By Rich Bowden
It’s 2019 and a very happy New Year to all Pioneer Australia readers. For those of us with an interest in politics and the environment, this promises to be a bumper year with not one, but two major elections taking place with climate change front and centre as one of the main issues.
Hot on the heels of the Victorian state election, the environment — and associated issues such as renewables and global warming — was a issue skilfully managed by the victorious, Dan Andrews-led Labor government in 2018. In order to assuage the growing concern in the electorate over such environmental issues like climate change, the brains trust at Labor simply took on many of the Greens issues.
The strategy worked as Labor romped it in, even picking up seats in blue-ribbon Liberal strongholds previously thought to be near impossible for Labor to win. It’s clear the people of Victoria considered Labor to be a “safe pair of hands” on climate policy and voted accordingly. Labor sent shock waves through the conservative establishment in the land winning 55 of the 88 seat Legislative Assembly.
However, while the environment vote was key to the Andrews government sweeping the election, the big question remains: will it be the same at the NSW state election, due in March?
Early signs are that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian thinks so. She’s distancing her government from the mess that is the federal Liberal/National Coalition. And particularly its lack of a coherent renewable energy plan. The NSW Coalition has taken note of the absolute shellacking the Victorian Liberals received in the November state election and is backing away from the federal Libs brand which, as has been shown, is definitely “on the nose” with the voters.
Less than politely Premier Berejiklian has told Prime Minister Scott Morrison — whose power-base is in the Shire district south of Sydney — that he’s most definitely not needed. Shortly after the Victorian Coalition’s smashing in November, she was asked by reporters if she would call on Morrison for assistance during the campaign.
“I have never relied on anybody outside NSW and I don’t intend to start now,” the premier said adding her government would stand “on its own two feet”.
In contrast, the newly-crowned Opposition Leader Michael Daly said he would gladly ask for help from federal Labor leader Bill Shorten.
“We’ve got a Liberal premier who doesn’t want a bar of the Liberal prime minister and the feeling’s mutual,” he said. “I mean that says everything, doesn’t it?
“They don’t like each other, they don’t want to go near each other.”
Daley described the decision by the premier to distance herself from the federal leadership as a “debacle” and said he would be campaigning with the federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten.
Is the dispute over energy?
Political tragics like myself pore endlessly over news leaks like this. Is it a real split or one for the cameras? Do the premier and the prime minister have a longstanding stoush? Or is this more to do with the seemingly complete incapacity of the federal government to actually manage themselves? All fascinating questions and ones that will play out in the next three months but the real one for me is whether or not this split has happened over energy policy.
And if we peer into the issue a little more, we see that energy has been the catalyst of the break between NSW and the federal Coalition. The final straw may well have been the extraordinary behaviour by the federal government at the December Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting where initiatives put forward by NSW to promote a new national energy and emissions policy were unceremoniously dumped by the anti-renewables federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor without discussion.
According to a Sydney Morning Herald article of 21 December, Premier Berejiklian lashed the federal government over its policy (actually that should be non-policy) on renewables and alluded to the COAG meeting saying her government wanted a strong policy on renewable energy and wanted this replicated across Australia.
"We want to have, and continue to have, strong investment in both traditional forms of energy but also renewables and we need to have a standard policy across the nation that delivers that," Ms Berejiklian said.
States such as Victoria and NSW who have faced or are preparing to face the voters know that it is ridiculous to think people will put up with a government that has no coherent policy on introducing renewables to the energy mix. The New Energy Guarantee (NEG) promoted by the Turnbull government, which at least was some form of energy policy, died with the right-wing-led axing of Malcolm Turnbull, one of the most mercurial of Liberal leaders in recent times.
Despite his many deficiencies, including the propensity to cave into the right wing of the party on a regular basis, Turnbull was politically savvy enough to know that the Australian people would no longer tolerate any government which did not support renewable energy.
The polls proved Turnbull correct. A study conducted by The Australia Institute found that an incredible 63 per cent of Australians want a price on pollution reinstated. This was the policy instigated by the Labor government, then reversed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. For those with a reasonable political memory, it was Abbott and his cohorts who launched a thunderous anti-renewables campaign from the Opposition benches, often resulting in downright abuse.
Abbott got his way and the Gillard/Rudd renewable reforms were swept aside by one of the more conservative governments Australia has ever seen. Fast forward to 2019 though, have Australians had enough of Coalition obstructionism? Will they be kicked out at this year’s election as a result of their inability to kick their fossil fuel habit?
As Simon Holmes a Court says in a 1 January 2019 article in The Guardian,
“As in 2007, the looming federal election is shaping up to be a referendum on climate – a choice between action and denial. The public, businesses and states, having learned from the climate and energy wars of the past 10 years, are now savvier and better prepared.”
To return to the theme of the article, it appears the NSW government is taking no chances, it’s backing away from the federal Coalition faster than a well-drilled rugby league backline. And it’s the federal government lack of a renewables energy policy that is providing the catalyst for this reversal. Premier Berejiklian obviously understands the great need for any state government to be positive on renewable energy and realises that cannot be so while associating herself with the fossil fuel fans in Canberra.
Cue popcorn and Antony Green.
Rich Bowden is a freelance writer, podcaster, family man, coffee drinker and news junkie. He spends most of his time looking puzzled and saying stuff like “you’re never too old to learn” to anyone who will listen. Likes a laugh. Otherwise harmless. Podcasts at Climactic, The Real Food Chain and Permaculture Plus.