Category Archives: history of climate change

Lobbying, lies, prostitution, disruption #climate – extraordinary truth-telling

The problem with studying the rich (well, one of many) is that access is hard.  So you end up relying on leaks and whisteblowers. Both can be deeply problematic.  But every so often the curtain DOES get pulled back.  With Australia and climate change two great examples are

a) the leaking of the minutes of the 2004 meeting where then Prime Minister begged big fossil fuel companies to help him kill off the pesky renewable energy target which was working too well

b) the PhD of Guy Pearse, who had talked to fellow lobbyists. They explained how they had captured and ‘reverse engineered’ Australian energy policy.

 

Now there is another, short and sharp example.  In an article called “Can we be honest about the damage we are all doing?” a chap called Andrew Craig-Bennett dishes it out to the shipping industry’s various trade associations, which have tried to shoot down a recent expose of their activities.

“if you are not influencing the [International Maritime Organisation] and others, there is no point in paying you,and we can all save a few bucks. What we want you to do is to influence the IMO is a less brain dead way.” 

(Later he writes “we can feel nothing but contempt and disgust at the prostitutes employed by our racket to try to put one over on the general public.”)

Craig-Bennet then says he recalls  an incident from more than three decades ago

“I saw a carefully drafted, science-based, regulation, which would have improved safety and been simple to enforce, turned into a pile of scientifically unsound but ‘commercially helpful’ garbage by, in that case, the Australian mining industry, who were pretending to be the Australian government.”

He goes on to extol the virtues of disruptive technologies (“the available means of ship propulsion without emissions are nuclear, solar and wind.”)

It is a fascinating article, that concludes (so, you know, spoiler alert, obvs)

“We all know this change is coming. We can lead it, get rich and be on the side of the angels or we can share the fate of the other rust belt industries. Simple.”

 

 

 

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Open letter to Jay Weatherill on #fuckwitgate

Dear Jay,

we are both busy (you with trying to implement climate and energy policy while the Federal Government supplies only ridicule and chaos, me with finishing a thesis) so I will keep this as brief as I can.

When I read what was reported in today’s Australian (1)  ‘Jay says nay on right-wing remark‘  I was both confused and exasperated.  I do not understand why you would wait a week before claiming “I think I might have been misheard. I think I said…” 

I note there are lots of qualifiers there (and no outright denial) and it’s followed by a claim about background noise.  On that, I would point out that you don’t flag any problem with my hearing everything else you said – all those quotes which reflect (well) on your actions since the September 2016 blackout..

I wonder if you worry, that this Clayton’s denial – the denial you have when you’re not having a denial –  just feeds into the public narrative that politicians will try to wriggle out of things they said and that they later wish they hadn’t?

Clearly my prediction that this was going to be a ‘one-day wonder’  was misplaced. Oh well.  I have no interest in continuing this non-controversy, because in the absence of a sound recording, everyone can just say ‘no evidence’ and it goes all Rashomon.  The following  questions seem obvious though-

  • Why did you not claim that you had been ‘misheard’ at the time?  Why is that, as Giles Parkinson pointed out in the Australian article today,  neither you nor your office sought a retraction, correction or apology?
  • Why did you call the remarks ‘lighthearted’ if they were simply indeed ‘rightwing  sceptic’?  That’s not particularly light-hearted, simply banal.  By referring to your comments as light-hearted the day after, surely you were tacitly admitting what you had said?
  • Why did the  entire room burst into laughter and applause if all you did was describe Kenny as a right-wing sceptic?
  • Why did you offer a mock apology ‘oh sorry’ at that time?
  • Why did none of the other 100 people present at the book launch – fans of you and Mark Butler- come forward to challenge my account?  (Of course, some may now do so, now that you have signalled that this is something you want to bury)
  • Why did you call the event – and continue to call it – a private function? It was a book launch, or heaven’s sake!  If you can’t get that right, why should anyone believe what you “think” you said?

Am I surprised by your behaviour? A little. But I  am more disappointed – I thought you had more guts.  But perhaps you have to save those guts for challenging the Federal government’s egregious inaction on climate and energy, and water. If that’s the case, well, then, so be it, and good luck.
Marc Hudson

Footnotes

(1) Of course, the Australian has a very long (27 year) history of reporting climate stories badly. Examples available on request. On the book launch beat up they managed not to credit their source and then mis-identify the location of the book launch (it was at the Publishers Hotel, not the University of Adelaide.  Then, on Friday of last week its stablemate the Advertiser managed to get the day of the launch wrong.  So maybe you were ‘misquoted’ (oh the irony) or were speaking with your tongue in your cheek?

AMEEF – burnishing the mining industry

AMEEF was established in October 1991, as the Ecologically Sustainable Development Process was peaking.  One of the first things they did was a listing of all articles environmental, with a lovely cover.

1991 ameef

Ten years later, it was still going (but would be shut down a bit later).  I stumbled across its magazine, Groundwork, recently.  Not much of interest, but they did get a new logo. And they were run by someone who had done green stuff for the Business Council of Australia back in the early 1990s.  A small world, of course, this green capitalism gig…

2001 ameef logo

and who was stumping up?  The usual suspects…

2001 ameef supporters

Climate change? Eh? 1998 Labor Essays…

So, by 1995/6 the whole idea that you might be able to ‘green’ the Australian Labor Party had kinda fallen apart.  The 1993 election had ignored the issues (with Keating particularly aggressive, blah blah true believers blah blah), and despite Environment Minister John Faulkner’s best efforts, the proposed carbon tax/levy in 1994/95 died an ignominious death (there’s a quote from Cheryl Kernot’s memoir coming up, btw).  And how best to demonstrate this, beyond mere assertion?  Well, this book –

1998 labor essays

 

has 17 chapters.  Not a one of them on environment, or climate change.  And here are the relevant pages of the index. Nowt on carbon dioxide, climate change, greenhouse effect or global warming.  Two tiny mentions of ‘environment‘.

1998 labor essays index 1

1998 labor essays index2

Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

#Keating and #climate – the longer Cabinet papers story

The 1992/3 Cabinet Papers have been released.  The Conversation let me (I badgered them) do the article on what we learn from them about the environmental policy battles.  It’s posted here, and I think they did their usual excellent job editing me.  Here is the full (much too long for their format) version, in case anyone is a geek like me…

Australian footdragging on climate has a long history

The Cabinet is having a fractious debate about climate change, emissions reductions targets and international obligations. The Treasurer and resources minister don’t trust the Environment Minister. They fear that Australia might over-commit at the next international shindig, and so damage some juicy export earnings. And look, the Americans might go soft on the whole global warming thing and let the Aussies off the hook.  Best, surely, to play dead and see what happens?

The Environment Minister is having none of it, saying  “Don’t you trust me, Griffo?”

“Cut the theatre, out”, he replied.

It is May 25, 1992, and the Keating government is wrestling with the upcoming Rio Earth Summit.  We know about this exchange not because of cabinet papers released today by the National Archives of Australia.  It turns out the cabinet notebooks, with all the the juicy stuff with who said what – remain sealed for a further 30 years, a decision agreed in .. July 1992. The information instead comes from Neal Blewett’s Cabinet Diary, published in 1999.

And that is indicative of this trove of papers –  there’s not much new or startling for anyone who was reading between the lines of the proper newspapers at the time, or who has read Clive Hamilton’s 2001 Running from the Storm, Dave Cox’s bleak 1997 book chapter “The road from Rio: multilateral cooperation gives way to national interest” or Joan Staples on the Keating and Howard Governments attitude to green issues and greenies.The ground has been covered in any number of academic articles as well (see here,here, here and here, to link but few.

Keating had inherited a mess, with the economy in the gutter thanks to the ‘recession we had to have.’  Liberal leader John Hewson was buoyant – the “Fightback!” policy (silent on environmental matters) – was getting a positive press.  Keating had yet to frame Hewson as the feral abacus, and  Cakegate not yet a twinkle in Mike Willesee’s eye.  Keating was hardly in a mood to go to the Rio Earth Summit in June, and he didn’t.

Domestic (lack of) bliss

Domestically, the Hawke government had thrown the environment movement, which helped it win the 1990 election by a narrow margin – a bone in the shape of the “Ecologically Sustainable Development” policy process.  Working groups made up of corporate representatives, environmentalists and bureaucrats had beavered away and produced hundreds of recommendations.

The radical ones (gasp – a price on carbon!) were weeded out between the draft reports (June ‘91) and final ones (December). These final recommendations then disappeared into a bureaucratic maw for six months. As John Coulter had warned at the time “There is a bureaucratic hostility to ESD which will only be blunted by direct community pressure, which requires a permanent ESD process to be set up” (Iffland, 1991).

The mid-1992 meeting at which they were supposed to be agreed was so disastrous that the environmentalists walked out and even the corporates felt aggrieved.

A 1999 history of the Australian Environment Movement observes that

“By this stage, conservation groups were so outraged at the gutting of the working groups’ recommendations that they boycotted the process. Even non-conservation groups were angered by the public servants’ actions. These bureaucrats were so attacked by industry, farmers, engineers and unions at a two-day conference in late 1992 that the second day was called off.

Several of the conservation representatives on the working groups later related that they often found industry representatives, despite their vested interests, easier to work with than the bureaucrats.”

Well, we now have two interim reports to fill out that picture, telling us exactly what we knew then.

The first interim report, in March  said that  ‘departments have not been able to identify a worthwhile package’. Cabinet waved the process  on, but only on the basis that ‘no regrets actions’ were all that was on the table, that is ones which ‘involve little or no additional cost, cause minimal disruption to industry or the community, and which also offer benefits other than greenhouse related’.

By May, Federal ministers were similarly informed that the states and territories were ‘not strongly committed’ to either ESD or greenhouse reduction strategies, and resented the pace with which the Commonwealth sought to settle policy positions that would have ‘substantial financial and economic implications’.

So, the State-Federal tango, was not going to be solved by the recently instituted COAG.  We will know in another 30 years if Graham Richardson, by now Social Security Minister, dredged up his threat of a referendum to wrest  environmental policy from the states.  I think it’s unlikely he did that- the moment had passed.

The policy process rumbled on after the walkout, and the final National Greenhouse Response Strategy contained only – surprise! – toothless voluntary measures, which proved ineffective in keeping emissions down to 1990 levels.

The November 1992 minutes mildly note that

“Most major interest groups have voiced concerns about their lack of involvement in the drafting of the NGRS document. Officials made provision for community input through the public comment process and a public consultative forum held in August. [The one the environmentalists walked out of] Reaction from conservation groups is likely to be negative, given the limited changes made to many of the responses in the revised strategy. They are likely to want to see more concerted efforts in areas such as fuel efficiency and renewable energy sources.” 

Indeed.

With equal prescience,  the document warns that coal producers and resource intensive industries (eg aluminium) may express concern about their prospects in the medium to long term.”

“Expressed concern” is certainly one way of putting it.  Creating a greenhouse mafia to control the policy process is another…

International threats

On the international question, the key point to understand is that the US had successfully resisted a push from the developing world and the European Union for specific emissions reduction targets and time tables – for developed countries only – to be included in the text of the UNFCCC treaty. Bush Senior simply threatened to not attend the Rio Earth Summit. The Europeans blinked, and the rest is history.

In a document discussing funding for environment and development negotiations the point is made – not for the first or last time that

“Australia is the only developed megadiverse country; it is a major user and exporter of greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and energy intensive products; it could be significantly affected by global environmental change”

In May 1992 Cabinet endorsed the principle of support for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,

There are three  ironies. First that it was a major concern that the media statement to accompany the Environment Minister’s signing should be amended to include  the fact that

“The Convention does not bind any signatory to meet any greenhouse gas target by a specified date.”

Secondly the minutes note that “A decision by Australia not to sign the Convention would be criticised by domestic environment interests and could also attract international criticism, particularly in the Pacific region.”  This was not something that, in later years, would keep John Howard awake at night.

Thirdly, its emphasis on assisting developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region to develop capacities for adaptation looks odd given there had been zero mention of greenhouse gas in the March 1992 discussion document of bilateral aid to Cambodia  (the country is suffering markedly now)

International Wiggle Room

Keating’s willingness to let Ros Kelly go and sign will  have been related to the following

“The Convention contains several safeguards which protect Australia’s interests. In the specific commitments section, allowance is made for “the differences in Parties’ starting points and approaches, economic structures and resource bases, and the need to maintain strong and sustainable economic growth, available technologies and other individual circumstances”. Additionally, Parties are obliged to take into consideration the situation of Parties with economiesthat are highly dependent on the production, processing, export and use of fossil fuels. These two provisions will give relevant countries, including Australia, flexibility in fulfilling their obligations under the Convention.”

And they probably thought they had more time than they actually did.  The May 1992 note argues

“It is likely to take some years to obtain the necessary ratifications to bring it into force.” When in actual fact it only took two…

The target of not having a binding target was safe – in December, just before ratifying the Bush-whacked UNFCCC treaty, Cabinet agreed (again) that there would be no commitment to firm, binding targets in advance of other developed nations. Ministers agreed in December 1992 that ‘our capacity to continue to protect Australia’s economic and trade interests’ remained the priority, particularly in arguing against ‘response actions’ that would fall ‘disproportionately’ on Australian economic growth.  They worried that “Industry groups will be concerned about possible negative impacts on Australia’s economy and trade competitiveness” and that “environment groups are concerned that current commitments under the Convention do not go far enough in curbing climate change.”

No. Change. There. Then.

What happened next

It was in these years 1992- 1994 that two groups with curious acronyms hit their stride – ABARE, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics – an ‘independent’ (and oil and coal company funded) department of the Australian government produced report after report which Australian diplomats used to try to secure Australia exemptions from emissions reductions and the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, a devastatingly successful, low profile outfit of industry lobbyists and head-hunted senior bureaucrats who helped shape and minimise Australia’s climate policy for well over a decade.

This theme would be aggressively picked up by the Keating government. In 1994 both the Foreign Minister (Gareth Evans) and the Treasurer (Ralph Willis) would argue that Australia might withdraw from the UNFCCC.

No secrets

At least with regard to climate policy, there are no real secrets worthy of the name. We have known that the Australian state quickly retreated from its already-hedged promise to take action, and they told us all along that this was because we had a lot of coal.  While Australia’s international credibility has flatlined (with a brief bump from 2007 to 2009), two other things have soared over the last 25 years- Australia’s coal exports, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.  Both look set to continue their upward trend.

Reading the documents it is striking how concerned the Cabinet is to minimise its financial commitments (unsurprising, perhaps, given the overall state of the economy at the time),and just how unimportant the issue was to them – a distant abstraction that most of them seem not to lose any sleep over. How times have changed.

 

 

UPDATE – researching something else, I came across this from Joan Staples’ PhD –

Economou (1996, pp. 17-18) may have described Keating as a ‘leading voice amongst the economic ‘hard-heads’ within cabinet’ against environmental action, but Labor advisors Balderstone (2008) and Emerson (2008) repeatedly claimed to me that Keating ‘was green’ and that his position as treasurer made it impossible for him to show his true colours. Judy Lambert also recalled that he supported Environment Minister Ros Kelly in the setting of very high standards for the approval of the Wesley Vale pulp mill that assisted in its demise4 (Lambert 2008). Despite the public antagonism between Hawke and Keating, Hawke (2008) told me that in relation to environment issues, Keating ‘was never a real problem’. Richardson (2008) also described Keating as ‘being pretty good’ in Cabinet environment debates during Richardson’s term as minister, with the exception of debates on Kakadu Stage III and climate change.

Last week in #Australian #Climate Politics – a bluffer’s guide

What happened?
turnbullThis week the government executed a massive policy backflip and its backbenchers weakened a leader who they despise and will probably knife quite soon. The opposition rolled its eyes and sighed and secretly squealed with delight. There were assurances that Australia is on track to meet its international obligations on emissions reductions when in fact it is a gazillion miles away.  Meanwhile the media piled in and business stood there mouths agape like a goldfish whose bowl is ever more full of… dirty water.  Economists slammed inch-think reports on desks. The scientists and environmentalists bleated about ecological catastrophe, but everybody ignored them for the fun of the horse-race politics.

So, a normal week in Australian climate politics then?
An abnormally normal week perhaps, but yes, point taken.

Then why is everyone running around as if it’s the end of the world?
Because – as Lenore Taylor has been exhaustively reporting (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), the last environment minister, Greg Hunt, had spent ages trying to slip the framework – or the necessary ambiguity – for an “emissions intensity scheme”  into the government’s policy. Of course, it had to be done in a way that wouldn’t lead to a bloodbath.  Julie Bishop had pointed to possible carbon trading after 2020 when she was in Paris last year for some international meeting. It was a very very badly kept secret, but economists, business lobbyists and even some greenies hoped it might work.  

And?
On Monday morning, at just after 8am in an ABC radio station,  it all went Very Horribly Wrong.

Yeah, I think I heard something about that. So the new environment minister – Josh Frydenberg’s few words- “We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.”–   are as fatal as Gillard’s February 24 2011 ill-fated agreement that a fixed price for an emissions trading scheme could be considered a ‘tax’?
We will see.  Probably.  But before using poor Josh as a pinata, remember the wiggle room  to skirt around the issue was always going to shrink.  The can had been kicked down the road as far as it could. Someone was going to have to piss or get off the pot.  The boil was so big that it…

Yes, yes, thanks, we get it. But surely people like Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt manned… sorry, staffed the barricades, belted out ‘La Marseillaise‘ and stiffened their innovative leader’s spine when the spittle started flying?
Strangely, no.

How odd. So,moving on –  which pundits said what?
Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that ink was spilt in the Saturday papers, and electrons set to work. The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor reminded Malcolm of his fine words in 2009. The Fin’s Laura Tingle had already commented that the Turnbull government had achieved a ‘rare’ trifecta.

Eh?
Oh, more Tingle gold, you know – or you should – “governments sometimes get policy right but the politics wrong; or the politics right but then stuff up on process. But the statements of Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg – and the even more strident statements of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday – have managed to stuff policy, process and politics all in one deft manoeuvre.”

Annabel Crabb had fun, sharpening her knives in that kitchen of hers, with a wry piece about political correctness and trigger warnings preventing proper debate of issues.  Jacqueline Maley knitted Pauline Hansen’s thousand-miles-from-bleaching-(and-reality)-snorkelling stunt to Canberra in a bravura sketch of a world “where policy-making is as fantastical as a go-nowhere boat trip over a bleached-out coral reef.”

Could we have some old white men now please? They seem under-represented in punditry these days.
Thought you’d never ask. Paul Kelly reckons that Turnbull has to prepare for renewed ‘carbon policy war’. He argues that industry dreams of Coalition and Labor coming together on climate change policy were just that — dreams” and that  “Turnbull has no wish to repeat the mistakes that cost him the leadership in 2009, hardly a miraculous conclusion. He has buried any ETS nostalgia and this can be assumed for the rest of his prime ministership”. However long that might be…  Chris Kenny was… Chris Kenny.  Something about Banquo, but he forgot to call Julia Gillard Lady Macbeth.  Richo reckons Malcolm deliberately used Josh as a human shield, a la Scott Morrison on the GST. Laurie Oakes reckons Josh Frydenberg is a marked man and how “game-playing takes precedence over good policy and process in Australian politics today.” 

Who knew?
Quite. Jack Waterford has a very interesting piece in the Canberra Times  on the using crises to push through policy changes.  He implies that Turnbull doesn’t have the skills – or perhaps the spine. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have both editorialised on Malcolm Turnbull, calling him a climate policy girlie man.

Really, they said that?
Not in so many words –  I am channelling my inner Mathias Cormann.

So everything will calm down now, yes, and the grown-up government can continue?
Oh, absolutely.  The right won’t dismiss the Climate Review as ‘housekeeping’, or imply Alan Finkel is a raving incompetent pinko in league with Gillian Trigg.  The states will decide to wait for the Federal government before taking any further action on climate or energy policy. The Climate Review, which is taking place for almost a year will be led by a non-partisan figure – probably Dick Warburton or Maurice Newman – and the hearings and discussion papers will not be hijacked by leaking, stunts and smearing; it will be an ideal speech community to warm the cockles of Jurgen Habermas‘s heart. Internationally, Donald Trump will be a steady – if slightly small – hand on the tiller.

Oh, thank goodness for that, you had me worried for a minute.
I have a bridge in Sydney to sell you.  Cash only.

 

[If you so much as smiled, let alone laughed, please think about retweeting/emailing/facebook.  Cheers!!]

PS  Here’s a (much) longer article, with less snark

PPS And here is my piece on the Conversation about climate backflips over the last ten years