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



Shutterstock

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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Australia, it’s time to talk about our water emergency


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.




Read more:
While towns run dry, cotton extracts 5 Sydney Harbours’ worth of Murray Darling water a year. It’s time to reset the balance


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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
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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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.

Defiant Scott Morrison tells the world Australia is ‘doing our bit’ on climate change


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has used his address to the United Nations to strongly defend the government’s performance on climate change, declaring defiantly Australia was “doing our bit” and “we reject any suggestion to the contrary”.

In a speech concentrating on Australia’s response to “the great global environmental challenges” Morrison emphasised dealing with plastic waste.

“To protect our oceans, Australia is committed to leading urgent action to combat plastic pollution choking our oceans, tackle over-exploitation of our fisheries, prevent ocean habitat destruction and take action on climate change,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released on Wednesday, calls for urgent climate change action “to address unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean and cryosphere”.

The IPCC says that with the increase in temperature that has already occurred “the ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive. Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe”.

With much international attention on the Great Barrier Reef, Morrison declared the reef was “vibrant and resilient and protected under the world’s most comprehensive reef management plan”.

He said that on climate change Australia was “taking real action … and getting results”, and attacked critics.

“We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and economic future.

“Australia’s internal and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or ignore our achievements, as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution.”




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Morrison’s speech came in the wake of considerable criticism of his failing to attend the UN leaders summit on climate at the start of the week.

Reeling off facts and figures on Australia’s performance, the Prime Minister told the General Assembly, “this is a credible, fair, responsible and achievable contribution to global climate change action. It represents a halving of emissions per person in Australia, or a two thirds reduction in emissions per unit of GDP”.

Australia had the world’s highest per capita investment in clean energy technologies, he said, and one in five households had rooftop solar systems.

Referring to the Australian government’s decision not to put more money into the Global Green Climate Fund, Morrison said it preferred to invest directly, targeting Pacific island countries.

In sum, Australia was taking “significant and comprehensive action … in response to the world’s greatest environmental challenges”.

On the push by young people on climate issues – highlighted last week by the school strikes and this week by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s much publicised address to the summit – Morrison said that like other leaders he received many letters from children about their future.

“I deeply respect their concerns and indeed I welcome their passion, especially when it comes to the environment.

“My impulse is always to seek to respond positively and to encourage them. To provide context, perspective and particularly to generate hope.

“To focus their minds and direct their energies to practical solutions and positive behaviour that will deliver enduring results for them.

“To encourage them to learn more about science, technology, engineering and maths – because it’s through research, innovation and enterprise that the practical work of successfully managing our very real environmental challenges is achieved.”




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The passion and aspiration of the young must be respected and harnessed, he said. At the same time “we must guard against others who would seek to compound or, worse, facelessly exploit their anxiety for their own agendas. We must similarly not allow their concerns to be dismissed or diminished as this can also increase their anxiety.

“Our children have a right not just to their future but to their optimism.

“Above all, we should let our children be children, let our kids be kids, let our teenagers be teenagers – while we work positively together to deliver the practical solutions for them and their future.”

Before delivering his speech Morrison visited an Australian company’s recycling facility in New York.

At a press conference there, he told reporters his talks had reinforced the fact “that we’ve just got to keep working hard to get our energy costs down” so they could compete globally.

“I keep coming back to this issue of gas and looking at all the alternatives on the table.” he said.

There was more work to be done on dealing with electricity prices.

“It’s a constant challenge”, he said, while shifting a lot of the weight to the state governments.

The federal government wasn’t the primary government with the impact on electricity prices, he said.

“We all know that it’s the state governments who basically are in charge of the assets and resources access that principally determines these costs and the cost of the system and the utilities.

“They also determine whether you can get gas out from under people’s feet. Now the reason electricity prices are as low as they are in the United States, and particularly down south, is because of access to gas. We’ve got heaps of gas and it’s being kept under people’s feet. So that’s something we’ve got to change,” he said. The states needed to change the rules.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.

Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up



US President Donald Trump during his brief attendance at the UN climate summit.
HAYOUNG JEON/EPA

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg had an angry message for world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in New York overnight.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

The summit was touted as a chance for the world to finally get its climate action on track. But by almost any standard, the event was a disappointment.




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There was a handful of positive stories. Almost 80 countries and more than 100 cities promised to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Some (mainly developing) nations pledged an end to coal use. And a few developed nations committed more money to the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor nations deal with climate change.

But for the most part, the urgent action needed to avert a global warming catastrophe looked a long way off.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg makes an emotional plea to world leaders to act on climate change.

High hopes but low expectations for the summit

Days out from the summit, millions of protesters marched at global climate strikes to call for strong climate action.

The task was given even greater urgency by a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation, coinciding with the summit, which said emission reduction efforts must at least triple to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to take swift, dramatic climate action.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back and around the world, nature is striking back with fury,” Guterres said.




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Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Guterres convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their pledges under the Paris climate treaty. He wanted world leaders to outline plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, tackle subsidies for fossil fuels, implement taxes on carbon, and end new coal power beyond 2020.

Few predicted the summit would deliver the global change required. For the most part, world leaders lived up to these low expectations.

President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales speaks during the New York summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

The summit did not deliver

Under President Donald Trump, the United States had already pulled out of the Paris agreement – and its emissions continue to rise. China, arguably disincentivised to act without American participation, also failed to announce new targets and insisted developed nations should lead climate action efforts.

India outlined new plans for reaching emissions targets, but remains committed to coal projects well beyond 2020. And even the European Union, a traditional international leader on climate change ambition and action, did not announce a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a few bright spots, Slovakia confirmed that its subsidies to coal mines will end in 2023. Finland says it will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and Greece will reportedly close its brown coal plants by 2028.

But the disappointing showing by the world’s largest emitters means the summit was effectively a failure.

Australia: a climate summit wallflower

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the summit – despite being in the US at the time. Foreign Minister Marise Payne attended but did not speak.

Morrison’s non-attendance largely reflected the position Australia took to the summit: ever-increasing emissions, no new mitigation targets beyond those announced in Paris, and no new strategies to reach the targets.




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Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Morrison was in good company. His host, Trump, also did not attend, except for a brief entry to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak.

Australia was not alone in failing to announce new climate action. But its wallflower status at the summit cemented its global reputation as a climate action laggard. Australia was also roundly criticised by our vulnerable neighbours at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu weeks before, confirming the growing gap between Australia’s climate action and its view of itself as a responsible global citizen.

US President Donald Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the opening of Pratt Paper Plant in Ohio this week.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Andrew Highman, chief executive of global climate lobby group Mission 2020, said representatives from other countries had noticed Australia’s lack of participation.

“It is really very obvious who is absent from the room,” he reportedly said.

“Everyone is well aware that Australia has not made good on its promises in Paris to scale up its commitment to climate action.”

Where to now?

The World Meteorological Organisation said the five years to 2019 will likely be the hottest on record. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and urgent action is clearly required.

Internationally, the challenge will be to create momentum in the face of US obstructionism and Chinese ambivalence. Guterres indicated he will continue to host these summits and will expect nations to pledge more specific and ambitious targets. Global protest action and mounting scientific reports of accelerating climate change may ramp up pressure for international action.

Youth in the crowd at the global climate strike in Melbourne on September 20.
James Ross/AAP

What about implications for Australian climate politics and policy? The US’ planned withdrawal from the Paris deal may have given Australia some cover for its own lack of climate action. But criticism from other international peers, including our Pacific neighbours, suggests that substantive action may be needed to achieve our foreign policy goals and restore our international reputation.

Pressure is also likely to build on the Morrison government at home. Opinion polls since 2012 have consistently shown growing public support for climate action, in the face of reduced government ambition. In the face of this, the federal government may eventually be prodded into meaningful action. But the climate clock is ticking fast.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.

Can Scott Morrison deliver on climate change in Tuvalu – or is his Pacific ‘step up’ doomed?



Pacific leaders don’t want to talk about China’s rising influence – they want Scott Morrison to make a firm commitment to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Tess Newton Cain, The University of Queensland

This week’s Pacific Islands Forum comes at an important time in the overall trajectory of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s very personal commitment to an Australian “stepping up” in the Pacific.

To paraphrase the PM, you have to show up to step up. And after skipping last year’s Pacific Islands Forum, Morrison has certainly been doing a fair amount of showing up around the region, with visits to Vanuatu and Fiji at the beginning of the year and the Solomon Islands immediately after his election victory.

Add to this his recent hosting of the new PNG prime minister, James Marape, and it is clear there has been significant energy devoted to establishing personal relationships with some of the leaders he will sit down with this week.

An ‘existential threat’ to the region

Regional politics and diplomacy in the Pacific are not for the faint of heart. It’s clear from the tone of recent statements by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the minister for international development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, that there is some disquiet ahead of the Tuvalu get-together.

And with good reason. For some time, the leaders of the region have been becoming increasingly vocal about the lack of meaningful action from Canberra when it comes to climate change mitigation.




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Most recently, ten of the Pacifc Islands Development Forum (PIDF) members signed the Nadi Bay Declaration, which advocated a complete move away from coal production and specifically criticised using “Kyoto carryover credits” as a means of achieving Paris targets on reducing emissions.

While this body does not have the regional clout of the Pacific Islands Forum, its membership includes key players, notably Fiji, Tuvalu, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, whose leaders have all spoken out strongly on the need for stronger action on climate change.

In a speech last month, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urged his fellow Pacific leaders to withstand any attempts to water down commitments on climate challenge in the region and globally.

Bainimarama’s warning: ‘Our region remains on the front line of humanity’s greatest challenges’

Bainimarama is attending this year’s Pacific Islands Forum for the first time since 2007, and has already made his presence felt. Earlier this week, he urged Australia to transition as quickly as possible from coal to renewable energy sources, because the Pacific faces

an existential threat that you don’t face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate.

Losing credibility on its ‘step up’

Given the state of Australia’s domestic politics when it comes to making climate change action more of a priority, it is hard to see how Morrison can deliver what the “Pacific family” is asking for.

The recent announcement of A$500 million to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and fund climate resilience programs is sure to be welcomed by Pacific leaders. As is the pledge for A$16m to help tackle marine plastic pollution.

But none of this money is new money – it’s being redirected from the aid budget. And it does not answer the call of Pacific leaders for Australia to do better when it comes to cutting emissions.

An aerial view of Funafuti, the most populous of Tuvalu’s country’s nine atolls.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Why does this matter? Because it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the inability – or refusal – to be part of the team when it comes to climate change is undermining Australia’s entire “Pacific step-up”.

If Morrison, and the Australian leadership more broadly, want to reassure Pacific leaders that Australia’s increased attention on the region is not just all about trying to counter Chinese influence, this is where the rubber hits the road.

This is not about whether China is doing better when it comes to climate change mitigation than Australia. The Pacific has greater expectations of Australia, not least because Australian leaders have been at pains to tell the region, and the world, that this is where they live – that Pacific islanders are their “family”.

And for Pacific islanders, if you are family, then there are obligations. This week, as has been the case previously, Pacific leaders will make clear that addressing climate change is their top priority, not geopolitical anxieties over China’s increasing role in the region.




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Everything but China is on the table during PNG prime minister’s visit


There is little doubt that Australia’s “Pacific step-up” is driven by concerns about the rising influence of China. But Morrison knows better than to voice concerns of that type – at least in public – while in Tuvalu.

Numerous Pacific leaders have made it clear that as far as they are concerned, partnerships with Beijing (for those that have them) provide for greater opportunity and choice.

While they welcome renewed ties with traditional partners like Australia and New Zealand, they maintain a “friends to all and enemies to none” approach to foreign policy. That is unlikely to change any time soon.

Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has warned Australia that its Pacific ‘step up’ could be undermined by a refusal to act on climate change.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Will Tuvalu prove a turning point?

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga may well be hoping that when Morrison sees for himself how climate change is affecting his country, he will be so moved personally, he will shift Australia’s stance politically.

Indeed, on arrival in the capital of Funafuti this week, leaders are being met by children sitting in pools of seawater singing a specially written song “Save Tuvalu, Save the World”.

So what can Morrison realistically be expected to achieve during the summit? He will be able to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to other issues that are important to regional security, such as transnational and organised crime and illegal fishing.

He can also hope the personal relationships he has cultivated with Pacific leaders deliver returns by way of compromise around the wording of the final communique, if only to avoid a diplomatic stoush.

But if there is no real commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, he will leave plenty of frustration behind when he returns to Australia.The Conversation

Tess Newton Cain, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Political Science & International Studies, The University of Queensland

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

Australia Institute analysis adds to Pacific pile-on over Morrison’s climate policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An analysis from The Australia Institute accuses Scott Morrison of planning to exploit a “pollution loophole” equivalent to about eight years of fossil-fuel emissions from the rest of the Pacific and New Zealand.

The “loophole” is using Kyoto credits to help the government meet its emissions reduction target.

The progressive think tank issued its salvo ahead of the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu, which Morrison is attending and starts today.

Anxious to sandbag the Australian government against criticism over its climate policy from island countries, for which the climate change issue is major, Morrison has announced Australia is redirecting $500 million of the aid budget over five years to go to “investing for the Pacific’s renewable energy and its climate change and disaster resilience”.

But Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga quickly said the money should not be a substitute for action.

“No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing,” he said on Tuesday.

“Cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines, that is the thing we want to see,” he said.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said this week: “I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”.

Morrison said on Tuesday: “Australia’s going to meet its 2030 Paris commitments. Australia’s going to smash its 2020 commitments when it comes to meeting our emissions reduction targets. So Australia meets its commitments, and we will always meet our commitments. And that is a point that I’ll be making again when I meet with Pacific leaders.”

Morrison confirmed before the election that Australia would use credits from overachieving on its Kyoto 2020 targets to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

The Australian Institute said: “If Australia uses this loophole, it would be the equivalent of about eight times larger than the annual fossil fuel emissions of its Pacific neighbours.”

Australia intends to use 367 Mt of carbon credits to avoid the majority of emission reductions pledged under its Paris Agreement target. Meanwhile the entire annual emissions from the Pacific Islands Forum members, excluding Australia, is only about 45 Mt.

The institute’s director for climate change and energy, Richie Merzian, said the government’s plan to use Kyoto credits was an insult to Pacific islanders.

“You can’t ‘step up’ in the Pacific while stepping back on climate action,” he said.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.