“What this is doing is supporting farmers and graziers who know they have a future … and are committed to getting to the other side of this drought, and knowing that better days are on the other side.”
This was the prime minister during his announcement of the government’s billion-dollar drought support plan
on Thursday. The plan, a response to what is now the worst drought
in Australian history, is largely comprised of redirected infrastructure spending and cheap loans to help farmers stay afloat until these so-called “better days” arrive.
Being seen to help farmers is always good politics. It gives politicians the opportunity to be photographed frowning with concern while listening to weather-worn blokes in battered Akubras, and it plays well with Alan Jones.
But as a response to an entrenched and deepening natural disaster the announcement was fairly underwhelming
. Linda Botterill from the University of Canberra described
the plan as “ad hoc”, saying, “There’s no underpinning, cohesive rationale to drought policy in Australia at the moment.”
Noticeably absent from the announcement was any mention of what was being done to tackle the factors contributing to the frequency and severity of drought. Climate change
, in other words.
But then perhaps we shouldn’t be that surprised. None of the five ministers fronting the media for the announcement have what you would call solid climate credentials:
Scott Morrison recently accused Greta Thunberg of causing needless anxiety
about climate change and infamously brought a lump of coal into parliament.
Deputy PM Michael McCoramck casually dismissed
Pacific nations’ fears of rising sea levels because they could simply come to Australia to “pick our fruit”.
Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud told Sky News that he’s “not a scientist
” and doesn’t have “an opinion one way or the other” about whether human emissions contribute to climate change.
Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie has dismissed a link
between climate change and drought as a “long bow to draw”.
And Education Minister Dan Tehan scolded
student activists participating in September’s climate strike, linking the global strike movement to flagging test scores.
Howard, Abbott and the end of reason
The Coalition’s track record on climate action has never been great, but its recent performance is noteworthy for its utter wretchedness
Under opposition leader John Howard the Coalition’s 1990 election platform actually called for greater emissions reductions than Labor, but by 1997 Howard, then prime minister, had regressed on the issue and refused to ratify
the Kyoto Protocol.
A decade of inaction followed, and it was only in the dying days of his government in 2007 that Howard caved on climate and took an emissions trading system to the federal election.
Yet it wasn’t until proud climate sceptic Tony Abbott romped home to victory in the 2013 election on the back of his cynical anti-carbon tax campaign that the Coalition began to fully embrace its denialism.
In the years since we have been treated to a steady diet of scepticism and outright conspiratorial nuttiness from members of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments.
In 2014 backbencher George Christensen compared warnings of impending climate disaster to a science fiction movie
and wondered if it would lead to “a zombie apocalypse, cannibalism, a prostitute shortage in Bulgaria and the death of the Loch Ness monster”.
In 2015 Senator Ian MacDonald told parliament
that “Australia was once covered in ice” and described the idea of human-caused climate change as “a fad or a farce or a hoax”.
The IPA has proudly claimed
that more than half of Liberal MPs don’t trust climate science, while deposed PM Malcolm Turnbull told a climate summit
in December that, “There is a significant percentage of the Coalition members who do not believe that climate change is real, who believe that we should get out of Paris (agreement).”
If the Liberal and National parties were indeed genuinely “conservative” then you would expect them to commit to climate change mitigation in order to protect the economy and preserve our natural assets.
The fact that they aren’t doing this means they either genuinely don’t believe in the existential threat that climate change poses, or they do believe it poses an existential threat and are content to sit on their hands. The former seems unlikely, given how much established science is available, which means it must be the latter.
And if it’s the latter, then they’re either utterly beholden to fossil fuel donors, lobbyists and the mining interests that bankroll their parties, or they’re literal psychopaths.
Either way, it makes any talk of a deep and abiding concern about the welfare of farming communities pretty hard to swallow.
Clive Hamilton’s essay
on the roots of climate change denial within Australian conservatism digs deeper into some of things alluded to above.
And Annabel Crabb’s history
of the climate policy debate and the political scalps it’s claimed is a reminder of how close we’ve come to substantive, bi-partisan progress on an emissions trading scheme.