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Albanese gets off on the right foot

Written by Javed Iqbal

“This is what Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, has said – that this legislation has ‘brought Australia one step closer to ending the climate wars that have put a handbrake on progress and become a serious economic barrier’.”

John Connor, chief executive of the Carbon Market Institute, a trade association of companies leading the transition to net-zero, says: “It’s a historic moment and it’s exciting now to move into the reality of policy.”

That reality must include an investment boom. The National Australia Bank released research last week estimating that around half a trillion dollars in net new investment will be needed in Australia to reach the 2050 target of net zero emissions.

However, the Liberals chose to stay out of all this – out of unifying politics, out of consensus, out of business and out of half a trillion dollars in new investment.

Peter Dutton called the captain months ago that the Liberals would not oppose the 43 per cent and net zero targets, but they would not vote to legislate them either. Instead, the Liberals decided to follow their coalition partner, the Nationals, into a fringe fetish.

The coalition has decided to investigate nuclear power. Not that this is a fringe in the global energy system. It is simply unrealistic in this country. Nuclear power has never been economical in Australia. It could not compete with cheap Australian coal; it cannot compete with even cheaper Australian solar power.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese approved the government's climate change bill in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese approved the government’s climate change bill in the House of Commons on Thursday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The Liberals’ decision opened them up to Albanese’s ridicule. He not only mocked them for ignoring the power of “the greatest nuclear reactor of all” as he pointed to the sky, he also brought The Simpsons into question time.

Giving opposition energy spokesman Ted O’Brien an investigation into nuclear power “bears an eerie resemblance to Mr. Burns putting Homer Simpson in charge of nuclear safety in Springfield,” Albanese said. “No one loves a reactor like a reactionary.”

He continued: “Remember when the Left used to have a relationship with business? Remember that? But what we saw today was them isolated and alone, stuck in the same old trench, fighting a battle that has passed them by. They were by themselves with their arms crossed saying, ‘No, no, no’.”

The election on 21 May showed that Australia was ready for a more active climate policy. By standing against it, the coalition government chose oblivion. Now that they have refused to negotiate on the climate act, they have chosen irrelevance.

If the Liberals ever hope to win another election, “they have to have the conversation about restoring the broad church,” a church that includes moderates and not just conservatives, Walter argues. “They can’t just follow a small nutty segment” on the populist fringe.

“They need to be able to bring back the disgruntled Liberals who voted for Teal candidates and still manage to convince people in the region that they have their best interests at heart.”

Even after Dutton’s captain’s call, the leaders of the moderate faction in the Liberal Party argued that they should change their position and support the target of 43 per cent. It would be a sign that they had heard the voice of the electorate. But Simon Birmingham, Marise Payne and Paul Fletcher lost the argument in the shadow cabinet on Monday night.

One moderate said, “we picked the wrong fight – the fight should not be about the target of 43 percent, it should be about how we reach the target”. Because that will be difficult.

Is Dutton missing the inevitable message from voters? Not at all. For him, it’s about priorities. Is he trying to win the next election today or is he trying to hold the coalition together as it regroups after a devastating loss?

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton addresses his coalition colleagues in Canberra on Tuesday.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton addresses his coalition colleagues in Canberra on Tuesday.Credit:James Brickwood

“Dutton’s calculation was that if we supported 43 per cent we would have more trouble from the Nationals and Liberals crossing the floor than we will have from moderate Libs opposing it – and he was right.” Only one Liberal, Tasmania’s Bridget Archer, crossed the floor to vote with the government on the emissions target.”

“The next election will not be fought on the 2030 emissions targets,” notes Venstre. Indeed, the government will soon have to start work on Australia’s 2035 targets, which must be submitted by 2025. “If it suddenly looks like we’re struggling to meet the 2030 target, then the picture changes.”

The other major force in parliament now is the cricketers. How did they behave? They, like the Greens, championed more ambitious goals but chose to support the government’s bill as the only available path to progress at all.

All of this tells us what to expect from all these groups in the future. The Greens will continue to push for more, yet compromise practical service over ideology.

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So, for example, on Albanese’s draft proposal for an indigenous vote for parliament, “we will take the same approach to the vote as we did on climate,” says Greens leader in the Senate, Larissa Waters. “We said we want progress on all elements of the Uluru Declaration from the heart and we are encouraged by the Minister [Linda Burney] says it is possible.

“We will push for improvements and push for practical progress for Indigenous justice,” including deaths in custody and the Bringing them Home report, Waters says. Unsaid is that the Greens will not veto possible gains in pursuit of impossible ones.

Albanese will continue to operate from the political centre, seeking to promote centre-left priorities such as climate policy and the vote, while also working on centre-right areas such as a firm defense of Australian interests against the demands of the Chinese Communist Party. Labor intends to dominate the centre; the intention is to force the coalition to either support the government or move further to the right edge and unelectable.

And Dutton will continue to do what he can to hold together a broken Liberal party, to survive as leader long enough to regroup and focus on the next election. Leading a defeated government into opposition is a high-risk task. For Dutton, survival, not relevance, is today’s imperative. Three years is a long time in politics.

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About the author

Javed Iqbal

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