thomas m wilson

Climate change and Australian politics

March 7th, 2007


[Thanks to Linda Zacks for letting me use her illustration.]

What is my take on politics and climate change in this election year in Australia? As you’ll see from my recent blog entries, I’m not a fan of the current government.

The Labor Minister for the Environment is Peter Garrett. He is actually now called the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, a move that you might think was made to hint that his party takes the climate crisis seriously. Labor proposes to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 60% by 2050, establish a national emissions trading scheme; substantially increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, and build greenhouse gas triggers into Australian law.

What do I mean by this last bit about greenhouse gas triggers? The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBCA) is the single most important bit of national law relating to nature. In its four or five years of operation it hasn’t done much about the two major threats to biodiversity: greenhouse gases and land-clearing (it has had a few minor successes, like protecting flying foxes in Queensland). State laws are more important when it comes to protecting the environment. But the EPBCA could become important if it had a greenhouse-gas trigger built into it, so that when a proposed development was considered and it was going to pollute the air with too much carbon it would be rejected. Labor, it seems, might build such triggers into the EPBCA.

But then I have a feeling that Labour here would be like Labour in England right now. Plenty of talk about climate change, and even some targets, but they probably won’t actually keep to the targets for reductions of emissions by 2020. Despite the green-friendly rhetoric, Labour in Britain looks set to fail to deliver sufficient reductions.

The Australian Greens actually would make targets and keep to us to them. Of course the Greens have very little money for campaigning, usually a bunch of thousands, that’s all. If only some philanthropist would donate $2 million for the greens to have TV ads on prime time commercial tv – where an ad costs about 50 thousand to make and four thousand to air for 30 seconds each – just before the federal election. Maybe shouting the truth into Australian sitting rooms that we live in a country on the front line of the effects of the climate crisis would sway a few more politically comotose voters. And after the election we’d end up with a few more compassionate and honest humans in Parliament House. Hard to imagine I know.

Well in the absence of a couple of million dollars, the Greens can do what? At least become a bit more canny….

In 2007 I’d like us in the Green party to remember Guy Rundle (editor of Arena magazine), looking back on the 2004 Australian federal election, and saying:

‘[The Greens] have not yet made the leap from the politics of the New Left to one that addresses contemporary society’.

I support nearly all the policies of the Greens, but I think there is an urgent need for us involved in the Greens to appreciate the cultural and political climate in which we act. In the February 2005 issue of The Ecologist Aidan Rankin wrote of how the European Greens have, lamentably, been captured by an authoritarian and unelectable left. Rankin goes so far as to suggest that a new Ecology Party be formed to remedy the situation. In America, Kevin Phillips recently argued in Harper’s Magazine that the decline of liberalism began because “liberal intellectuals and policy makers had become too sure of themselves, so lazy and complacent that they failed to pay attention to people who didn’t share their opinions.”

This election year the Australian Greens need to ask, how do we start bridge-building with the mainstream, and get more people into parliament,? The dire predictions of climate change make the stakes much too high for us to sit contentedly on an unelectable moral high-ground (even while our membership numbers continue to climb).

The Greens drug policy is hurting the Greens vote. James Norman, Victorian Greens Media Assistant during the last federal election, wrote recently in Arena magazine: ‘One of the key differences between the Greens and the other Australian political parties is that the Greens released extensive policy documents on the party website for all to see months before the election. Most other parties don’t do this.’ The Greens ‘went overboard in making long, detailed policies too freely available. For example the much misrepresented drug policy should simply have read: ‘The Greens support the principals of harm minimisation and wish to see drugs considered as a health, rather than criminal problem.’ Leave it at that. There is no need whatsoever to isolate particular drugs, like heroin and ecstasy, as drugs earmarked for liberalisation. It’s political dynamite.’

If you’re reading this, please join the Greens, run as a candidate, and don’t sit too high up the moral high-ground.