government’s record on climate change is a casebook study of the policy weakness of Strong Leadership: its propensity to construct policy problems in terms of friends and enemies, its lack of interest in new ideas, it’s imperative to control, and its vulnerability to seduction by special interests….”


Brett, J. (2007) Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard Quarterly Essay 28
Melbourne: Black Inc

Hamilton, C. (2007) Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Hearne, L. (2007) “Howard clip becomes spam magnet” Sydney Morning Herald 18 July 2007

Howarth, N. and Foxall, A. (2010) The Veil of Kyoto and the politics of greenhouse gas mitigation in Australia. Poltical Geography Vol. 29, 167-176.

Milne, C. (2007) Correspondence to ‘Reaction Time’. Quarterly Essay 28, p.112-114.

Pearse, G. (2007) High and Dry:John Howard, climate change and the selling of Australia’s future Melbourne: Viking

Rootes, C. (2008) The first climate change election? The Australian general election of 24 November 2007 Environmental Politics Volume 17, Issue 3, pp. 473-480.

Sydney Morning Herald (2006) Business would welcome carbon trading

The Age (2007) ‘PM and ministers round on treasury head’ 5th April