What next? Not next week, or next month, but in the coming years? These are the questions our media pundits, caught up in the merry-go-round of faces are not asking, at least, not in public (e.g. Insiders was pretty vapid on Sunday 26th August).
There are several good reasons for this present-ism, not least that predicting outcomes is a mug’s game. But I’m a mug, and I’m game.
At the moment, there are some people getting understandably worried about Scott Morrison’s chief of staff (who was a bigwig at the Minerals Council until recently) and the fact that his energy minister seriously hates wind farms, and that the environment minister used to be a lawyer for a mining company. So far, so predictable.
Presumably the point of having these people in is to weaken legislation/tear things up so that the ALP have more work to do to build things up again. Is it possible, in six months, to set the wheels in motion for tax-payer funded coal-fired power stations, in such a way that the ALP would struggle to not follow through? It seems hard to imagine, but presumably that is the main game for the pro-coal forces in the weeks/months of a Morrison government.
Peter Hannam of the Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Malcolm Turnbull’s son
In a wide-ranging interview just days after his father lost power in a party room putsch, the Singapore-based fund manager told Fairfax Media the Liberal Party faced being hijacked by financial interests that stood to make windfall profits if coal-related assets were bolstered by taxpayers. Those interests “have their hooks into the Liberal Party … which has no money”, Mr Turnbull said, adding that returns could be “100 to 1” if policies fall investors’ way.
The ultimate question is, how much damage can these people do to Australia’s fubarred climate and energy policy (i.e. there isn’t one) before the next Federal election, which has to occur by next May, but could possibly be forced by late October.
The assumption – based on various polls – is that Bill Shorten will form an ALP government, with either a thumping or ginormous majority (in the lower House – The Senate? Well…).
Okay, for the sake of argument (and it’s hard to see this NOT happening), what next? Let’s look at the Coalition and the ALP.
For the Coalition, presumably it matters who loses what seats. At the moment it seems that the right of centre forces are slightly ahead of the ultras, the ‘delcons’. The narrative for that loss put forward by the latter group will be, surely, that the Coalition lost the 2018/19 election because they weren’t right-wing enough, and that the ‘leftie’ wing of the LNP (yes, that’s how these people think) was responsible – a Dolchstoss for our Dutton-esque days. Now, let’s say the LNP gets more wiped out in the southern states (NSW, Vic, SA, Tassie) but holds on in WA and Queensland. Let’s say Peter Dutton loses in Dickson. I sincerely believe it is possible (not likely, but possible) that Tony Abbott will become leader of the opposition again. He’s very very good at that job. Of course, the problem will be getting him to agree merely to wound Shorten, not to stick around to fight the 2021/2 election. Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, what would a Shorten government. What would be up with that? Well, first thing would be to see if Mark Butler actually gets the climate and energy gig. I’ve no reason to doubt it, but if I were against climate action, I’d be thinking of ways to convince Shorten to get someone else in there, and offer Butler something big instead. I am sure that as I write this, lobbying outfits are hiring ALP ex-staffers/apparatchiks in preparation for an enormous lobbying assault to water down whatever Shorten/Butler have planned. More compensation, delayed start dates, weakened surveillance etc.
If the ALP don’t ‘need’ Green support the way Gillard did,, then the Greens will just be voices in the wilderness, and the ALP will be able to spin whatever they do as good enough.
Ultimately, the pro-coal forces have played a blindingly successful game over the last thirty years of stopping, delaying, weakening and ultimately reversing (actually pitiful) action on climate change, and then making it costly (in political terms) to get anything done. The people are extremely determined, well-funded, smart and effective. They are not going anywhere. They are drawing up plans, surely, for how they will operate under what in all probability will be 6 years of Shorten government. They will therefore be thinking how to fight not a culture war from a clearly losing position, but a far more supple and insidious game. What we will see is not the outright blocking under Howard 1996-late 2006) but the more emollient and ‘watering down’ efforts of 2007-8, at least from the corporate forces. As for the politicos – are their enough climate deniers out there, with the right skills and demographics, to mount the kind of culture war we saw in 2011. I don’t think so, but what the hell would I know?