Thelma and Louise and Australian COVID & Climate Responses, via Donald Horne

Just under thirty years ago, about 100m from where I am right now, I saw the wonderful Thelma and Louise.

There’s a short clip that stayed with me that I think we need to remember.

Brains'll only get you so far and luck always runs out.

Well, I was watching Insiders (Sunday morning current affairs, mix of interviews, humour, panellists, on the national broadcaster ABC) just now. A Guardian Australia columnist, Katherine Murphy, said something along the lines of the Morrison (Federal) government having last year been competent on COVID and this year not.

Murphy is often astute, especially on climate policy, but I think she’s totally wrong on this.

Despite quarantine being a federal government responsibility (as per Constitution), the Morrison government was so inept that basically the various state governments had to step in. And by and large, with some spectacular mis-steps, quarantine for international travellers has “worked” (I speak as someone in my second bout of it right now).

But being an island and having good quarantine is not a long-term solution. What is needed is that you use the time those things buy you to… vaccinate every man, woman, wombat and passing echidna.

Now, the Federal Government, because they de facto punted quarantine to the states, literally Had One Job.

And three per cent of the population has received both its vaccinations (fortunately my parents are in that 3 per cent).

There are various guides to cliched reporting on Australia out there. There’s an unwritten rule too that any article about Australia has to talk about the “Lucky Country”, the title of a Donald Horne book. A few people even go so far as to actually understand what Horne was on about. Here’s the key quote –

Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise

Right now, a second rate leader would look like a colossus, a cross between Noam Chomsky and Machiavelli.

The other thing of note in Insiders was the new-ish Labor spokesperson on climate policy, Chris Bowen, playing a straight bat on multiple thorny issues (the last spokesperson, Mark Butler, not a fan of this writer, was toppled last year for not being friendly enough to coal).

Bowen ruled out an economy wide carbon pricing mechanism (the ferocious Abbott campaign of 2011 has left a permanent scar, a folk memory in the Australian policy “elite”). He ducked and weaved on the joke fantasy “technology” known as carbon capture and storage. And what he said was, in essence – “carrots carrots and more carrots, but no, no sticks.”

Why? The basic electoral maths. Without keeping central New South Wales, and clawing back some seats in central Queensland, the ALP can’t form the next government. No point pandering to latte-sipping inner city trendoids and people who understand year 10 chemistry, those are safe seats and you don’t get additional MPs by winning safe seats by an extra 5 per cent.

A couple of years ago I was interviewed by a Masters student who asked me what we could expect on climate from the Morrison government.

I said words to the effect that you should imagine the stupidest most ecocidal and suicidal thing that could be done, double it and you might be in the ball park.

Nothing that has happened in the intervening two years makes me want to revise that.

The return of the Joyce (Nationals leader) means Morrison will be very unlikely to take anything around “net zero by 2050” to the Glasgow COP (not that anyone would believe him, and not that the promise would be delivered)

Within a few short years, Australia’s “luck” is likely to run out. There will be trade barriers and tariffs for countries that are not pulling their weight on climate. And Australia’s leaders will be wide-eyed, and taken by surprise. “Who knew?” they will say. “It’s so unreasonable,” they will say. It will make Boris Johnson’s handling of the Northern Irish border look like Bismark and Metternich playing 5 dimensional chess…

Meanwhile, remorselessly, the carbon dioxide accumulates.
Meanwhile, remorselessly, the other species we share this planet with are disappeared.

That 2004 vasectomy, pre-spawning, is the second smartest move I ever made.

2 thoughts on “Thelma and Louise and Australian COVID & Climate Responses, via Donald Horne

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  1. I believe Mark Butler was dumped from climate Change shadow portfolio not only for coal but also gas.

    1. Yes, probably insufficiently enthusiastic about “gas-led recovery” (I mean, what even IS that??)

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