Politics Opinion

Nationals ridiculous net zero deal doesn't even matter

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

While the National Party holds Australia's future to ransom with climate demands, Scott Morrison's future as Prime Minister looks increasingly dim, writes Andrew P Street.

THERE ARE PLENTY of reasons to be cynical – indeed, deeply suspicious – about the secret deal that the National Party has presented to Prime Minister Scott Morrison as conditional on their begrudging and far-from-unanimous support for the very existence of an emissions target.

As with the Nats’ Coalition agreement, the junior Party refuse to allow the unwashed voting masses to know what conditions they have on being [checks notes] permitted to govern the country.

That being said, we already know a lot of them. One is that the Nationals get another minister in the Cabinet — likely to signal the return of climate denialist Resources Minister Keith Pitt. This is less about getting an intelligent and well-informed new voice on the frontbench and more about Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce walking back his decision to demote a political rival after he became leader.

(Hey, remember how Barn reclaimed leadership of the National Party after arguing that the current leader was yielding to pressure from Morrison over climate change policy? Honestly, does it still count as a trick when you can see the magician burning themselves in the middle of it?)

There have also been talks of “ringfencing” the entire agriculture sector from any potential policy and there will doubtlessly be eye-watering amounts of subsidy dollars for the resources sector, not least because a decent percentage of those dollars will sluice back into Coalition coffers as political donations. This process would be called “money laundering” if it happened in a casino.

And, as Morrison has already made clear, there will be no legislation around this target because he knows that several National MPs wouldn’t vote for it and it would die in the House.

So, once again we have the sight of the Nationals extorting the public in order to give non-support for a non-plan at the behest of the resources industry that ensures their re-election.

Then again, does it even matter?

The short answer is no; the longer answer is also no, but accompanied by a lot of very salty profanity about politicians putting ideology and greed ahead of doing the job of Government.

Not that the Morrison Government has any intention of delivering even on the much watered-down target of net zero on 2050, as far as anyone can tell. Pure unvarnished experience would suggest that we should be dubious about any “net zero by 2050” plan from the man who was waving a lump of coal around Parliament like a magical amulet warding off science only a few years ago.

And sure enough, the reticence to come up with any plan to reduce emissions by 2030 (including confirmation that the 2030 target set by Tony Abbott’s Government remains the only target in place) confirms that this is about kicking the climate action can as far down the road as possible. And, without putting too fine a point on it, even a 2030 target is too late to leave major cuts to emissions.

And that was even before Energy Minister Angus Taylor hilariously-slash-pathetically refused to release his 2050 net zero modelling on the grounds that Australia’s plan to survive beyond the current generation was not in the public interest. And also, the dog ate it.

And those with functioning memories might remember that Morrison’s big defence for potentially giving the UN’s COP26 conference a miss was that his priority regarding his Government’s climate policy was “to explain that to Australians, not people overseas” and now that he’s going, he’s withholding that information from Australians.

In a different time, that level of contempt for transparency would be the subject of days of furious media coverage. Now it goes past with barely a shrug since Morrison shrugging off his responsibilities legitimately isn’t news to anyone.

And the fact of the matter is that if Morrison wins at the next election, that gives him another three years to make no progress on climate, secure in the knowledge that the Australian people aren’t going to punish him for doing so. Whatever deal the Nationals make now will be immaterial if they’re back in power. Presumably, the plan will be to ringfence mining, transport, power generation and setting burning stacks of tyres next.

That being said, the path for Morrison to survive the next election is getting treacherously narrow with polls trending away from the Coalition, seats looking set to fall in WA, SA and Victoria. Even Queensland and NSW aren't going in the direction Morrison needs them to go — and that’s before the risk to otherwise safe Liberal seats in Sydney from climate-savvy independent candidates.

Throw in the uncertainty about Australia’s border reopening and a likely spike in cases and deaths (or lack of freedoms for unvaccinated folks who tend vote to the Right of the spectrum) and you have several wicked problems Scotty may not be able to market his way out of.

So if there’s a plus side to the ongoing clusterhumpage that is the Coalition’s attempts to weasel out of net zero, it’s that there’s a decent chance that Australia’s climate future is not going to be something Scotty has to pretend to worry about for much longer anyway. At least, in the best case scenario.

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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