I approached election night with gloom but …

As the polls closed on Saturday night, most election commentary focused on the dispiriting campaign where both major parties avoided any substantial division on policy issues and instead focused on negatively framing the opposing leader.

Even to many seasoned political minds, the most likely outcome seemed to be a reversal of the last parliament, with Labor winning enough seats to form a narrow majority, and one or two more seats falling to independents. As we all now know, the outcome was utterly different. The Liberals lost many of their crown jewels to climate challengers –  teal independents and the Greens.

This means the new Labor government now has a different challenge on climate. Rather than trying to keep check on concessions to the cross-bench, Labor must now find ways to pursue more ambitious climate policies. Labor can’t pull the most effective lever available – a carbon price – after the Liberals successfully poisoned the well. But there are other ways to accelerate Australia’s shift to cleaner and greener, such as through public investment in large-scale solar and wind.

The next three years will be challenging economically and politically. But the transformation wrought by the election has opened up the possibility of a similar transformation of climate policy. With bold action, a bright future awaits.

Solar farm by sea
Government backing for large scale renewables could be one lever Labor could pull. Shutterstock

Climate proved critical

Labor’s path to victory was unusual. The party taking government will do so despite its primary vote slumping to a postwar low, far below the level of routs seen in 1996 and 1975.

Outside Western Australia (where the result was driven largely by the success of the McGowan government’s Covid policy), Labor barely moved the dial. So far Labor has taken five seats from the Liberals (with some Labor-held seats still in doubt) while losing Fowler to an independent and Griffith to the Greens.

Read more: Carbon pricing works: the largest-ever study puts it beyond doubt

The big shock in this election was the loss of a string of formerly safe Liberal seats to Greens and “teal” independents. All of these candidates campaigned primarily on climate change, an issue the major parties, and most of the mainstream media had agreed should be put to one side as too dangerous and divisive.

During the campaign, the possibility of a hung parliament drew attention. In response, both major parties vowed (not very credibly) that they would never do a deal with Greens or independents to secure office. Realistically, it seemed possible that Labor might offer a slightly more ambitious program on climate policy in order to make minority government easier.

In retrospect, it’s clear that this type of analysis assumed Australia’s long-standing political pattern would continue: a two-party system, with a handful of cross-benchers occasionally playing the role of kingmaker. All of the media commentary leading up to the election took this for granted. The “teal” independents were seen as a possible threat to two or three urban Liberals and the Greens were, for all practical purposes, ignored.

What we have instead is a shock to this system. Australia now has a radically changed political scene in which the assumptions of the two-party system no longer apply. Even if Labor scrapes in with a majority, it is unlikely to be sustained at the next election, given the challenging economic circumstances the incoming government will face. As for the LNP, unless they can regain some of the seats lost to independents and Greens, they have almost no chance of forming a majority government at the next election, even with a big win over Labor in traditionally competitive seats.

Power pylons
Labor’s proposed Rewiring the Nation corporation is aimed at making the grid renewable-ready. Shutterstock

Adapting to political change

Labor’s challenge now is to adapt to this new world. They will have to find ways of delivering what the electorate clearly wants on climate, after ruling out most of the obvious options in the course of the campaign. The new leader of the LNP will have the unenviable task of winning back lost Liberal heartlands while placating a party room dominated by climate denialists and coal fans.

Having ruled out a carbon price, Labor will need to be much more aggressive with the safeguard mechanism it inherits from the LNP. By itself, this won’t be nearly enough.

Read more: Australia is about to be hit by a carbon tax whether the prime minister likes it or not, except the proceeds will go overseas

The real need is to promote rapid growth in large-scale solar and wind energy, and to push much harder on the transition to to electric vehicles. Some of this could be done through direct public investment, on the model of Queensland’s CleanCo, or through expanded use of concessional finance using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the new Rewiring the Nation Corporation. The great political appeal of this approach is that all of these agencies are off-budget and therefore won’t count in measures of public debt, which is bound to grow in coming years due to pandemic spending.

Democracy, however imperfect, works through the possibility of renewal and change. What this election has shown us that the political system can change. Now comes the task of applying politics – the art of the possible – to the challenge of switching our energy systems from fossil fuels to clean power. It’s our best chance yet.

7 thoughts on “I approached election night with gloom but …

  1. It’s sometimes nice to be proved wrong! We look forward to the inside story on how the secretive cabal of left-wing professors made Brisbane the epicenter of political change.

    Am I right in thinking that Albanese will have to stay timid on social and fiscal policy, but will have to go radical on climate?

    A good time to repeat my plea for more policy attention to V2G. VW and Hyundai electric cars are already pre-equipped for this, so the number of potential hookups will grow rapidly, but it’s complex to design and regulate a fair market.

  2. After many years of voting Green while feeling it was nothing but a futile gesture, I was so heartened to see that finally, the entrenched rigidities of two-party politics are beginning to give way.

    The most disheartening aspect, as someone who lives in regional Queensland, was the unchanged support north of the Sunshine Coast for the Australian equivalents of Trump Republicans. The bitter-sweet result of the election was that it emphatically rejected an embrace of the culture wars that are wrecking America, while confirming that Trump/DeSantis clones will remain a significant influence on the right.

  3. JQ, your sensible analysis & suggestions above, are all weighted – framed – by the culture wars & newscorpse. Any comment?

    Slight edit JQ “Even if Labor scrapes in with a majority, it is unlikely to be sustained at the next election, given”…
    … the relentless newscorpse 70% reach propaganda machine, Labor will be undermined continually and Australia will be more polarised for the foreseeable future, continually acting as a drag or friction against sensible progress.

    JQ, you use friction / drag in an economic sense. What is the fiction cost of a biased one sided 70% reach propaganda machine?

    Or reverse, if newscorpse gave 70% of us unbiased journalism, how much faster would reforms happen, with how much cost averted in future?

    “At least six economists are on record asserting the opposite view, published by the Institute of Public Affairs and/or News Corp.”

  4. The next three years will be challenging economically and politically. But the transformation wrought by the election has opened up the possibility of a similar transformation of climate policy. With bold action, a bright future awaits.

    Meanwhile, Alan Kohler on last night’s ABC finance report highlighted that the global food price index is at an all-time high. See the graph in the video segment from time interval 0:48. Alan Kohler tweeted:

    Tonight’s @abcnews finance report. Just one graph: global food prices – record high. Not good.

    I wonder about the motivation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – is one of the factors for invading about Ukraine’s grain production ability?

    The NRMA has warned motorists there is “no end in sight” to the fluctuating petrol prices after a 14.1 cents per litre rise over the past week.

    Oil and petrol prices have been affected by the war in Ukraine, the pandemic and most recently a fire at a large oil refinery in South Korea.


    The newly-elected Federal Government says it does not plan to extend the six-month half-price fuel excise cut introduced by the outgoing treasurer.

  5. One thing that is often missed in the climate change debate in Australia is the huge amount of renewable energy generating capacity we need to install if we are to go down the renewable energy super power route. So Fortescue estimate that they need to have 450 GW of wind and solar by 2030 if they are to achieve their goal of producing 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen. This is 9 times the current capacity of the National Electricity Market (NEM) – not the renewable capacity but the total capacity. https://reneweconomy.com.au/fortescue-green-hydrogen-goal-needs-450gw-of-wind-and-solar-by-2030/
    Now Fortescue are not limiting themselves to Australia as the source of the renewable energy they need, but on the other hand there are lots of other players who want to produce green hydrogen in Australia. And then there’s the energy requirements for green aluminium, green steel etc.

    If the Renewable Energy Super Power (RESR) scenario is achieved, then one paradoxical consequence is that it will take a great deal of energy to make the solar panels, the transmission lines, the hydrolysers etc that are needed. So although we would producing an enormous amount of renewable energy by 2030, it is possible that the path to 2030 might involve a higher amount of fossil fuel energy produced than would be the case without the RESR scenario. Of course in the medium term there are enormous reductions in carbon emissions in Australia and in the countries to which we export green hydrogen which more than compensate for any short term increase in carbon emissions in Australia. But we have to make sure we do the sums over the next 15 years to make sure we are not misled by what might happen in the short term.
    I’m not saying that the RESR scenario will necessarily produce more carbon emissions in the short term than we would otherwise see. That will depend on what the modelling says. But we should be alive to the possibility, and not rule out RESR if such numbers emerge from the modelling. And it might affect what carbon emissions target we set for 2030.

  6. I am not convinced Labor has it’s heart in climate action and may well continue to put their assurances of support to the fossil fuel sector ahead of the public will and greater good. Certainly the recent address by Madeleine King to the APPEA – the gas and oil lobby – attempted to make it clear Labor has their back. The praise for the supposed commitment to CCS is dismaying. When will the pretense that CCS (much like too many carbon offset schemes) is anything but greenwash end?

    It would be nice to think their do-just-a-bit-more than the LNP position masks a deeper commitment to clean energy – the reverse of perceptions that the LNP’s zero emissions by 2050 pledge masked deep commitment to NOT getting to zero emissions – but I think that is optimistic.

    Labor does not need all of the cross bench in the lower House – not all are Teal or Green and Katter alone might agree to support Labor’s unwillingness to raise their ambition. So whether there can be any pressure of significance to do more may depend on the makeup of the Senate and the cross bench there.

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