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National Party’s emission plan: No coal executive left behind

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

The National Party appear to be the only people who think the Morrison Government takes climate seriously and they are not happy, writes Andrew P Street.

THERE ARE TIMES when one looks at the National Party and wonders why exactly it still exists. Arguably, we've been in that era since about the Fitzgerald Inquiry in 1987, or in 1989 when the post-Joh Bjelke-Petersen Nationals Government was sent packing on a platform of “wait, voters: so you're not into widespread systematic corruption and barefaced cronyism? B-but that's not what our mates told us!”

That the Party is dysfunctional is not news to anyone, but this week has seen an outbreak of infighting which is undignified even by the battered and diminished standards of the National Party.

The issue is the coming Glasgow International Climate Conference (UNFCCC) and, specifically, Australia's utter lack of any sort of policy about meaningfully addressing climate change. Normally, that's business as usual but it has become clear that the bigger players in the global economy are sick of free-riders when it comes to carbon emissions and will be implementing trade tariffs on countries that continue to gleefully pollute.

And that's put the Morrison Government in a wicked situation. Not only do they have to come up with a plausible-sounding policy to mitigate a problem they clearly don't take seriously, but are also doing so to placate other countries — which is anathema to a government that likes to bang on about sovereign rights in any context whatsoever. It's no wonder that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has decided that he maybe doesn't have to bother turning up.

But Morrison also has a domestic problem with this in that his Government is a coalition between his own climate-sceptic Party and a group of actual science denialists with a pally relationship to the resources industry — starting with mining magnate novelty cheque recipient and [checks notes] current National Party leader, Barnaby Joyce.

And look, to a great extent, this is all pretty much irrelevant. While technically any emissions reduction is better than none, net zero by 2050 is woefully insufficient in terms of climate action in the face of the actual disasters already happening, even if there was a plan to achieve it (which there is not) and if anyone whatsoever thought that the Government was acting in good faith rather than frantically looking for loopholes and redefinitions via which they can continue to claim that they’re going to meet and beat their fictitious targets.

So given that no one in the Government seems to actually want to see any meaningful action on climate change, it's bizarre that the Nationals have chosen refusing to accept a non-plan for a non-target as the imaginary hill to die upon. For right now, they are rending themselves in twain over, effectively, what pork they wish to have barrelled in order to pay lip service to a meaningless non-policy.

The latest bit of bafflement started on the weekend with [checks notes] current National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, who has been insisting that his Party won't even be prepared to consider moving to a net-zero economy in 30 years until those left jobless by, say, humanely ending the already-dying coal industry are amply compensated with new and better careers.

During one of his few lucid moments on the ABC’s Insiders, he said on Sunday:

“We look at it through the eyes of making sure that there is not an unreasonable loss of jobs or any loss of jobs in regional areas. This is the area where we have the mining industry and this is the area where we have the agricultural industry and... the towns that are attached to the commerce of those industries.”

Okay, lucid-ish.

Even his bête noire, former Party leader and fast evaporating puddle-man Michael McCormack, has insisted that his own support for net zero is based on a plan which is “not going to affect jobs in regional Australia”, which is a problem because obviously it is.

In the cheaper seats, former frontbencher Darren Chester has taken a break from the Party's meetings over what he sees as the intransigence of the Right-wingers therein, like coal-dust cosplay enthusiast Matt Canavan who has merrily insisted that “I am deadset against zero emissions... I haven't even begun to fight”. So that sounds good.

We could look at the willingness to accept multi-billion dollar submarine deals with no budget or delivery details attached and wonder why already-evident climate threats have to justify their return on investment instead.

Or we could point out that many in the current Morrison Government – including Joyce – were in place during the heady days of Tony Abbott's reign when he announced that the Government was done subsidising the motor manufacturing industry, plunging tens of thousands of workers into unemployment and that no one in the Coalition seemed super-fussed about their future careers.

And, again, we can recognise that the chances of the Morrison Government putting a strategy into place to make meaningful cuts to emissions is substantially less likely than Morrison coming up with a rhyming slogan to take to the election and then immediately abandoning.

But hey, Nationals — if you want to rip yourselves to shreds over it, then don’t let us stop you.

Andrew P Street is an Adelaide-based, Sydney-built journalist, author, editor and broadcaster and an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewPStreet.

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