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The luck and the chutzpah

Oct 11, 2019 • 16m04s

As the Liberal Party slides further on climate change, the Labor Party fights an internal push to abandon its platform.

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The luck and the chutzpah

98 • Oct 11, 2019

The luck and the chutzpah

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, This is 7am.
The Liberal Party is sliding further on climate change, claiming it will meet targets but without policy to do so. At the same time, the Labor Party is fighting an internal push to abandon its climate platform. Paul Bongiorno on the politics of doing less.

[Theme ends]

ELIZABETH:

So Paul is this the week that Australian politics finally grappled with the need for a climate policy?

PAUL:

Ah, that was the fact Elizabeth, we've been grappling with this in different ways for some time, at least 10 years, even longer if you want to go back to the Hawke Government.

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

But anyway, this was the week that Labor looked like it might really be sliding, that the coalition started to come under real pressure, and that former members of parliament were being arrested at climate protests.

Archival tape -- Scott Ludlam:

Tthe charge is for refusing an order to move on…”

PAUL:

I mean it's pretty stark. Scott Ludlam, the former Greens senator, was one of the 30 people arrested at an extinction rebellion protest in Sydney.

[Extinction Rebellion tape plays under]

PAUL:

And bailed on conditions that you'd expect for an outlaw motorcycle gang member
While Angus Taylor is talking about government subsidies for coal fired power stations.

Archival tape --Angus Taylor:

“We just need that affordable, reliable supply which needs to have a heavy dose of gas, coal and hydro…”

ELIZABETH:

There's a hell of a lot to unpack there. So let's start with the coalition and with an interview that Malcolm Turnbull gave to The Australian newspaper this week. What surprised you most about that interview?

PAUL:

Well in many ways the fact that he gave it to The Australian. The Australian of course is the newspaper that played a big role in the anti-climate change action sentiment that saw him lose the leadership, not only when he was prime minister but previously when he was opposition leader - Turnbull even acknowledged this in the interview. He said the failure to have a coherent national energy policy is founded on this rock of climate denialism inside the Liberal Party and inside the media. And he said, including at the newspaper, the journalist he was talking to work for and I suppose we should praise The Australian for actually printing that comment.

He said the Liberal Party has proved itself incapable of dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in any sort of systematic way. He said the consequence of this was, without question, that we're paying higher prices for electricity and producing higher emissions. Turnbull defends himself as a ‘true conservative’ against those who dumped him as prime minister on the pretext that he was too left or not one of us. He says there is nothing conservative in denying the science of climate change. In Turnbull's mind it is denying reality and as he said you may as well deny gravity. Because his opponents critics within the Liberal Party seized on his attitude to climate change and climate change action as the pretext to get rid of him, I think that Turnbull could see given the Extinction Rebellion protest in Australia and around the world it was probably time to strike back and put his views in the broader mainstream perspective.

ELIZABETH:

So Paul let's go to the man to replace Turnbull, Scott Morrison. Is there any change in his rhetoric on climate change?

PAUL:

Yeah well in the run up to the May 18 election, Morrison, who you may remember brought a lump of coal into the Parliament and held it up like kryptonite to the Labor Party, well he pivoted his rhetoric to accepting the science of climate change and dressing up his half-baked responses as more serious than they are. And he claimed, and continues to claim that the Coalition will meet its Paris targets and do so in a canter.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“So our target is no slouch. And let no one tell you it is. It’s a fair dinkum commitment, it’s a serious commitment that requires real effort to achieve. And we are doing our part, we are doing our bit.”

PAUL:

Morrison's commitment is to a 26 - 28 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 and this was the message he took again to the United Nations General Assembly speech when he trumpeted Australia as world leading in combating climate change or ameliorating it.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“By 2020, we will have overachieved on our Kyoto commitments, reducing our emissions but 367 million tonnes more than required to meet our 2020 Kyoto target. Now there are a few members, whether at this forum or the OECD, that can make that claim.”

PAUL:

And of course as we know from other discussions to do that all sorts of accounting fudges will be used.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, is public opinion shifting on the issue of climate change?

PAUL:

Well the opinion polls show that. And in fact the opinion polls in the lead up to the election also showed that climate change is perceived as the number one threat facing Australia and facing the planet. But the point at issue here is, is it a vote changer in such a way that a climate denialist government would lose an election? And what we saw at the last election was in seats like Kooyong in Melbourne or Higgins - there was a big swing towards green-leaning candidates, either independents or Green Party. But without preferential system, not enough to see for example the Liberal Party lose the seat. So Morrison of course can't take too many chances here. He knows for example that Liberal polling mirrors the polling that we've seen from the Lowy Institute and other opinion polls, and that's why he's pivoted his rhetoric.

ELIZABETH:

And Morrison's own party, some within his own party, but particularly people like Angus Taylor are making it quite difficult for Morrison to be on the right side of these opinion polls.

PAUL:

Yes, well, I actually think that Morrison and his front bench are actually talking out of both sides of their mouths here because we're also hearing from Angus Taylor the mantra that the Government's serious about climate change action and we're getting on with it and we're going to deliver. But he was unmasked if you like this week at a climate summit where he's shocked even the energy regulator by announcing he was going to use taxpayer's money to underwrite coal fired power stations. Taylor tried to mask his intention by lumping it in with funding for new gas and pumped hydro plants. But it's clear to me and I'm sure to others that the ideological attachment to coal is still there. You don't have to scratch much below the surface as it were to find it when it comes to Angus Taylor and many in the Liberal Party.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[MUSIC PLAYS]

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ELIZABETH:

The other side of the story of course Paul is Labor's position on climate change. What's happening there this week and what's new?

PAUL:

Yes. Anthony Albanese has created a vacuum and as a result he's also created a bit of a mess for himself over the directions that the party should take when it comes to climate change. They're trying to work out what to do. After the election Anthony Albanese became leader and he appointed Joel Fitzgibbon not only as agriculture spokesman again but he gave him resources. Now Fitzgibbon almost lost his seat at the election, there was a swing of something like 9 per cent against Labor and he hung on by the fingernails. So the election result put the wind up him. In fact one Labor insider told me Joel's gone rogue. Well he certainly has.

Archival tape -- Unidentified male reporter:

“The topic for tonight’s speech is the world is turning while Australia stands still...”

PAUL:

Well he went to the Sydney Institute on Wednesday where he ran up the white flag.

Archival tape -- Joel Fitzgibbon:

“We didn’t speak to people who traditionally supported our party, it seems that’s because to do so would have been in conflict with our city centric narrative.”

PAUL:

He largely blamed the three election losses in a row on Labor's more ambitious climate change policies. He asked, how many times are we going to let it kill us?

Archival tape -- Joel Fitzgibbon:

“How many leaders do we have to lose as a result of this crap. Australia, as I’m sure most of you know, is responsible for 1.3 percent of emissions. Nothing we do alone can make a difference. Nothing can do alone can make a difference. But we must act, because as a wealthy nation - we are one of the most wealthy nations in the world - we have a responsibility to show leadership…”

PAUL:

He said it was time to reach a sensible settlement on climate change.

ELIZABETH:

What did he mean when he says a sensible settlement on climate change. What does that look like according to Fitzgibbon?

PAUL:

Well it looks almost exactly like the Coalition's policy though with some well, more serious undertakings to meet those targetsm and with a focus on the upper target of 28 per cent reduction by 2030.

Archival tape -- Joel Fitzgibbon:

“Now, what would be the outcome? Think about this: if Labor offered a political settlement and simply made 28% the target for 2030. The focus would then be on them, the government. No distraction, focus would be on them, on the government, no distraction, Prime Minister, are you on track to meet your 28% target and can you show us what the pathway is there.”

PAUL:

Fitzgibbon says Labor can achieve this without destroying blue collar jobs or destroying the economy. Very familiar words - usually in the mouths of Taylor and Morrison. Well, what this does is set up on a more mighty brawl for next year's Labor Party national conference. Already Albanese, who's overseas, has had to tweet his commitment to real climate change action and the Shadow Minister for Climate Change Mark Butler has said there's no way Labor will adopt the liberal targets.

ELIZABETH:

And Turnbull wasn't the only former leader giving interviews this week. Bill Shorten did his first major interview since losing the election with the Herald Sun.

PAUL:

That's right. Bill Shorten spoke to The Sunday Herald Sun. This is interesting because Shorten put Murdoch papers basically in the deep freeze before the election, the fact that he gave this fairly newsworthy interview to a Murdoch paper shows that he's had a rethink on a lot of his tactics. Well he said it pained him to realise that he missed some of the mood in Queensland and Western Australia. He said Labor's policies had been seen as green left, not for the worker and not for the working people. So Shorten offered a mea culpa on his tax agenda and said there were too many messages.

ELIZABETH:

What’s the purpose of an interview like that this? Is it a vehicle through which Shorten can kind of get back to a clean slate?

PAUL:

Well look I think it has two purposes. I think the first purpose is to pre-empt the findings of the internal inquiry into why Labor did badly at the election.

Archival tape -- Bill Shorten:

“It pains me in the weeks and months since the election to realise that some blue collar workers and their families thought that a vote for Labor might have been a vote for the environment but not a vote for their own jobs.”

PAUL:

So Shorten didn't admit that he was the problem. But many people within the Labor Party believe that he was also an element in Labor's failure.

ELIZABETH:

And Paul is this the sort of interview that you give because maybe you want to run for prime minister again?

PAUL:

Well look that's the widespread perception that he fed with this interview and the one of the main reasons for that is he said that he has no intention of quitting politics. In fact he'd like to hang around for another 20 years. You don't send those sort of messages if you've been a leader for six years and not think maybe like Lazarus, you can rise again. Where have I heard that before?

ELIZABETH:

So is this a story of never say never?

PAUL:

Well yes, I think it is. I think that Shorten would look at the example of John Howard who led the Liberals to election defeats who was overlooked as leader in subsequent years but then almost a decade later the party turned to him again and he then went on to become Australia's second longest serving prime minister.

ELIZABETH:

Politics can be so wild, Paul.

[MUSIC PLAYS]

PAUL:

[Laughs] Well it can and people claim many politicians are unelectable as leader or premier. They said it of Jeff Kennett. They said it of Tony Abbott. They even said it of Scott Morrison. And we can see that in a sense, nobody's unelectable depending on the circumstances, the luck and the chutzpah.

ELIZABETH:

[Laughs] Paul, thank you so much.

PAUL:

Bye Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH:

Bye.

[MUSIC ENDS]

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ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Turkish troops have begun a land offensive in north-eastern Syria hours after fighter jets bombed the border region. The offensive has prompted civilians to flee en masse, while the Turkish army says that it has hit a total of 180 militant targets using airstrikes. Kurdish-led forces say the operation has killed five civilians and injured dozens more.

And in the midst of this escalating crisis, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has ruled out immediately rescuing the Austrailans trapped in camps in northern Syria, most of them the wives and children of foreign fighters. It’s estimated that 20 women and 40 children are currently stranded there. Dutton said that some of the women trapped in the camps were capable of mounting a “mass casualty event” in Australia.

7am’s Senior Producer is Emile Klein. Our producers are Ruby Schwartz, Michelle Macklem and Atticus Bastow, who also mixes our show.

This week, Elle Marsh joins 7am as our features and field producer - a position supported by a grant from the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Erik Jensen is our editor.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.
Special thanks this week to Helene Thomas.

This is 7am, I’m Elizabth Kulas, see you next week.

The Liberal Party is sliding further on climate change, claiming it will meet targets but without policy to do so. At the same time, the Labor Party is fighting an internal push to abandon its climate platform. Paul Bongiorno on the politics of doing less.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

The hot topic of climate change in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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98: The luck and the chutzpah