Spot the difference: as world leaders rose to the occasion at the Biden climate summit, Morrison faltered


Lesley Hughes, Macquarie University and Will Steffen, Australian National UniversityPrime Minister Scott Morrison overnight addressed a much anticipated virtual climate summit convened by US President Joe Biden, claiming future generations “will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver”.

But what will his government actually deliver?

Morrison’s speech was notable for its stark lack of ambition and a defensive tone at odds with the urgent, front-footed approach of other world leaders. He resisted the peer pressure to enter the global fold on climate action by setting clear goals, saying Australia made only “bankable” emissions-reduction commitments.

Morrison instead pointed to Australia’s “transformative technology targets”. As we will explain below, those targets are small, vague and certainly not “bankable”. And the spending commitments pale in comparison to the past and future cost of extreme weather in Australia.

Expectations of Australia heading into the summit were low – a fact perhaps reflected in the summit’s agenda. Morrison’s address was way down in the running order – he was 21st of 27 speakers. Biden was reportedly not in the room when Morrison spoke. And in an unfortunate glitch, Morrison’s microphone was on mute at the start of his speech.

The summit did deliver some major gains. There was palpable relief as Biden brought the US back to the table on global climate efforts, committing to an emissions-reduction target twice the ambition of Australia’s. Other nations including Japan, Canada and Britain also outlined major new commitments.

But sadly for Australians, the summit revealed the stark contrast in climate policy leadership between Morrison and his international peers.

Scott Morrison in front of Sydney harbour backdrop and Australian flags
The contrast on climate policy leadership between Scott Morrison and Joe Biden was on display at the summit.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The world steps up

Biden opened the summit by emphasising the urgent need to keep global warming below 1.5℃ This century. Failing to do so, he said, would bring:

More frequent and intense fires, floods, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes tearing through communities, ripping away lives and livelihoods, increasingly dire impacts to our public health […] We can’t resign ourselves to that future. We have to take action, all of us.

Biden committed the US to a 50-52% emissions reduction by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Other notable emissions-reduction pledges included:

There were hopes Morrison would use the summit to announce Australia would finally join more than 100 countries to set an emissions target of net-zero by 2050. (Australia’s current emissions trajectory has us on track to get to net-zero in the year 2167).

But Morrison dashed those hopes early, telling world leaders: “For Australia, it is not a question of if or even by when for net-zero, but importantly how”.

He pointed to the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, including A$20 billion to bring down the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture. He also spoke of a goal to produce clean hydrogen for A$2 a kilogram, and his dream that Australia’s hydrogen industry would one day rival the scale of California’s Silicon Valley.




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Scott Morrison can’t spin this one: Australia’s climate pledges at this week’s summit won’t convince the world we’re serious


Homes with solar panels on roof
Morrison spruiked Australia’s high uptake of rooftop solar.
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Will technology save us? Not likely

Earlier this week, Morrison set the scene for his address by announcing a suite of technology funding commitments. Let’s take a closer look at them.

On Wednesday Morrison announced A$540 million for regional hydrogen hubs and carbon-capture and storage (CCS) projects. Some A$275 million will be committed to seven hydrogen hubs in regional areas over five years – that’s about A$7.8 million per hub each year.

It’s hard to see this buying much more than a plan on a piece of paper. Further, there’s little detail on how much will be spent on clean vs dirty hydrogen – that is, hydrogen generated from renewables vs fossil fuels. However the proposed location of some of these hubs in fossil-fuel rich areas, such as the Latrobe Valley and Hunter Valley, does not bode well.

A further A$263.7 million over ten years will fund CCS projects. Since 2003, the Australian government has spent more than A$1 billion on CCS projects, with very little to show for it.

Globally, CCS has been criticised as unproven and expensive, simply designed to extend the life of fossil fuel industries.




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trucks carry coal through mine
CCS critics say it is simply a move to prop up fossil fuel industries.
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The third tranche of funding, announced on Thursday, is A$566 million for research partnerships with other countries for new technology such as green steel, small modular nuclear reactors and soil carbon storage. There was little detail in the announcement, so for now it remains rather hypothetical.

In sum, the government will spend a relatively small amount on hydrogen production and CCS, spread wafer thin in various regional areas (and at least some of it subsidising fossil fuels), plus hypothetical funding for research.

Compare this to the A$35 billion cost of extreme weather disasters in Australia between 2010 and 2019, as detailed in this Climate Council report.

More recently, the New South Wales government estimated the potential cost of last month’s devastating floods at A$2 billion. A report by the NSW Treasury estimated by 2061, future economic costs of climate impacts in four key risk areas (bushfires, sea level rise, heatwaves and agricultural production) could reach up to A$17.2 billion a year – and this is just for NSW.




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Cyclone Seroja just demolished parts of WA – and our warming world will bring more of the same


Debris washed up against bridge
The recent NSW floods caused $2 billion in damage, the state government says.
James Gourley/AAP

A tale of two leaders

Morrison told world leaders Australia would update its emissions-reduction target ahead of the Glasgow climate summit later this year. The current target – a 26-28% cut by 2030, based on 2005 levels – is broadly viewed as woefully inadequate.

Any increased ambition would be long overdue. However, more broadly, the contrast on climate policy between Morrison and Biden could not be clearer. Biden used the summit to tell world leaders:

Your leadership on this issue is a statement to the people of your nation and to the people of every nation, especially our young people, that we’re ready to meet this moment […] We really have no choice. We have to get this done.

Morrison, depressingly, showed little sign of hearing that message.The Conversation

Lesley Hughes, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University and Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

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

Net zero won’t be achieved in inner city wine bars: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAs Scott Morrison gradually pivots his climate policy towards embracing a target of net zero emissions by 2050, he is seeking to distinguish the government from “inner city” types and political opponents who’ve been marching down that road for a long time.

The Prime Minister told a Business Council of Australia dinner on Monday the government was charting its own course “to ensure Australia is well placed to prosper through the great energy transition of our time, consistent with strong action on climate change”.

“The key to meeting our climate change ambitions is commercialisation of low emissions technology,” he said.

“We are going to meet our ambitions with the smartest minds, the best technology and the animal spirits of capitalism.”

Morrison was speaking ahead of this week’s two-day virtual summit on climate called by President Biden.

The Biden administration has made the issue a major policy priority, which has increased the pressure on Australia to sign up to the 2050 target before the Glasgow meeting on climate late in the year.

Morrison acknowledged that “we need to change our energy mix over the next 30 years on the road to net zero emissions”.

But he said “we will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities.

“It will not be achieved by taxing our industries that provide livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet, as our political opponents sought to do, when they were given the chance.

“It will be achieved by the pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists.

“It will be won in places like the Pilbara, the Hunter, Gladstone, Portland, Whyalla, Bell Bay, and the Riverina.

“In the factories of our regional towns and outer suburbs. In the labs of our best research institutes and scientists.

“It will be won in our energy sector. In our industrial sector. In our agricultural sector. In our manufacturing sector.

“This is where the road to net zero is being paved in Australia. And those industries and all who work in them, will reap the benefits of the changes they are making and pioneering.”

Morrison said Australia’s natural resources and its industries’ strength presented “a huge opportunity to capitalise on the new energy economy”.

“And let’s not forget that Australia already produces many of the products that will be in growing demand as part of a low carbon future – from copper to lithium.

“It is this practical approach of making new technologies commercial that will see us achieve our goals.”

He said Australia was making real progress.

Its total emissions were 19% lower at the end of 2020 than in 2005.

“Our domestic emissions have already fallen by 36% from 2005 levels.

“Australia has deployed renewable energy ten times faster than the global average and four times faster than in Europe and the United States.

“One in four rooftops has solar, more than anywhere else in the world.

“Australia takes our emission reductions targets very seriously. We don’t make them lightly. We prepare our plan to achieve them and we follow through.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Wake up, Mr Morrison: Australia’s slack climate effort leaves our children 10 times more work to do


Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Lesley Hughes, Macquarie University; John Hewson, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Malte Meinshausen, The University of Melbourne, and Will Steffen, Australian National UniversityThere is much at stake at the highly anticipated United Nations climate summit in Glasgow this November. There, almost 200 nations signed up to the Paris Agreement will make emissions reduction pledges as part of the international effort to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Many countries recognise the urgent task at hand. Ahead of the meeting, more than 110 governments have already pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. So where is Australia in terms of global ambition?

We, some of Australia’s most senior climate change scientists and policymakers, have come together to address these and other pressing questions, informed by sound science and policy.

Our report, released today, pinpoints the emissions reduction burden Australians will bear in future decades if our Paris targets are not increased. Alarmingly, people living in the 2030s and 2040s could be forced to reduce emissions by ten times as much as people this decade, if Australia is to keep within its 2℃ “carbon budget”.

Girl in mask raises fist at climate rally
Without policy change, people living in coming decades will have to reduce emissions by far more than the current rate.
Dean Lewins/AAP

‘Manifestly inadequate’

A “carbon budget” identifies how much carbon dioxide (CO₂) the world can emit if it’s to limit global temperature rise to internationally agreed goals. Those goals include keeping warming to well below 2℃ – and preferably below 1.5℃ – this century.

National emissions reduction targets are key to staying within a carbon budget. Australia’s target, under the Paris Agreement, is a 26-28% reduction between 2005 and 2030.

In a report released in January, we showed how that target is manifestly inadequate. To remain within its 2°C carbon budget, Australia must cut emissions by 50% between 2005 and 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2045.

To remain inside the 1.5°C budget, we must reduce emissions by 74% between 2005 and 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2035.

Since that report was released, the Australian government has doubled down on its 2030 target. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to be inching closer to a net-zero commitment. Last month he declared his government’s goal was “to reach net-zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050”.

Our latest report set out to determine how the burden of emissions reduction would be spread after 2030 if Australia’s 2030 target is not increased.




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Smoke stacks sends emissions to the sky.
The Morrison government is sticking with its inadequate Paris pledge.
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What we found

Our analysis used the methodology adopted by the Climate Change Authority. This statutory body was established by the Gillard Labor government in 2012, and was charged with providing independent expert policy advice.

In 2014, the authority identified the level of climate ambition required for Australia to do its fair share in the global effort. It recommended a 30% emissions reduction between 2000 and 2025, reaching 40-60% by 2030.

But the Abbott Coalition government ignored this advice. Instead, it pledged the far weaker target of 26-28% emissions reduction.

We wanted to determine what happens if Australia sticks to that inadequate target – and so delays substantive climate action until later decades.

To meet the weak Paris target, Australia need only reduce emissions by 1.2% each year from 2020 to 2030. If Australia persists with this target but still decides to stay inside the 2℃ carbon budget, that leaves just 1,329 million tonnes of greenhouse gases we can emit after 2030.

Keeping to this limit would be extremely challenging. If done in a straight-line trajectory, it would mean a 12.9% cut in emissions each year from 2030, until net-zero emissions were reached in 2037.

This represents an annual challenge ten times greater than what’s needed in each year this decade to meet the current 2030 goals. It would require an annual emissions reduction of 66.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – more than every car and light commercial vehicle on Australia’s roads emits in a year.



Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Second, we looked at the emissions trajectory if Australia was to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, while still keeping the inadequate 2030 Paris targets. We found people living in the 2030s and 2040s would have to reduce emissions by three times more than what’s required this decade.


Emissions include land-use, landuse change and forestry emissions. A drop in widespread land clearing creates the impression of overall reduced emissions. But underlying fossil fuel and industrial emissions have steadily increased since the 1990s – with the exception of brief moments when Australia had an effective price on carbon.
Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Clearly, the inadequate 2030 target is the source of the problem. By requiring very little emissions reduction this decade, the Morrison government is kicking the climate can down the road for our children to pick up. It means Australia is also failing on its moral obligation to do its fair share in the global climate effort.

Australia trails the world

This sad state of affairs is not news to the rest of the world. Australia is widely viewed as an international climate laggard. In the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, it received the lowest rating of 57 countries and the European Union. It also ranked second-worst on climate action, out of 177 countries, in the 2020 UN Sustainable Development Report.

The Glasgow climate summit, known as the 26th Conference of the Parties or COP26, seeks to hold governments to account for their climate pledges. Nations are expected to front up with ambitious short-term plans for emissions reduction.

Many nations have risen to the challenge. Countries to adopt a target of net-zero by 2050 include the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union. China will aim to achieve this target by 2060.

Even more importantly, some governments have ramped up their 2030 targets. For example the European Union will now reduce emissions by 55% and the United Kingdom by 68% – both on 1990 levels.




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Under President Joe Biden, the US will work towards net-zero emissions by 2050.
Carolyn Kaster/AP/AAP

A critical decade

The importance of COP26 cannot be overstated. Under current global pledges, an average temperature rise of 3℃ or more is distinctly possible this century. This increases the risk of abrupt and irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate system – known as tipping points – bringing disastrous consequences for both human and natural systems.

The Morrison government is failing to protect Australia from this devastating future. It’s also ignoring a major economic opportunity that should – in a rational country – bring all sides of politics together.

Over the past decade, renewable energy costs have plummeted and significant advances have been made in electric vehicles and regenerative agriculture. This opens up vast new opportunities for Australia.

These days, few in the federal Coalition would deny climate science outright. But the government’s softer form of denial – failing to grasp the need for urgent action – will have the same tragic outcome.




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The Conversation


Lesley Hughes, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University; John Hewson, Professor and Chair, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Malte Meinshausen, A/Prof., School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, and Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

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

View from The Hill: Now Scott Morrison’s ‘preference’ is for net zero emissions by 2050


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has taken another, albeit very small, step towards endorsing a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

He told the National Press Club on Monday: “Our goal is to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050”.

This follows his previous wording of wanting net zero “as quickly as possible”.

It remains unclear whether the baby steps will lead to his embracing the 2050 target later this year. But he’d almost certainly like to do so – it would undoubtedly smooth the way with the Biden administration as well as putting Australia in a better position for the Glasgow climate conference in November.

But there are pesky Nationals (and a few others) ready to make the road rocky.

The next climate test for Morrison is President Biden’s planned leaders’ climate summit on Earth Day, April 22.

Climate is at the centre of the Biden agenda, which makes the April summit particularly important.

The President’s climate envoy John Kerry told a White House press briefing last week: “the convening of … this summit is essential to ensuring that 2021 is going to be the year that really makes up for the lost time of the last four years and that the U.N. Climate Conference — COP26, as it’s called, which the UK is hosting in November — to make sure that it is an unqualified success”.

Kerry spoke to energy minister Angus Taylor last week when, according to the Australia readout of the discussion, Kerry “welcomed Australia’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible”.

As, perhaps, one might welcome an infant’s early progress.

Asked on Monday whether he expected to attend the Biden climate conference, Morrison replied cautiously, on the basis of lack of information.

Perhaps he didn’t want to take any risks. In December he was embarrassed when an expected invitation to a speaking spot at the “climate ambition summit” hosted by Britain, France and the United Nations didn’t eventuate. Australia was judged as not having sufficient “ambition” to warrant a slot.

“ At this stage, we haven’t received the details or nature of the event,” Morrison said of the April gathering.

“As you can appreciate, things are very busy over in the White House at the moment.”

When details were received, “then I’m sure the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne and I, and Angus Taylor, and others, will discuss what is the best way for us to participate in that and how that will work.

“But we welcome it and we look forward to supporting it.”

Maybe there’ll be more to know when Morrison speaks to Biden. As of Monday, the PM was still waiting fot his first post-inauguration call from the President (they spoke after the election). The Prime Minister’s Office could only say the call was expected “within coming days”.

Morrison on Monday repeated strongly his mantra of advancing climate policy by “technology” not “tax”.

If he does move to the 2050 target, the rationale he will give for the shift will be the progress of technology.

“My commitment to Australians that I will not tax our way to net zero by 2050 is a very, very important one and I will hold my faith with the Australian people on those issues. So we will see how the technology develops,” he said.

If he wished, he obviously could use “technology” at any point as his cover for changing his position. The issue will be if and when he thinks he has the political cover.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Malcolm Turnbull condemns Scott Morrison’s ‘gas, gas, gas’ song as ‘a fantasy’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has launched a swingeing attack on Scott Morrison’s gas-led recovery, labelling his threat to build a gas-fired power station “crazy stuff”, and his idea of gas producing a cheap energy boom “a fantasy”.

The former prime minister also claimed Morrison’s refusal to embrace a 2050 net zero emissions target was “absolutely” at odds with the Paris climate agreement. “That was part of the deal,” Turnbull said.

Morrison at the weekend would not commit to a 2050 target – endorsed by business, farming and other groups in Australia and very many countries – although he said it was achievable.

Turnbull also declared that Energy Minister Angus Taylor – who on Tuesday delivered his technology investment roadmap for low emissions – didn’t believe most of what he was saying on energy.

“Angus has got quite a sophisticated understanding of the energy market, and he is speaking through the political side of his brain rather than the economic side,” Turnbull told the ABC.

The energy/climate war was pivotal in Turnbull’s fall from the prime ministership in 2018, and from the opposition leadership in 2009. While Morrison is totally safe in his job, the battle over energy policy on the conservative side of politics has not been put to rest, although the prime minister is banking on his elevation of gas satisfying his Liberal parliamentarians.

Morrison’s gas policy, which the government spruiks as underpinning a manufacturing revival, is being seen as a walk away from coal.

It includes a threat to build a gas-fired power station in the Hunter region if private enterprise does not fill the gap left by the coming closure of the Liddell coal-fired station.

The debate about gas has produced an unexpected unity ticket between Turnbull and former resources minister, the Nationals Matt Canavan, on one key point – both insist gas prices won’t be as low as the policy assumes.

But Turnbull and Canavan go in opposite directions in their energy prescriptions – Turnbull strongly backs renewables and Canavan is a voice for coal.

While acknowledging gas had a role “as a peaking fuel”, Turnbull dismissed any prospect of a “gas nirvana”.

“There is no cheap gas on the east coast of Australia. It is cheap at the moment because there’s a global recession and pandemic and oil prices are down, but the equilibrium price of gas is too high to make it a cheap form of generating electricity.”

“The cheap electricity opportunities come from wind and solar, backed by storage, batteries and pumped hydro, and then with gas playing a role but it’s essentially a peaking role,” Turnbull said.

Writing in the Australian, Canavan said the Morrison gas plan would “keep the lights on but it is unlikely to lower energy prices to the levels needed to bring manufacturing back to Australia.

“If we were serious about getting [energy] prices down as low as possible, we would focus on the energy sources in which we have a natural advantage, and that is not gas. We face gas shortages in the years ahead.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said about the government’s power station threat, that it would be “peculiar” to build a gas-fired plant “in the middle of a coal field”.

Turnbull said of last week’s announcement, “I’m not going to sing the song but it’s a gas, gas, gas”.

The roadmap was “gas one minute, carbon capture and storage the next”.

“What you need is to set out some basic parameters, which deal with reliability, affordability and emissions reduction, and then let the market get to work. That’s what Liberal governments should do. Unfortunately, it’s just one random intervention after another,” Turnbull said.

He lamented that, for whatever reasons, there was a “body of opinion on the right of Australian politics in the Liberal party and the National party, the Murdoch press, which still clings to this fantasy that coal is best and if we can’t have coal we’ll burn gas – I mean, it’s bonkers. The way to cheaper electricity is renewables plus storage, which is why the big storage plan that we got started, Snowy 2, is so important.”

Turnbull said that unlike his own situation when PM, Morrison was “in a position with no internal opposition”. “Now is the time to deliver an integrated, coherent energy and climate policy which is what the whole energy sector has been crying out for.”

Taylor told the National Press Club the government’s determination to get the gap filled, whether by private investment or a government power station, when the Liddell coal fired station closes in 2023 “is partly about reliability, but it’s primarily about affordability.

“If you take that much capacity out of the market, it’s a huge amount in a short period of time. We saw what happened with Hazelwood. We saw very, very sharp increases in prices. We’re not prepared to accept that.”

Asked whether the government’s resistance to committing to the 2050 target was more about appeasing the right wing of the coalition rather than about the target itself, Taylor said: “Our focus is on our 2030 target in the Paris agreement…and in a few years time we will have to extend that out to 2035 …

“What we’re not going to do is impose a target that’s going to impose costs on the economy, destroy jobs, and stop investment. The Paris commitment, globally, is to net zero in the second half of the century and we would like that to happen as soon as possible.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Morrison government plan to scrap water buybacks will hurt taxpayers and the environment



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Quentin Grafton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The Morrison government today declared it will axe buybacks of water entitlements from irrigators, placating farmers who say the system has damaged their livelihood and communities.

Instead, Water Minister Keith Pitt says the government will scale up efforts to save water by upgrading infrastructure for farming irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin.

The move will anger environmentalists, who say water buybacks are vital to restoring flows to Australia’s most important river system. It also contradicts findings from the government’s own experts this week who said farm upgrades increase water prices more than buyback water recovery.

The government has chosen a route not backed by evidence, and which will deliver a bad deal to taxpayers and the environment.

A farmer stands in the dry river bed of the Darling River
The government will no longer buy water from farmers for the environment.
Dean Lewins/AAP

A brief history of water buybacks

Farmers along the Murray Darling are entitled to a certain amount of river water which they can use or sell. In 2008, the federal Labor government began buying some of these entitlements in an open-tender process known as “buybacks”. The purchased water was returned to the parched river system to boost the environment.

In 2012, the Murray Darling Basin Plan was struck. It stipulated that 2,750 billion litres of water would be bought back from irrigators and delivered to the environment every year. The buyback system was not universally supported – critics claim buybacks increase water prices, and hurt farmers by reducing the water available for irrigation.

The Coalition government came to office in 2013 and adopted a “strategic” approach to water buybacks. These purchases were made behind closed doors with chosen irrigators.




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Recovering water for the environment in the Murray-Darling: farm upgrades increase water prices more than buybacks


In a review of these buybacks released last month, the Australian National Audit Office found many of these taxpayer-funded deals were not good value for money.

The federal government ordered the review after controversy involving the 2017 purchase of water from two Queensland properties owned by Eastern Australia Agriculture.

The government paid A$80 million for the entitlements – an amount critics said was well over market value. The deal was also contentious because government frontbencher Angus Taylor was, before the purchase, a non-financial director of the company. The company also had links to the Cayman Islands tax haven.

Keith Pitt speaks in Parliament as Prime Minister Scott Morrison watches on
Water Minister Keith Pitt, pictured during Question Time, is the minister responsible for the new approach.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Infrastructure subsidies: a flawed approach

The Coalition government is taking a different approach to recover water for the environment: subsidising water infrastructure on farms and elsewhere. This infrastructure includes lining ponds and possibly levees to trap and store water.

The subsidies have cost many billions of dollars yet recover water at a very much higher cost than reverse tenders. This approach also reduces the water that returns to streams and groundwater.




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The justification for water infrastructure subsidies is that they are supposedly less damaging to irrigation communities. But the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) concluded in a report published this week that on-farm water infrastructure subsidies, while beneficial for their participants, “push water prices higher, placing pressure on the wider irrigation sector”. This is the very sector the subsidies purport to help.

So why would the government expand the use of water infrastructure when it costs more and isn’t good value for money? The answer may lie in this finding from the ABARES report:

Irrigators who hold large volumes of entitlement relative to their water use (and are frequently net sellers of water allocations) may benefit from higher water prices, as this increases the value of their entitlements.

Farmers with limited entitlement holdings however may be adversely affected, as higher water prices increase their costs and lowers their profitability.

In other words, the “big end of town” benefits – at taxpayers’ expense – while the small-scale irrigators lose out.

Missing water

Adding insult to injury, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists released a detailed report this week showing the basin plan is failing to deliver the water expected, even after accounting for dry weather. Some two trillion litres of water is not in the rivers and streams of the basin and appears to have been consumed – a volume that could be more than four times the water in Sydney Harbour.

The Wentworth Group says stream flows may be less than expected because environmental water recovery has been undermined by “water-saving” infrastructure, which reduces the amount of water that would otherwise return to rivers and groundwater.

This infrastructure, on which taxpayers have spent over A$4 billion, has not had the desired effect. Research has found those who receive infrastructure subsidies increased water extractions by more than those who did not receive subsidies. That’s because farmers who were using water more efficiently often planted thirstier crops.

Dusk at Menindee Lakes in the Murray Darling Basin
The government took a strategic approach to water buybacks in the Murray Darling Basin.
Shutterstock

We deserve better

It’s clear taxpayer dollars are much better spent buying back water entitlements, through open tenders, rather than subsidising water infrastructure. We can, and must, do much better with water policy.

Today, the federal government has doubled down on wasteful spending at taxpayer expense – in a time of a COVID-induced recession.

So what is on offer from the Morrison government? Continuing to ignore its own experts’ advice and delivering yet more ineffective subsidies for water infrastructure. Our rivers, our communities, and all Australians deserve much better.




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The Conversation


Quentin Grafton, Director of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Under Biden, the US would no longer be a climate pariah – and that leaves Scott Morrison exposed



Andrew Harnik/AP

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is campaigning on a platform that puts climate action front and centre. At the Democratic National Convention last week, he outlined a US$2 trillion clean energy and infrastructure plan, a commitment to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

This contrasts starkly with the agenda of President Donald Trump, which has involved rolling back climate regulations and plans for a US withdrawal from the Paris deal.

Clearly, a Biden election win would bring a climate policy sea change in the US – the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter and a key player in any international agreement.

The Trump presidency has been a godsend for an Australian government apparently uninterested in significant climate action. But with Trump behind in the polls, a Biden presidency would further expose the Morrison government’s lack of climate ambition – a position that was already fast becoming indefensible.

Donald Trump addressing supporters.
US President Donald Trump signalled the US’ intention to exit the Paris Agreement.
Steve Helber/AP

Climate policy: Australia in the world

In international terms, Australia’s emissions reduction commitments are clearly at the lower level of ambition.

It’s pledged a 26% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, and plans to “carry over” carbon credits earned during the Kyoto protocol period to substantially reduce the emissions reduction task under Paris. Even given this modest goal, and the emissions slowdown during the pandemic, it’s still not certain Australia will meet its target.

But unlike the US, at least Australia can point to its continued commitment to the Paris Agreement itself. And the Morrison government’s claim that Australia’s emission reduction will have little global impact is easier to make when a major emitter is refusing to take substantive climate action.




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Carbon dioxide levels over Australia rose even after COVID-19 forced global emissions down. Here’s why


But that state of play will change under a Biden presidency. Importantly, the new administration will likely use its re-entry to the global climate action “tent” to push other countries to increase their ambition.

This would put pressure on Australia ahead of COP26 – the next round of United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, in November 2021. The central focus of these talks – postponed from 2020 – will be new national commitments on emissions reduction.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, countries have to ratchet up their commitments every five years. So far, there is no indication Australia will comply but ahead of the next COP, host nation the UK will be among a group of nations pushing the Morrison government to go harder. Under Biden, the US would likely join the chorus.

Scott Morrison holding a lump of coal in Parliament
Scott Morrison is a vocal supporter of Australia’s coal industry.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Pressure from all directions

Even without a Biden presidency, other forces are making Australia’s climate position less tenable.

Pressure from Australia’s near neighbours has been significant. At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum, the Morrison government was roundly chastised for its climate inaction – an issue central to the concerns of Pacific island states. Indeed, it seems clear Australia’s climate policy is undermining the Morrison government’s so-called Pacific step up, making effective engagement with the region much more challenging.




Read more:
Australia’s farmers want more climate action – and they’re starting in their own (huge) backyards


At home, the devastating effects of the last bushfire season brought Australian climate action into sharp focus. Under climate change, natural disasters such as bushfires will become more frequent and severe.

In 2019, Australians identified climate change as the biggest threat to our vital national interests. The 2020 Lowy Poll saw a slight decline in concern for climate change as the effects of the coronavirus took hold, but support for strong action was still well above 50%.

The National Farmers Federation, historically a relatively conservative voice on climate policy, last week called for Australia to commit to the same target as Biden – net-zero emissions by 2050.

Cows lined up against a fence
The National Farmers Federation wants Australia’s economy to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Shutterstock

This target is also a feature of the federal opposition’s position on climate policy, together with a 40% emissions reduction by 2030. Current Labor infighting over the policy after its 2019 election loss casts some doubt on that commitment. But the party’s climate change spokesman Mark Butler, and others in Labor pushing Australia to do more, will surely be empowered by the dynamics noted above.

If the case for emissions reduction needed strengthening further, a Greenpeace report released on Monday, reviewed by scientists, found pollution from Australia’s 22 coal-fired power stations is responsible for 800 premature deaths each year.

Added to this, research has found more coal power generation closed than opened around the world this year. And the International Energy Agency says renewable electricity may be the only energy source to withstand the COVID-19 demand shock.

Combined with the falling cost of renewables technology, the Morrison government’s dogged support for the fossil fuel industry is increasingly unjustifiable.

No silver bullet

A Biden presidency won’t be a silver bullet for Australian climate policy. The Morrison government has shown itself willing to shrug off international condemnation and view climate action primarily through the lens of mining exports and electricity prices. And for that, they’ve arguably been rewarded at the ballot box.

But domestic and international pressure for Australia to do more is increasing. A Biden election victory would certainly make it that bit harder for Australia to keep its head stuck in the sand.




Read more:
Australia’s farmers want more climate action – and they’re starting in their own (huge) backyards


The Conversation


Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

Listen to your people Scott Morrison: the bushfires demand a climate policy reboot



Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfires has been roundly criticised as being too slow and out of touch.
James Ross/AAP

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Frank Jotzo, the director of the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at Australian National University, has some constructive advice for Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a column today for the ABC: do not waste an opportunity to recalibrate his government’s approach on climate change.

Morrison should heed Jotzo’s suggestion that he and his cabinet need to “drop the old anti-climate change stance”. As Jotzo writes,

You’ve been politically locked into a no-action position, but the bushfires give you the reason to change […] You can make it your mission to protect the country from harm, an essential conservative cause.

Jotzo speaks with authority as one of the country’s foremost experts on climate reduction policies. He has a global reputation.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Climate winds blowing on Morrison from Liberal party’s left


Whether Morrison is capable of a course correction on climate change and, in the process, yield on an issue he has used to wedge his political opponents remains to be seen. However, he would be unwise to pretend that once the immediate bushfire danger passes and the smoke clears, the country will return to normal politically.

The nation will expect – indeed it will demand – that any government, conservative or Labor, face up to what is the new normal of a drying continent rendering human settlement increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather. Failure to do so will exact a heavy political price.

Scott Morrison’s holiday trip to Hawaii immediately came under fire from those who accused him of being out of touch with fire victims.
Steven Saphore/AAP

Morrison’s fallback positions are less defensible

The prime minister insists he has not denied there is a link between climate change and bushfires, but at best his responses on the subject have been evasive and self-serving politically.

Pressed on the issue, his fallback position is to say

I am sure you would also agree that no response by any one government anywhere in the world can be linked to one fire event.

That might be true, but it is hardly the point in the wider scheme of what measures might be adopted to address problems of a sluggish response to the bushfire emergency.

Morrison and others in his government might also go easy on claims that local opposition to hazard reduction burning in native forests contributed to the fires. This is a coded attacked on the Greens and is not supported by the evidence.

When in doubt, politically you might say, blame the Greens.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Minister David Littleproud on bushfires, drought, and the Nationals


Memo to Scott Morrison: people are fed up with politics proving to be a constraint on the development of a credible and sustainable climate policy that involves reasonable transitional steps to a low-carbon economy over time.

As such, he might also drop his claim that calls to reduce carbon emissions are “reckless”.

Where the prime minister is particularly vulnerable – this will be subject studied closely by any future commission of inquiry – lies in his refusal to meet a group of former emergency services leaders calling itself Emergency Leaders for Climate Change.

In April, the leader of the group, Greg Mullins, a former commissioner of NSW Fire and Rescue, wrote to Morrison warning him of the threat of “increasingly catastrophic extreme weather events”.

In September, this expert group wrote again to the prime minister asking for a meeting.

They received no constructive response.

Likewise, academic warnings about risks of climate-induced extreme weather events have been ignored.

In a March 2019 report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, ANU professor Robert Glasser called specifically for a national strategy to deal with climate disaster preparedness.

More than 500 Australians, about the same number who died in the Vietnam War, die each year from heat stress alone. The annual economic costs of natural disasters are projected to increase to A$39 billion by 2050, which is roughly equivalent to what the Australian government spends annually on defence.

Bear in mind Glasser’s report was written before these Christmas-New Year bushfire disasters.

We need to begin preparing now for this changing climate, by developing a national strategy that outlines exactly how we move on from business as usual and adopt a more responsible approach to climate disaster preparedness.

Demonstrating empathy, not political calculations

This bring us to issues surrounding the PM’s own leadership during the crisis.

Rosemary Williamson of the University of New England concluded a useful survey of Australian prime ministers’ responses to natural disasters last year with these words:

Australians will expect prime ministers to come and see for themselves, to demonstrate empathy and to instil confidence in recovery.

If these are the benchmarks for prime ministerial behaviour during a crisis brought on by disaster whether it is flood, fire or cyclone, Morrison has not lived up to these expectations.

First, he was – inexplicably – out of the country on holiday while uncontrollable fires began ravaging his home state of New South Wales.

Second, he has had trouble demonstrating reasonable empathy for victims of the fires.

And third, he has had difficulty accepting the Commonwealth had a shared responsibility for assisting the states in coping with the fallout from arguably the worst natural disaster in Australian history.

What has been most surprising is the time it has taken for Canberra to understand that such are the dimensions of this disaster that military assistance was necessary.

Weeks passed without the Australian Defence Force (ADF) being called out. The explanation for this delay is that states had not asked for military involvement, as if the out-of-control bushfires themselves respected state boundaries – or Commonwealth-state relations.

Coordination between Canberra and the states has improved in recent days, but in the early stages such cooperation left much to be desired.

In all of this, it is clear Morrison has laboured under a constraint of not wanting to antagonise the climate-sceptic right of his party by immediately conceding that global warming and bushfires are linked.

This would explain his tardiness in acknowledging the extent of the disaster.

Politically, he may well believe that climate remains an important point of difference between parties of left and right.




Read more:
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough


Debate over climate – whether it is changing, and if so what to do about it – has become a culture wars issue over the years to the point where it has proved to be a useful political device for parties of the right.

As a politician of the right, Morrison would be reluctant to yield ground on issues to do with electricity prices that might benefit him politically in the future.

These are the political considerations that would be weighing in his calculations.

Morrison tours a scorched farm in Victoria last week.
James Ross/AAP

Charting a new course

However, the ground is shifting politically.

Polls indicate the environment is assuming greater importance among Australians. It is not far behind the economy and health in people’s concerns, according to an exhaustive poll conducted by the ANU’s 2019 Australian Election Study.

Among issues that will burden governments – both federal and state – over the next months will be the heavy costs associated with cleaning up the mess. All up, costs will run into the billions given the dimensions of destruction.

Inevitably, the bushfires will have an impact on economic activity in the December and March quarters. Growth is anaemic in any case, and may well become weaker as a consequence of reduced economic activity during the bushfire season.

Whatever economic fallout ensues, the political costs for the prime minister will continue to weigh heavily.

He would do himself a favour by advancing a credible climate and land management policy that ensures the country is better prepared when the next disaster strikes, as it surely will.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Grattan on Friday: When the firies call him out on climate change, Scott Morrison should listen


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the federal government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison.

Those who fronted the cameras represented a group of 21 men and two women, who make up the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. These people have led fire and emergency services all around the nation.

They’re powerful voices, because they are advocates with compelling experience and expertise. The group’s messages are that we’re in “a new age of unprecedented bushfire danger”, climate change is the key reason why things are getting worse, and the government needs to respond with more resources and a better policy to reduce emissions and move to clean energy.

The problem is, as group founder Greg Mullins, former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, put it succinctly, “this government fundamentally doesn’t like talking about climate change”.

The devastating fires are a dramatic additional element intensifying the pressure on a government already increasingly on the back foot over climate change, as it responds poorly to a complex set of policy problems.

It’s not that Morrison denies climate change. It’s that he refuses to acknowledge it as a central issue, either because he doesn’t see it as such or because he fears provoking his right wingers.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Minister David Littleproud on bushfires, drought, and the Nationals


Consider three factors now weighing on Morrison.

First, in Australia (as internationally) activism is rising. This should be broadly defined. Put aside the Extinction Rebellion, which may alienate more people than it persuades. Rather, include in the definition the many companies now factoring climate change into their planning, investment, and public statements.

Morrison might rail against activists hitting resource companies via secondary boycotts, and commentators might denounce so-called “woke” behaviour by business. But the long view indicates a tide is running here and its direction is clear.

Second, there is a general recognition the government’s climate policy is badly wanting. Emissions are rising. Its modest centrepiece – a fund paying for projects to reduce or capture emissions – isn’t doing the job. The fund’s limitations were tacitly acknowledged when recently the government set up a panel which sought submissions on how it could be enhanced.

More broadly, the government’s lack of a coherent energy policy means continued uncertainty for investors.

Third, Angus Taylor, minister for energy and emissions reduction, has frustrated those in the energy sector and the states. He’s too confrontational and short on people skills (in contrast to his predecessor Josh Frydenberg). His cheap shot accusing the Sydney City Council of ludicrous travel costs blew into a major embarrassment.

Next Friday Taylor will again be under scrutiny when he meets the states at the COAG energy council. The last meeting, nearly a year ago, turned into a nasty stoush between Taylor and the NSW minister.

If Taylor’s performance doesn’t improve in the next few months Morrison – who will be the one eventually carrying the can for policy failure – surely should move him. It would be interesting to see how (say) a Simon Birmingham or a Mathias Cormann would go in the portfolio. Better, you’d think.




Read more:
‘Like volcanoes on the ranges’: how Australian bushfire writing has changed with the climate


It was no wonder Morrison wanted to contain partisan argument while the fires rage. It’s a reasonable view for a prime minister to take, with a basis in past practice, but was also politically driven.

Morrison has been assisted in this by Labor, despite the ALP recently voting in parliament (without success) for a “climate emergency” to be declared. Anthony Albanese believed there was no gain in seeking to score points during a disaster, and danger in doing so.

But a moratorium, although mostly adhered to by Liberal and ALP federal politicians, was never going to happen more generally. Indeed some people, like the retired fire chiefs, judged this was precisely the moment to press their point.

It was predictable the Greens would strike hard; climate is core ground for them. But that Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack would take the bait, leaping in to condemn “the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies”, showed a lack of discipline, probably in part a reflection of the strain the Nationals leader is under as he tries to manage a difficult party room.

Some believed McCormack was playing to his base. If so, he’d only be talking to part of it, most notably those with an eye to the coal industry. Many farmers are very aware, first hand, of the impact of the changing climate.

After its election loss, there’s been much talk about how Labor is caught between its dual constituencies on climate – inner city progressives versus traditional suburban workers.

But the Liberals face their own dilemma, which could deepen as the issue amps up in the electorate. We have seen over many years the split within the Liberal party, and the very high costs it has extracted. As Morrison assesses how to pitch to voters in the future, he might have to be careful of straining internal unity.




Read more:
Firestorms and flaming tornadoes: how bushfires create their own ferocious weather systems


Over coming months, the fires’ impact on public opinion will presumably be measured in the focus groups through which the government hears its “quiet Australians”.

More immediately, Morrison won’t be able to escape a response when this crisis passes. His moratorium will make expectations greater.

John Connor was formerly CEO of the now defunct Climate Institute, which commissioned from the CSIRO a 2007 research paper – that turned out to be prescient – on the link between climate and bushfires, titled Bushfire Weather in Southeast Australia: Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts.

Connor, who now heads the Carbon Market Institute (which describes itself as a peak industry body for climate action and business) suggests the current situation provides the opportunity for an “armistice” – a chance to build a platform on the middle ground for the climate debate.

One step, Connor says, would be for the government to establish a parliamentary inquiry to examine the growing risk climate change presents for the fire scene and the resources required for the future.

“It could be a stepping stone to a more mature debate about carbon policy for the broader economy,” Connor says, although he admits “I’m a professional optimist”.

The government’s former drought co-ordinator, Stephen Day, wrote in his report, finally released last week: “As a consequence of climate change drought is likely to be more regular, longer in duration, and broader in area”.

What’s striking about Day’s observation is how matter-of-fact it is. Climate change is stated as a reality from which other considerations flow. The same reality applies to bushfires. It also applies to the need to move the economy to a new energy mix and net zero emissions by 2050.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Scott Morrison wants to outlaw boycott campaigns. But the mining industry doesn’t need protection


Graeme Orr, The University of Queensland

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to craft new laws targeting social and political protest. Speaking to the Queensland Resources Council, he labelled some activist groups as environmental “anarchists”, and lamented how businesses like banks might be sensitive to consumer or protest group pressure to limit dealings with the mining industry.

These laws could ban activists from advocating for certain boycotts against companies. Morrison lambasted progressives, saying they:

want to tell you where to live, what job you can have, what you can say and what you can think – and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions.

Boycott laws already exist

The first thing to note is there is no proposal on the table. Morrison merely warned his government was:

working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices.

The existing law on boycotts has been driven by conservative governments. In the 1970s, the Fraser government sought to crack down on “secondary boycotts”, with stiff provisions in trade practices or competition law. Morrison also specifically invoked “secondary boycotts” in his speech.

A secondary boycott is simply pressure you put on someone you’re dealing with to have them “boycott”, or not deal with, another person or business. It’s considered secondary action because you have no particular beef with the person you are directly pressuring. The real target of your pressure is the “secondary” person or business down the chain.

It’s easy to imagine secondary boycotts most people would sympathise with. Going on strike to stop your employer dealing with overseas sweatshops, for instance.

The chief concern of secondary boycott law has been with union power. The fear was that a strong union, in a key sector like the wharfies unloading ships, could wield disproportionate social power through secondary boycotts.

As a result, unionised workers are now confined to industrial action, such as going on strike, to improve conditions in an enterprise bargain at their workplace.

Morrison wants to stop consumer pressure on banks

The focus of laws against secondary boycotts has never been against consumer groups or movements involving non-employees. There’s an obvious and good reason for this.

Encouraging or organising consumers to put pressure on one company to limit its dealings with a secondary “target” company is a form of political communication and association. These are freedoms the High Court has read into our constitution.

It might seem unfair to banks for consumers to organise boycotts against them to encourage a change in their business practices. The banks may see themselves as the meat in the sandwich, caught between activists and the mining industry.




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Cattle prods and welfare cuts: mounting threats to Extinction Rebellion show demands are being heard, but ignored


The Morrison government will not only try to sell this idea as a “get protesters” or “protect coal” initiative. He’ll also argue markets should be as free as possible and boycotts either distort competition or are an abuse of power. There are two problems with this.

Companies don’t need more protection

First, it’s a hard sell to pretend banks are the playthings of activist groups. Financial institutions look at mining investments across a range of risks, including their social brand and reputation.

Second, modern corporations, especially retail ones dealing with citizens every day, have long been aware of the social environment around business. They don’t trade in an economic bubble because economics has never been divorced from society.

Social media reinforces this reality by galvanising and magnifying consumer and activist sentiment.

Things would be different if activists could strong-arm one business to renege on an actual contract with another. It has long been against tort law (laws against “civil wrongs” like intimidation or tresspass) to leverage someone into breaking an agreement, without some justification.

But if a bank reneges on an existing funding deal with a mining company, say because protesters were blockading the bank’s offices, the miners would hardly have to go after the protesters.

The bank would be liable for damages to the mining company director. And the bank would only buckle under such pressure after a thorough cost-benefit analysis to itself.

Morrison also appealed to “quiet shareholders” in his remarks. He implied they were the real meat in the sandwich when businesses did not pursue a singular vision of putting today’s profits above long-term social reputation.




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Is the Morrison government ‘authoritarian populist’ with a punitive bent?


The irony here is that even company law is not solely about economics, shorn from social reality. Shareholders are entitled to be corporate activists, too.

Previous attempts at boycott legislation

In any case, you can expect the government to sell any proposal to expand secondary boycott law as one to protect smaller businesses, not the banks or big miners.

Last year, it heralded a proposal to criminalise the incitement of protesters trespassing to protect family farms. The law that was passed this year extends to all manner of primary production, including large-scale abattoirs.

We have seen similar kites aloft before. In 2007, Treasurer Peter Costello vowed to crack down on those who organised boycotts. He singled out animal welfare activist group PETA for encouraging a boycott of Australian wool in protest against the de-skinning of sheep.

In the end, Costello’s bill did not expand secondary boycott law. It just allowed the competition watchdog to take representative action on behalf of businesses affected by secondary boycotts. Labor waved it through.

This time, the stakes may be higher.The Conversation

Graeme Orr, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

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