Conservative but green independent MP Zali Steggall could break the government’s climate policy deadlock


Kate Crowley, University of Tasmania

When barrister, former world champion alpine skier, and now independent MP Zali Steggall took Tony Abbott’s New South Wales seat of Warringah in the 2019 election, she promised to pressure the government for action on climate change.

She was voicing the heightened concern in Warringah about climate change and the environment, and repudiating the denialism of one-time Prime Minister Abbott, who once described climate change as “absolute crap”.




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On Monday, Steggall released her Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020. It will be presented to the federal House of Representatives on March 23 for a vote.

The bill came just as horrendous flooding hit the east coast of Australia, not quite extinguishing the fires that, nationally, have killed 33 people, burned 11 million hectares of land, and destroyed thousands of homes.

Steggall’s bill outlines ways to bring Australia’s carbon emissions down to zero by 2050. It focuses on climate risks, with adaptation and mitigation measures to secure a more resilient Australia, including establishing an independent climate change commission to advise parliament.

Steggall is a non-aligned, conservative independent. So while the bill isn’t likely to pass – most private members bills don’t – hers is unique in its non-partisan nature. And it could even shift Australia’s stubborn climate change politics through her #ClimateActNow appeal to the public.

What the bill says

The federal government, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular, have faltered in leadership and policy in the face of Australia’s recent disasters. He argues the government will not be panicked into stronger climate policy.




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Last year, the government was re-elected on a platform of supporting an expanded coal industry, promoting regional coal industry jobs, paying polluters to reduce emissions, paying for reduced land clearing, and using carry-over credits to meet its global emissions target.

But Steggall’s bill changes the climate policy conversation entirely. It calls for a detailed risk assessment of the challenges of warming across all sectors, and national plans for adapting to those challenges, while reducing emissions in a transparent and accountable way.

It provides five-year plans to reduce emissions to zero by 2050, linking climate risks and impacts with emissions reduction. The plans are sector-wide, as similar plans are in the UK, with safeguards to ensure equitable transition, and they’ll be revised to adjust emissions reduction targets every five years.

This is a climate policy approach that reflects national and international malaise about Australia’s recent bush fire horrors, and now flooding crisis, because proposing zero emissions by 2050 is what more than 60 countries have already promised.

What’s more, the bill calls for transparent monitoring, reporting and accountability in line with global expectations, by establishing an independent Climate Change Commission. The commission’s role wouldn’t be to develop policy, but to ensure the five-year climate plans are progressing towards their targets.

Non-partisan nature

On the same day as its release, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott put forward her support for a net zero emissions target, saying Zali’s bill offered a sensible climate target the major parties could agree on.

Westacott’s support signals to the Morrison government the business community is looking for more ambitious and targeted climate policy action, anticipating the new jobs that will follow a transition to a low carbon economy.

But the main strength of Zali’s bill is its non-partisan nature. And it’s important for side stepping toxic climate politics and for proposing reasoned, apolitical, tried and tested policy solutions.

The bill is modelled on the David Cameron government’s 2008 Climate Change Act in the UK – legislation from a conservative party. This act sets carbon budgets, which can be controversial, but the UK are successfully reducing emissions.




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Shifting the climate debate

All it would take for Zali’s bill to pass is for a majority of MPs in the House of Representatives to vote for it, meaning some members of the government would need to use their vote.

If this were to happen, it would be a relief for business and industry, which are looking for certainty; for State and Territories, which are building vibrant renewable energy economies; and for Australians for whom climate change is now a foremost concern.

Although members of parliament are elected to represent their constituents, political allegiance invariably trumps popular will as they vote along party lines.

So Steggall is appealing directly to voters to contact their MP to secure support for her bill, and through her “Climate Act Now” petition.




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If enough constituents do this, the climate debate may shift as a result of Zali’s efforts. Whether or not her legislation is adopted as she has proposed it, it may still open the door to a revised version resolving Australia’s climate policy deadlock.

This is an almost impossible task, but Zali will likely build support as she did in seeking her election in Warringah, by staying focused, by meeting as many people as possible, and by staying true to her ideas.


Correction: an earlier version of this article used an incorrect hashtag, #ClimateActionNow. It also stated the matter would go to a “conscience vote” in parliament, rather than just a vote. This has been amended.The Conversation

Kate Crowley, Associate Professor, Public and Environmental Policy, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate policy is a fiendish problem for governments – time for an independent authority with real powers


Peter C. Doherty, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

From global epidemics to global economic markets to the global climate, understanding complex systems calls for solid data and sophisticated maths. My advice to young scientists contemplating a career in research is: “If you’re good at maths, keep it up!”

I’m no mathematician – my research career has focused largely on the complexities of infection and immunity. But as recently retired Board Chair of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, I’ve been greatly informed by close contact with mathematically trained meteorologists, oceanographers and other researchers, who analyse the massive and growing avalanche of climate data arriving from weather stations, satellites, and remote submersibles such as Argo floats.




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My perception, based on a long experience of science and scientists, is that these are outstanding researchers of impeccable integrity.

Among both the climate research community and the medically oriented environmental groups such as the Climate and Health Alliance and Doctors for the Environment Australia with which I have been involved, there is increasing concern, and even fear, about the consequences of ever-climbing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

The growing climate problem

Following the thinking of the late Tony McMichael, a Canberra-based medical epidemiologist who began studying lead poisoning and then went on to become a primary author on the health section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s five-yearly Assessment Reports, I have come to regard human-induced global warming as similar in nature to the problem of toxic lead poisoning.

Just like heavy metal toxicity, the problems caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases are cumulative, progressive, and ultimately irreversible, at least on a meaningful human timescale.

Regrettably, this consciousness has not yet seeped through to enough members of
the Australian political class. The same lack of engagement characterises current
national politics in Russia and the United States – although some US states, particularly California are moving aggressively to develop alternative energy sources.

The latter is true for much of Western Europe, while China and South Korea are committed both to phasing out coal and to leading the world in wind and solar power technology. In collaboration with the US giant General Electric, South Korean and Japanese companies are working to develop prefabricated (and hopefully foolproof) small nuclear reactors called SMRs.

At this stage, China (currently the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter) is humanity’s best hope – if it indeed holds to its stated resolve.

Political paralysis

Politically, with a substantial economic position in fossil fuel extraction and
export, Australia’s federal government seems paralysed when it comes to taking meaningful climate action. We signed on to the Paris Agreement but, even if we meet the agreed reductions in emissions, precious little consideration is given to the fossil fuels that we export for others to burn. And while much of the financial sector now accepts that any new investments in coalmines will ultimately become “stranded assets”, some politicians nevertheless continue to pledge tax dollars to fund such projects.

What can be done? Clearly, because meaningful action is likely to impact both
on jobs and export income, this is an impossible equation for Australia’s elected
representatives. Might it help to give them a “backbone” in the form of a fully
independent, scientifically and economically informed statutory authority, endowed with real powers? Would such an initiative even be possible under Australian law?

Realising that reasoned scientific and moral arguments for meaningful action
on climate change are going nowhere fast, some 41 Australian environmental organisations sought the help of the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL) to develop the case for a powerful, independent Commonwealth Environmental Commission (CEC) linked to a National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA).

This week in Canberra, at the culmination of a two-year process, the environmental groups will present their conclusions, preceded by a more mechanistic analysis from the lawyers.

In very broad terms, the new agencies would do for environmental policy what the Reserve Bank currently does for economic decisions. That is, they would have the power to make calls on crucial issues (whether they be interest rates or air pollution limits) that cannot be vetoed by the government.

Of course, that would require a government that is willing to imbue them with such power in the first place.




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While it’s a good bet that developing such a major national initiative will, at best, be a long, slow and arduous process, it is true that (to quote Laozi): “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

The ConversationWhat is also clear is that “business as usual” is not a viable option for the future economy, defence and health of Australia.

Peter C. Doherty, Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.