Thanks to Dwight Towers for this very useful and comrehensive guest post on climate politics in Australia, a hot topic in more ways than one. Incidentally, a few people have told me they've not been able to leave a comment in the last few days. Apologies. Hopefully everything is back to normal now though so do give it another try.
At the same time, water and fertile land are scarce “commodities,” and the recent floods in Queensland and parts of Victoria are only the latest indication of economic vulnerability to ecological events. A very long drought has only just broken.
The Hawke-Keating governments of 1983-1996 (think Blair/Brown only the ambitious Treasurer, both luckier and bolder than Gordo) made some of the right noises but basically kicked climate change into the long grass. There were, as remains the case today, many votes in coal and virtually none in solar panels. Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's attitude to climate change was pretty much exactly George Bush's, and he was an eager participant in the extra-UNFCCC “spoiler” outfit known as the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (which, as of 5 April 2011, has “concluded its work”)
Months later, Rudd was faced with a choice of either dumping the attempt to bring in an emissions trading scheme or calling an election. He dumped the scheme and his poll numbers collapsed (the mining industry had also been up in arms about a proposed new tax, and spent heavily on scare-mongering). He was replaced, in an internal Labor Party coup, by Julia Gillard, the current PM. There was an election in July last year that resulted in a hung Parliament. Gillard runs a government with a very, very slender majority which is dependent on the support of the Greens (who have been eating away at the Labor Party's vote for a decade or so).
Meanwhile, business lobbies are split, as they are in the rest of the developed world. The most exposed sectors (the so-called “emissions-intensive trade-exposed” industries) are muttering about lost jobs and moving their businesses overseas (though they're less clear on how exactly you move a coal mine!)
The Australian media is not doing a great job in reporting this, to put it mildly. The business press (I'm thinking specifically of the Australian Financial Review) is noticeably more partisan than the UK Financial Times which, while unabashedly pro-capitalist, eschews ideology-drench opinion dressed as news). The Murdoch press (The Australian, the (Melbourne) Sun-Herald, the (Sydney) Telegraph, the Adelaide Advertiser to name but the most embarrassing) is full of scare stories and denialist memes (which sits oddly with Newscorp’s proud boast of its carbon neutral status, and James Murdoch's much vaunted conviction that climate action is essential).
Meanwhile, the grassroots are pondering their place and their power. Two excellent pieces have recently been written by knowledgeable participants within the climate movement about the failures of climate activism. The first is by Holly Creenaune, a member of Friends of the Earth Sydney (much more radical and grassroots than the UK version).
In part she writes...
The opposition will continue to make political capital out of it, and the denialists and culture warriors will not go away until the effects of climate change are literally undeniable.
Lastly, I don't see the climate movement reflecting and innovating and creating the forms of political and social pressure and space that make any other alternatives possible. On this last point I hope I am wrong, will act as if I am wrong, and try to act so that I make myself wrong.
Guy Pearse Quarry Vision
Journal of Australian Political Economy issue 66 (December 2010)