Labor: Hiding in the past, destroying the future

As I write this, the haze of smoke from the now-continuous bushfires is hanging over Brisbane, as it is over Sydney and other cities. It’s scarcely surprising that the Morrison government is doing its best to ignore the problem, but you might think the official Opposition would be making some noise about it.

Not likely! On Nov 12, Penny Wong said

the immediate focus should be on firefighters battling the blazes, people at risk and those grieving lost loved ones.

“When we get through this, it is a responsible thing for us to focus on how we plan to keep Australians safe,” she told ABC radio.

“Warnings about a longer bushfire season and more intense fires have been on the table for a long time.”

Three weeks later, neither she nor anyone else in the Labor Party has had anything of substance to say about climate change.

Labor has found time, however, to pump out what seem like dozens of statements claiming that, if only the Greens had supported Rudd’s CPRS ten years ago, everything would be so much better today.

I’ll leave aside the many dubious historical assumptions needed to make this claim stand up. Even if it were true, it would be about as relevant as Peter Dutton pointing out that Labor supported the White Australia policy in 1900.

The fact is that, at a time when the climate emergency has ceased to be a hypothesis and is a visible reality, Labor is more interested in scoring points off the Greens than in doing anything about the problem.

If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.

35 thoughts on “Labor: Hiding in the past, destroying the future

  1. “If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.”

    What about when Malcolm Fraser connived with John Kerr to remove the Whitlam government by coup d’etat and the Australian people overwhelmingly backed the coup a month later in a double dissolution election?

  2. Depressing indeed. If, in the midst of climate exacerbated crises and on the eve of a major climate meeting climate change can be taken off the agenda and dodged around by the major parties – if Labor simply tries to join in or outdo the LNP in anti-environmentalist rhetoric and blaming green politics for their own enduring failures – we who take the problem seriously are left with nowhere to turn.

  3. Not just Australian politics though. Prospective election results in the UK and, next year, USA fill me with gloom. And the list goes on. I’d move to New Zealand or Canada if I was more mobile.

  4. The ALP lost the recent election from being bold, forthright and progressive and now it’s the right fraction’s turn to feel empowered and yield more control of policy direction (note Joel Fitzgibbon’s recent maverick exploits). For now, they’ve processed and yielded to all the reviewing and self reflection to land/crash back in to the electoral comfort zone of economic pragmatism – particularly at a time when the local and global economy is tanking. IIRC fossil fuel exports still comprise of a significant bulk of our total exports. Hit that hard right now and you piss a lot of the constituency right off – not just rural Queenslanders but the widespread damage to the broad (weak) economy will likely provide you with an Anna Bligh landslide at the next election.
    That’s not to suggest it’s the morally correct direction to take or the generally correct direction to take, but as Smithy as stated in recent threads, if you can’t even make significant grounds in Victoria from a policy direction that you know is going to piss Queenslanders off, then you need to rethink your strategic planning or public perception.

  5. I disagree, the ALP lost the last election because they threatened to hit their base in the hip pocket – real estate and tax.

    The ALP have become Lib-lite and just aren’t worthy of further consideration.

    Craig Emerson recently wrote a piece critiquing tribalism and then proceeded to demonstrate his loyalty by jumping on the Greens, for daring to point the finger over climate change, and the proceeded to reanimate the once dead CPRS. His argument is that by rejecting the CPRS the Greens pushed the ALP into a coalition with the LNP, which then blew up thereby elevating Abbott to a position beyond his expertise.

    Had the ALP been acting on principle, not tribalism, they might have made a fist of it. But hatred of Greens still clouds their judgement, just like the LNP.

    Only the Greens have identified the issues and offered a pathway.

    https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/tribalism-is-blighting-australia-20191118-p53bkt

  6. “Labor is more interested in scoring points off the Greens than in doing anything about the problem.”

    If Labor had won the election this crItique would have more force. But Labor is in opposition. It doesn’t get to do anything.

  7. I know a few Abbott voters and they say he represents the quintessential male, the Libs Chesty Bond, and he’s not afraid to step up. People like strong leaders and he seemed to fit the bill, until he fell from grace.

  8. Looking out over out front porch at a setting sun that was ruby red in Friday, muted pink yesterday and wholly obscured today, even as we cannot access the air quality data, the Morrison government announces that it will follow NSW’s example and eliminate, or err… break up and “merge” the Department of Environment and Energy into other agencies with contradictory missions.

    A bloody dystopia, this place.

  9. Bushfires and climate policies are separate issues for Australian policy makers. Conservatives make the trivially obvious but correct claim that Australia’s climate policies do not determine global temperatures and therefore do not determine bushfire risks. Australia needs to do its part to address climate change – this is a key policy concern – but by linking bushfire risks to Australian policies people are leaving themselves open to ridicule of the type pursued in The Australian by Chris Kenny et al. They lead to confusion in informing public opinion.

    It is sensible to have bushfire control policies that are independent of our climate policies and which focus on bushfire prevention, insurance policies, forecasting fires, fire-fighting technology, controlled burning, etc.

    It is also essential to contribute meaningfully to action on climate change.

  10. Re: merging departments

    Beats me why governments do this. There’s hardly any money saved and the old departments become unmanageable warring fiefdoms within the new mega-department. The head of the new department has multiple ministers to answer to and keep happy, a next to impossible job, not least because these ministers most bitter rivals are each other

  11. The current federal government is certaiy the meanest and most tawdry I have seen. Much worse than Abbot’s, because that one had an air of absurdity and impermanence about it. Lots of other Australian public institutions are crap too e.g. RBA, Treasury, High Court, ABC.

    The ALP is certainly not to blame and just reflects the times.

  12. “Bushfires and climate policies are separate issues for Australian policy makers.”

    Thats the point isn’t it? We need holistic solutions. Its like those White Papers on defence. As good as our intellectuals are they are never holistic enough. Do they ever think to integrate Barry Brooks ideas of having artificial reefs, to establish sea ecologies and productivity …. with our submarine policy, and therefore with one of the most important elements of our defence policy? See I don’t think they do.

    Do they match up phasing out fractional reserve banking with defence? Seeing how if the electricity grid goes down our money supply effectively implodes and all of civilian society becomes paralysed in a crisis? I don’t think they do?

    Do they ever think about small permaculture farming versus big hydrocarbon farming, when the enemy takes down our grid and occupies some of our cities? The soldiers can come through the permaculture farm and take as much food as they can carry and there will be more food next week. But commercial big farms are finished if the crops are burnt, the food is stolen, the grid goes down or the petroleum imports cannot reach the shore.

    So the whole deal to societal resilience must be holistic. And we look for simple solutions that solve a host of problems all at once. Bushfires, so-called climate issues, droughts, floods, health issues, rehydrating the land, banking reform. While it may all seem like a thousand different issues to most of the public, if you think holistically, it becomes just one issue. Its all the same. While the problems of the world seem horribly complicated the solutions are ridiculously simple.

  13. Harry Clarke:
    “Conservatives make the trivially obvious but correct claim that Australia’s climate policies do not determine global temperatures and therefore do not determine bushfire risks.”

    *Australia does not have any climate policies, beyond Direct Inaction, a fitful promotion of alternative energy technologies, and waiting for cleaner technology to drift to our shores.
    *’Conservatives’ claim that Australia’s climate policies [and thus Australian emissions] do not determine global temperatures. This is untrue. Every nations contributions input into the trend. Thus we Australians have contributed to increased bushfire risks at a planetary scale, except perhaps in those few areas that have seen an increase in mean decadal precipitation under anthropogenic climate change. We do not determine the amount of change as the final arbiter or sole input. Obviously.
    *If Australia was an ‘only child’, a high tech island, the only human occupied continent with a fossil fuel powered economy, we would be the sole point of fossil sourced emissions…and we’d be utterly responsible for the likely modest but measurable influence cause to GAT by our activity. Just to be trivially obvious.
    *’Conservatives’ claim that if we had climate policies they’d have no effect/contribution to the trajectory of global warming. This is trivially untrue, if not as obvious. We can account for every tonne of burned fossil fuel, and determine its contribution in Watts to the square meter to our surface energy inbalance.
    *Our actual climate policy [even if it is never acknowledged as such] is to promote the expansion of the fossil fuel export industry. We have been very successful at this. Our exports have increased massively over the last decade. Thus our ‘climate policy’ is to promote and enhance anthropogenic climate change.

    “..by linking bushfire risks to Australian policies people are leaving themselves open to ridicule of the type pursued in The Australian by Chris Kenny et al.”
    If Kenny et al acted in good faith, this would be a real issue. While their brief is to comment from ignorance and promote more of it, this is well known. Can we actually point to anything that Murdoch’s professional fools inhibited in fire policy development and deployment?

  14. “If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.”

    I dunno, Sunday morning 19 May earlier this year was pret-ty glum (not least because you could already see times like this ahead)

  15. We are in the sixth mass extinction event. This means we are nearly at the beginning (in evolutionary timespans) of the sixth mass selection event if the biosphere proves capable of self-rehabilitating and generating another explosion of life in the next x million years.

    In the movie Jurassic Park, Doctor Ian Malcolm uttered the non sequiter that dinosaurs had been selected for extinction. It’s not possible to be “selected for extinction” as only survival is a selection event. But Doctor Malcolm’s non sequiter is amusing if you take it as play on logic and the making of a (rather silly) point by reverse illogic. In Malcolm-speak, humanity is about to be selected for extinction.

    Why is this so? It seems that we are in the opposite of a Goldilocks’s zone with respect to intelligence. To survive in the future, we would need to be considerably stupider than we are currently or considerably more intelligent again than we are now. At our current level of intelligence, we are just intelligent enough to get ourselves into a lot of stupid trouble.

    I expect humanity has three obvious possibilities from this point. Extinction, intelligence decline and “devolution” or intelligence rise and further evolution. Those possibilities are in given in order of probability. It is most likely that we will go extinct. It is least likely that we will survive and evolve to higher intelligence and further cultural complexity.

  16. A vote for Morrison’s government would be much less than 1.3% but I don’t seen them telling their supporters don’t bother. I think Nick has it exactly right; advancing the coal and gas industries and fast tracking as much new fossil fuel exports as they can is Australia’s real climate policy and Labor is fully on board with that. Make protesting illegal and remove environmental considerations – climate most of all – from new mine approvals. Labor is showing clear signs of agreeing with that.

    I think that far from being dismayed or disappointed the LNP welcomes China and India building new coal plants and if international climate agreements broke down entirely they would be (behind closed doors) ecstatic – as long as they can blame others, preferably, somehow, Left/Socialists and Environmentalists. (Obviously if greenies stopped asking for strong action there would be no reason to argue against strong action!)

    If large parts of Labor think that way too it would not surprise me. Between Labor and LNP they own Australia’s government – and between them they refuse to even face the climate issue head on. Blaming green politics is the biggest load of BS ever but voters have been primed and pumped with anti-green memes and themes; so long as most people don’t think them through they seem to make sense.

    But we should talk about Labor – and just as the LNP will use China, India, the USA to excuse their lack of emissions reductions ambitions, Labor will use the LNP’s anti-ambition to excuse the lack of theirs. When they are not blaming The Greens, that is.

    Why bring up the ancient history of Rudd’s failure to win over The Greens except as signalling a distancing from environmental issues under Albanese? As if the choices Labor made had no bearing on the outcome – or the LNP’s choices either! Yet they all had the same, consistent science based expert advice – very clearly advising that unchecked Climate change is the gravest of threats to Australia’s enduring prosperity.

    Labor could be focused on the climate policy successes of Gillard working with The Greens that came later – except that doesn’t suit them now. Well, I thought even at the time Labor preferred it’s successful climate policy be viewed as something forced on them by circumstances, more to be apologised for than celebrated.

    It is very dismaying to know our nation’s leaders view the worst case RCP8.5 scenarios as an inalienable right and continue to advance the coal and gas extraction to achieve it.

  17. If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.

    But then, neither of us is old enough to recall Australian politics in 1955, or 1917.

  18. @J-D 1917 was a terrible year for the world, but the big Australian political event was the conscription referendum, which was defeated. Labor split over it, but the majority of the party held firm, and was winning state elections not long afterwards.
    1955 was a bad year for the Labor party, but it didn’t stop the progress of social democracy in Australia. Menzies may have talked the talk of market liberalism, but his policies were watered down versions of Labor’s. I was more depressed in the 1980s than I am in retrospect about the 1950s

  19. The problem with you people who have an out-sized faith in the ability of government to change the world for the better is that perhaps subconsciously, you think that if a government – or in this case a political party – is not actively trying to make something happen, it won’t happen.

    But look at what is actually happening. Renewable energy based electricity has tripled in the past 10 years. If the growth rates of the past few years keep going, it will reach 50% well before 2030 and will probably be around 60% by 2030. For all the talk about how investors are put off by the lack of a coherent energy policy, AEMO says that there’s 80MW of renewables investment in the pipeline. (This doesn’t include the many billions the government is spending on Snowy 2, the purpose of which is toprovide stability to the grid using renewable energy given the reduction in dispatchable energy caused by withdrawal of coal plant.)

    Electric cars are coming, and no dopey culture war sniping such as we saw in the last election campaign is going to stop them.

    The lesson: don’t confuse the background white noise of everyday politics with actual developments in what matters.

  20. “If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.”
    We don’t care about your feelings: we care about you marking your beliefs to market. You’ve expressed a number of opinions about what may happen in the future, opinions which we’ve valued – how, in the light of this new and depressing information, would you modify those opinions?
    The progressive narrative is broken, and it’s virtually impossible to believe that the future will be better, in almost any significant respect, than the past. What does that mean for us?

  21. In broad agreement with Smithy – although both State (and maybe Federal?) action has contributed significantly to the uptake of renewables via subsidies and whatnot. More positive rhetoric would help a lot too. The uptake of renewables has been talked down way too much in this country. If you actually look at the investment, it’s definitely game changing.
    It was depressing news coming from China recently although James Wimberley has provided some positive news in that space and I also agree with James that more needs to be done to transition the transport sector.

    “AEMO says that there’s 80MW of renewables investment in the pipeline”

    I’m guessing that should read 80GW?

  22. I am not going to provide a citation because I do not remember where I read it and I do not care to take the time to find it again. But what I read was that the increase in renewable energy so far has not really displaced any fossil fuel energy it has just added to the overall level of energy production (consumption). That has created more wealth in the short term. Has more wealth had the effect of helping convince people that things are not as bad as Ikonoclast and I say that they are?

    as a side point what governments can achieve or not achieve is highly dependent on who is at the controls. The idea that governments are not efficient is smoke and mirrors manufactured by those who do not want governments to be successful because a successful government creates a lost business profit opportunity.

  23. Curt Kastens

    not so. In the last 10 years coal based electricity generation in the NEM has fallen from 170TwH to 128 TWh. The data is easily accessible on the Open Nem site.

  24. TP

    yes, of course, GW. According to the less circumspect PV magazine,

    “Australia’s pipeline of grid-scale solar, wind and battery projects is growing at an unprecedented pace in 2019. According to Norway-based consultants Rystad Energy, it now stands at 133 GW, up from 94 GW at the start of the year.”

    Assuming a capacity factor of 25%, that’s about equal to the capacity of all fossil fuel based generation. Even if you divide by two to allow for hyperbole, it’s a lot of renewables investment on the way.

    This is happening even though the Labor Party doesn’t call out every dumb thing that Matt Canavan tweets.

  25. Northcote C Parkinson said many years ago: When an organisation reaches its peak and has run out of ideas, it will build a new head office.
    That explains the reorganisation of government departments.
    John Homan

  26. @J-D 1917 was a terrible year for the world, but the big Australian political event was the conscription referendum, which was defeated. Labor split over it, but the majority of the party held firm, and was winning state elections not long afterwards.
    1955 was a bad year for the Labor party, but it didn’t stop the progress of social democracy in Australia. Menzies may have talked the talk of market liberalism, but his policies were watered down versions of Labor’s. I was more depressed in the 1980s than I am in retrospect about the 1950s

    These are fair points. I wasn’t suggesting that things now are in fact better than they were in 1917 or in 1955–and I’m not now suggesting that they are in fact worse. My only point was that we can’t judge by personal recall alone. It’s easy to say now that you’re not depressed in retrospect about the 1950s, but that must be at least partly because you are judging in retrospect: people at the time would have been justified in judging differently.

    So if not by personal recall, how do we judge? not by Labor’s performance in State elections, surely? although if that were what we judged by, now would not be the most depressing period in Australia’s political history.

  27. @Smith9 Certainly lots of stuff is happening despite Morrison and Trump, but we need to move faster and they are actively resisting. Electricity market rules are being rigged against renewables, fuel efficiency targets for vehicles have been rejected and so on.
    It’s possible to pay attention to both positives and negatives, and I do.

  28. Smith9, your figures are for Australia, but by “the increase in renewable energy so far has not really displaced any fossil fuel energy it has just added to the overall level of energy production” it seems CK above referred to China, and possibly the globe.

    So, is it a local and/or global yes to “Has more wealth (from increased energy consumption) had the effect of helping convince people that things are not as bad..?”

  29. smith 9,
    I will be repeating what Svante said, I was refering to the globe. Your link seems to be refering to Australia, unless I did not end up at the right place.
    If I did your link seems to show a lot of cylical up and down. And it seems, i suspect to mirror global trends anyways, which as I recall include not just coal but oil and natural gas as well and which show that these total fossil fuel inputs are not declining. Then on top of that how is it possible that overall the burnng of these fuels could decline when we are adding millions of (non electric)automobils to the roads every year? The new autos may be more efficient but they are being added much faster than the old auto are being put out to pasture.
    Finally when the burning of fossil fuels does start to decline natual feed backs will be adding more than enough Greenhouse gas emmissions to make up for it.
    That leads to my next comment.

  30. That comment at 9:35 was from Curt K.
    Anyways we are surounded by lots of good news. Humanity may become extinct. Human life is vastly overrated. Extinction will cut our losses.
    Additional good news is that humanity might not go extinct. It might get a second chance to make human life really worth living for all involved in the project.
    The not so good news is that humanity might go extinct in an unprofessional manner that might make us look like fools to those running the simulation that we are part of. Although it could be that we are actually doing an excellent job up to now because this could be a simulation in which failure was preprogrammed.
    A professional way to go extinct is through a low birth rate.

  31. I guess the Koala in the room is the failure of mass media and press. Neither what left of real Labor or the Greens have a snowflake’s hope in hell of getting out an important message or fact. The bushfires disappearing from the pages of newspapers and TV screens in favour of celeb fluff is the best that can be expected; anything not timid from politicians invokes vicious smear campaigns as Corbyn found out in Britain and Matt Kean from NSW urging action of the fires.

    The latest bit of obscured news on this issue that “darest not speak its own name”is that we have sent half our yearly carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the last month or so, while Angus Taylor tries to block action with phony figures in front of the entire world.

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