Are You Fair Dinkum, Julia?


Julia Gillard and her Government might be moving forward but they aren’t heading toward a responsible climate policy, writes Fiona Armstrong

This election is proving to be even more dispiriting than the last. Right now, it feels more like a reality TV show than a contest for the national leadership. Mediocrity rules and success depends on a process that places little value on merit or worth. Instead, the prize awaits those who can “cut through” with simple messages and trite slogans.

As we all well aware the Prime Minister is moving forward. Mr Abbott meanwhile claims that he is fair dinkum — and that the Prime Minister isn’t. Is this fair? Gillard certainly seems fair dinkum about moving forward. But surely moving forward is only a meaningful aspiration if you are going somewhere? Like toward a visionary goal, for example. But where is our PM going? At the moment, she’s moving away from her Government’s part mistakes as fast as she can. That is understandable; there have been a few.

And wherever the PM is going, she’s not going alone. In the leaders’ debate, Gillard made it clear that she wants “Australians to come with me”.  But it’s hard to imagine what will encourage people to join her without a clear vision of what lies ahead in the “shape of the future”.

According to Gillard, there’s no challenge in our future “that’s too hard” or that we “won’t master it if we do it together”. She claims to be optimistic — and she will need to be, to imagine that our “very special, very precious Australian way of life” can be conserved by the proposals the Government has put on the table with regard to climate change and environmental issues.

The Government’s current proposals — connecting remote renewable power generation to the grid; fitting carbon capture and storage capability to new coal-fired power generation; providing ‘cash for clunkers'; and tax breaks for some energy conservation measures — are so unlikely to have any serious impact on emissions reductions they can hardly be called ‘climate’ policies.

Not that the Coalition is offering anything substantial either. Apart from the rather quaintly named  ‘Green Army’, Abbott’s climate policy centre seems to involve not having one — especially one that places a value on the environmental and health costs of pollution (aka a ‘price on carbon’).

There has been little acknowledgement in the campaign to date of the nature, type and scale of the challenges we face as a nation, as a global society, and as a species.  Scientists are telling us we have around a decade to restore equilibrium to our planet. But is there any sign from our political leaders (or those aspiring to be the position) of the scale and urgency of this task?

Our leaders seem remarkably unconcerned about their failure to plan for the future. By contrast, Germany, Spain, China, the UK, and Finland all have plans to guide their pathway to low carbon energy supplies as they transition to a ‘post carbon’ society. A nation as dependent on fossil fuels for energy and export income as Australia needs a national plan to transition away from coal and oil. Such a plan should outline the steps we will take to join the global race for deployment of renewable energy technologies — and to capitalise on our unlimited supply of natural resources such as the sun and the wind.

Far from offering a visionary plan for the nations’ future economic and national security however, neither the Government nor the Opposition have any policies that will even enable Australia to meet its commitments under the disappointing Copenhagen Accord. The IPCC recommends emissions reductions for Australia of between 25-40 per cent by 2020 but the policies currently on offer will not even achieve the government’s timid committment of 5 per cent emissions reduction by 2020.

The Opposition claims their policy will achieve the IPCC targets but this is open to debate. Analysis from the Climate Institute earlier this month suggests Coalition policies would instead lead to an 8 per cent increase in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

Thank goodness then for signs of leadership from the other player in Australian politics: the Greens.

The only party in this election with any credibility on climate, the Greens have a plan for Australia to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy, and thanks to a new report released by Melbourne University’s Energy Institute, we know this is not only possible that but it can be achieved in a short time frame.

The Government clearly takes the view that it is too expensive for them to fund this transition. A price on carbon is needed not only to make polluting energies more expensive but also to relieve pressure on government coffers. The Coalition’s current opposition to a price on carbon ignores the reality that any action to reduce emissions effectively places a price on carbon, whether it’s in the form of grants or subsidies. Eventually we will all pay for it, whether it is in shifted allocations from other sectors (less health care, anyone?) or a tax hike to cover costs.

In order to get the leverage we need to undertake this new industrial revolution, it is vital to mobilise private sector finance which exists in far greater quantities than government funds. A carbon price will do this by creating disincentives for investing in dirty energy and shift investment to clean.  And there are other compelling reasons for doing so — the failure to act on climate change is already costing us $50 billion a year globally in lost natural capital.

Australia is also risking our future economic security. Among the G20 members, we already lag in carbon competiveness, ranking 15th out of 19 countries in an index that evaluates each country’s adoption of credible policies to reduce emissions and their ability to prosper in a low carbon world. Like most, this report warns the longer it takes to achieve this transition, the more costly “economically, as well as socially and politically” it will be.

We are already losing investment to other countries by failing to develop coherent and carefully planned climate policy. One of Australia’s biggest fund managers Colonial First State Global Asset Management told a conference in Brisbane this week that the lack of effective policy in Australia, such as a carbon price, gross feed-in tariffs, or loan guarantees was driving investment offshore to countries such as China where predictable and stable climate and energy policy provide a secure investment environment.

If, as CEO of a company, Julia Gillard demonstrated the same lack of strategic vision for our country’s future that is currently on offer, the shareholders would have every right to question her credentials for the job. Unfortunately for Australians, she’s our CEO and it’s our national capital and assets that are being degraded. Even worse, her aspiring deputy can offer nothing different. It’s little wonder that many shareholders appear to be thinking it’s time to look elsewhere.
More Than Luck is a collection of ideas for citizens who want real change edited by Mark Davis and CPD Executive Director Miriam Lyons. A to-do list for politicians looking to base public policies on the kind of future Australians really want, More Than Luck shows what’s needed to share this country’s good luck amongst all Australians – now and in the future. Click here to find out more. Like what you’ve read? Donate to help make good ideas matter.

9 Responses to “Are You Fair Dinkum, Julia?”

  1. Leigh Ewbank

    Nice post Fiona. I agree with you that this year’s election is dispiriting. Both Gillard and Abbott are running cautious campaigns and are unwilling to debate substantive policy issues. Climate change is the most obvious casualty of this narrow focus group/poll-driven approach that targets a few marginal electorates.

    Unfortunately polling shows climate change as a relatively low priority for voters in 2010. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to take leadership, elevate the issue, and debate policy responses, both Gillard and Abbott have announced small-scale policies to appease those concerned the issue. I explore the electoral (un)importance of climate change in my latest blog:

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more at the CPD’s Thinking Points blog.

  2. Bill

    “…the failure to act on climate change is already costing us $50 billion a year globally in lost natural capital.”

    This is nonsense. It is impossible to assign financial value to nature. The $50 billion p/y figure you cite is based on abstract economic assumptions and constructs. Given that it’s impossible for nations to agree to a climate treaty we’re better off adapting to climate change and letting the free market drive technological change. It will be cheaper and wont wreck the Australian economy like a carbon price will.

  3. Jeremiah Josey

    This is a great post Fiona. Thanks.

    Recent changes in Australian politics reveal the truth behind politics. National interest, getting things done, change for the good of everyone? There is nothing of the sort. Personal interest, personal gain and personal greed: these are what drives elections and this one is no different.

    As you pointed out both major parties are playing very low key campaigns. They have both identified the marginal electorates where that they need to win to win the election, and they are focusing their campaigns accordingly, minimizing any disruptive or controversial discussions that may upset the status quo of their stable – already won – electorates.

    So why did I leave Australia? For this reason. Great place to live, but the future of Australia is a joke.

    You cite that scientist believe we have 10 years to correct climate change. In my blog ( I demonstrate that the data already published – albeit in a confusing manner – shows that it is already too late: my recommendation is that adapting to change is the best solution – it is simply too late to do anything else. However, is it the morally best solution?

    100% carbon free energy production by 2020 for all of Australia? The plan already exists. The plan is robust, it is solid and it is achievable. Only those who work in the energy industry understand this. They know this. For everyone else it is debate, conjecture and point scoring, and certainly leaves them exposed to influence from special interest groups, namely the coal industry.

    I worked with giants of the coal business for years in Australia – individuals that shaped Australia’s policy not by writing papers and debating bills, but by promoting and selling coal – billions of dollars of it. These people are not interested in doing anything that will disrupt this business. They are not consciously doing it: they are “wired” to it. They see nothing wrong with that they do.

    Until these individuals shift, until the coal industry shifts, the Government – and the Australian people – may as well piss into the wind.

    We are not long term animals. We don’t think long term. We don’t act long term. Never have been, most likely never will be. This is just yet another disappointing example. It is the main failure of the great democratic experiment of the 20th century.

    Hopefully 10 years is not so long term that we WILL act responsibly.

  4. Jo McCubbin

    Thanks for this Fiona…says it all so well.
    I just wish the media would stop playing “he said – she said” adolescent schoolyard approach, and ask them some hard questions…or rather report the hints since we know they will only speak the lines from headquarters, regardless of question.
    The community needs an alternative way of getting them to do what is needed rather than what is easy.
    Dis-spiriting is a good description of the level of debate and avoidance of anything important.

    Currently, it seems as if the Tobacco Industry, the Miners and the Fossil industries who can afford expensive advertising campaigns, control every move of the scared little pollies.!!!!
    And we pretend it is democracy!

  5. Keith Bedford

    At least Julia Gillard acknowledges the truth about climate change. tony Abott and many of his motley crew think it is crap and hence their attitude. However we are now crating a world where its haet balance is diturbed and getting more disturbed. Unscientific pundits preach a doctrine of it will be right Jack but of course it won’t. James Hansen who is a real climate expert says we have already passed the pont where we can stop climate change but pleads for his grand children the we take immediate action to reduce theimact of the change to come by taking immediate action to severly reduce the ammount of CO2 we are emmitting but the world is failingto act. Australia as the driest inhabited continent shoud lead the way but I doubt it will whilst we have climate change denial major political party stopping change.

  6. enid raj

    In the above article , there’s no such thing as a “part mistake”, it’s like a missile hit. It’s either a ‘direct hit’ or a ‘near miss’ . I’m surprised the ‘spin doctors’ seem to have abandoned debate on climate change as they are headed toward a ‘near miss’ in saving Australia’s “precious way of life”. Our lives are living on a very fragile planet, precious indeed, a post carbon civilisation needs to be established ASAP as “our precuios way of life” will surely be effected by unpredictable weather and water availability. It’s a sad coincidence that last year was a drought breaking year. This has taken the urgency away from direct action and lulled the population into thinking ‘it’s not all that bad now’. Look @ Russia’s/ Europe’s unconventional summer. Pete fires ect’ and the ‘once in a century’ flood in Pakistan. Our own fire tragedy in Victoria. The issue remains as human-kind’s toughest predicament . I actually thought the above article was a Greens discussion paper. ALP may be writing their policys on climate change with Bob Brown’s mob . I’ts the ‘elephant in the room’ that JG is ignoring to her senate’s detriment. we need to work on ‘long term policys’ , we need an opposition that will in a bi partisan fashion support this program if they gain office. Does’nt look like LNP are up to the task. Prisoners dilemma. A local climate tragedy is the only thing that would persuade the consrevatives ( a sad reflection on the human conditions prevelant ). Our Empire is at stake here, we seem to be submitting to a dreadful fate, we see it coming and shut our eyes & ears as if it were’nt there. I wish we had a strong leader with vision. I wish the ‘Economy’ was’nt more important than our life support system. Silly humans!

  7. Barbara J. Fraser

    Fiona’s statement is clear and convincing.
    But the comment of one of the readers, Bill, is very troubling and needs urgent correcting! He stated that humans would do best now by ‘adapting to climate change”.
    According to my reading of most of the climate change references, that is simply not an option as, in the next few years, a crucial planetary climate tipping point will be reached. From then on,
    scientists may desperately try to maintain a climate by artificial means but these are doomed to eventually fail because the natural forces are too immense. Most of life will vanish and perhaps Earth will recover in the distant future.

  8. Peter Hallam

    It is one thing to have someone managing the country, or in this context CEO, but its another to have someone who will lead the country.

    I appreciate that CEO’s are supposed to have vision and the expertise and drive to carry out that vision, but we need a leader. Neither Abbot or Gillard are acting as the leaders we really need to get things done. It feels like we have gotten bogged down with the sort of bickering and ‘he said she said’ dobbing that you expect from young children.

    I have been listening to the policies of both the major parties for almost a month and a half now, and without trying too sound naive, I don’t feel like I actually know what they intend to do. I know what they ‘say’ they will do, but I don’t believe it. It sounds hollow. It sounds like they are trying to ‘buy’ me in a shonkey ebay auction and then expect to do a runner and not pay up.

    Why is that the case in an election that is so far more important that the 2007 election? I think both parties let the public relations and media machines tell them that ‘it needs to be done like this’ so ‘stay on message’ and ‘less is more’… blah blah blah.

    Get it over and done with so I can vote for someone else.


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