Unfortunately, the Morrison government just doesn't get it when it comes to the imperative for urgent climate action.
Sure, the worst of the drought is over. Sure, the bushfire season has ended. Sure, Morrison has handled the COVID-19 pandemic well, certainly better than expected, but only so far - the more difficult economic and social challenges are yet to come, and the risk of a pick-up in the infection rate is omnipresent.
But, what has the government actually learned from these experiences such as to encourage them to embrace longer-term strategic thinking and planning to better respond to the inevitability of more of these crises in the future? Apparently, very little!
Climate was an important cause of the drought, and the climate predictions are that droughts will occur more frequently and with even greater intensity. Climate was an important cause of the bushfires, again the predictions are for more and worse to come. COVID-19 was very much a dress rehearsal for what awaits us if we continue to ignore the science and the urgent demands of the climate threat. The government has a "tin ear" to all this, not really accepting the significance of the science; certainly not doing much to ensure that our soils are more drought resistant and resilient, or to better prepare for the next bushfire season; and clearly failing to seize the opportunity in developing its COVID Recovery Strategy to accelerate our transition, sector by sector, to a low carbon Australia by mid-century.
They are totally self-absorbed in short-term politics, cynically relieved that they have been able to "survive" their mismanagement of both the drought and the fires, and are now making anti-climate decisions, perceiving some sort of short-term political advantage from paying out to certain vested interests and political supporters, against our longer-term national interest.
Australia is now clearly a laggard in response to climate ...
Australia is now clearly a laggard in response to climate, having squandered the opportunities to lead over the last three decades, thereby forgoing billions of dollars of investment and growth, and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
A new survey (based on digital news) released this week by the University of Canberra and conducted at the end of the bushfire season earlier this year, found that the number of climate deniers (8 per cent) in Australia is more than double the global average (3 per cent), and of the 40 countries surveyed, behind only the US (12 per cent) and Sweden (9 per cent).
While 58 per cent think climate is an "extremely or very serious problem", this is lower than the global average of 69 per cent, and only one-quarter of the countries surveyed are less concerned than we are.
This clearly reflects the reliance on commercial AM radio and Sky/Fox News - more than one-third who listen to these outlets consider climate to be "not at all" or "not very" serious. It also reflects the government's failure to encourage and sustain a mature debate on climate, including "threats" of job losses and disruption.
Moreover, as our government is sticking with support for more coal and gas projects, including new coal and gas-fired power projects, large fossil fuel companies are accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. Following on from the likes of BHP and Rio Tinto, global oil giant BP this week announced the write down of its exploration and production assets by some A$25 billion, as it reassesses the global energy market - post COVID - and the increasingly rapid shift to clean energy.
The finance and investment sectors are also driving the essential climate transitions, with most major banks refusing to finance new fossil fuel or dirty energy projects; major insurers becoming increasingly reluctant to insure them; and the big global investors, fearing the possibility of "stranded assets", are shifting their investments towards less climate-exposed assets - for example, the largest sovereign wealth fund, the Norwegian Fund, has quit coal, and Blackrock, the world's largest funds manager, has adopted its Climate Action Strategy. Also, major corporates such as Unilever have urged Morrison to join the climate fight.
Morrison is clearly focused within the "Canberra Bubble", mostly taking his much lauded "Quiet Australians" for granted. His short-term political game is grossly irresponsible, selling out our national interest, and stealing from future generations, to whom he will happily leave the increasingly difficult task of cleaning up his mess, probably in the context of lower living standards.
John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.
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