Schoolchildren and university students yet again took to the streets around the country on March 25 to protest the federal government's climate inaction. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was specifically targeted, with almost 2000 students outside Kirribilli House protesting his continued funding and support of the fossil fuel industry.
Though these protests were part of a larger global demonstration, they come only a week after the Federal Court reversed its decision and unanimously decided that Environment Minister Sussan Ley does not have a legal duty of care to protect young people from the harms of climate change. These students are rightfully angry, with many not old enough to express their opinion at the ballot box in the upcoming federal election.
Yet this is an issue that Morrison seems desperate to bury. It's not surprising to see why, considering the Coalition's dependence on the climate culture wars ignited by Tony Abbott, resulting in almost a decade of climate inaction. The Coalition is increasingly out of step with most Australians, even its own voting base, the majority of whom want more action on climate change according to Australia's Biggest Climate Poll.
Knowing he can't win on this, Morrison has been frantically searching for other issues to capitalise off in the upcoming election. During the summer's Omicron surge, he's been drawing battlelines for a freedom election and pushing the "living with COVID" slogan while framing the opposition as a party committed to lockdowns. The Coalition has since tried to wedge Labor on foreign policy, pushing fears about the "China Threat" and using extremely divisive rhetoric to create division. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it now seems that Morrison is gunning (pun intended) for a khaki election, centring national security and defence as traditional Coalition strengths.
The realities of climate change threaten to burst the manufactured bubble that Morrison has tried to create. In the last election cycle alone, we have endured two of the most devastating natural disasters in Australia's history. The 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires burned an estimated 18.6 million hectares, killed or displaced more than three billion animals, destroyed more than 5900 buildings and took the lives of 34 people, while the effects of smoke inhalation have so far contributed to a further 400 deaths.
More recently, the 2022 Eastern Australia floods have killed 22 people, damaged more than 25,000 homes and businesses - leaving many uninhabitable - and killed thousands of animals, though the true number remains unknown. And more floods are predicted in the same areas in coming months.
Morrison bungled his response to both crises, disappearing when he was most needed. When Australia was burning and choking on smoke, he left for a family holiday to Hawaii; when the east coast was experiencing its worst flood in half a millennium, it took nearly two weeks before he declared a state of emergency or sent flood relief. Many have been left to fend for themselves - the predictable consequences of a proudly self-defined "small government".
When it comes to climate support, Morrison has made it clear that he doesn't hold the hose. In the last month, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has confirmed a sixth mass coral bleaching event (the last three occurring in the past six years) that experts note is a direct result of climate change. The federal government, however, have been busy lobbying against UN advice that the reef is "in danger" and attempting to water down language used in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which cautioned that the reef is "in crisis".
The Australian National University's Professor Andrew Macintosh, former head of the government's Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, has also publicly attacked the carbon credits scheme, labelling it a "sham" which will waste $1 billion of taxpayer money and only further damage the environment. This throws the government's already heavily criticised net zero by 2050 plan, of which carbon credits are a central feature, into even greater doubt. Despite this, the Coalition continues to act on faith, allocating $60 million for recycling initiatives and carbon credits in a pre-budget announcement. The government has not been doing enough to tackle the climate crisis, and it's clear it cannot provide the change that Australians demand.
As the country burns, floods and bleaches, Australians are demanding greater action. According to the latest Australia's Biggest Climate Poll, climate change is one of the top three issues for voters at the next federal election. Likewise, a survey conducted by Australian Community Media found that it was the top issue for readers of more than 140 regional newspapers, including The Canberra Times.
Though the Labor party is quieter on these issues than it was at the 2019 election - probably in protection mode after a sweeping scare campaign - the "Voices of" Independent candidates are more than making up the gap.
Funded by the Climate 200 group, many of these candidates are running on platforms that address environmental issues and demand support for immediate action. Following the footsteps of Independent MPs Cathy McGowan or Zali Steggall - who both won previously safe Liberal seats - these candidates have emerged as frontrunners in five Liberal-held seats in the upcoming election, demonstrating the resonance of their policy platform. It seems likely they will keep climate action at the top of the agenda.
No longer can Morrison deny inconvenient truths that can be seen in real time. Try as he might, his track record is on display for all to see - and the young are paying attention.
A recent TikTok video documenting Morrison's climate change inaction went viral, splicing clips from the Black Summer bushfires and 2022 floods with flashbacks to his infamous 2017 coal speech, for which he brought a lump of coal into Question Time, noting "this is coal, don't be afraid".
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