Plebiscites, climate science denial and other Coalition diversions

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Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott have a chat (screenshot via abc.net.au).

Professor John Quiggin discusses the Turnbull Government's regressive stance on inevitable reforms and the overarching influence of Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson.

LOOKING AT THE Abbott-Hanson government that is now taking shape behind the nominal leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, the dominant theme is one of pointless resistance to inevitable change.

The most striking instance of this is the plebiscite on equal marriage, dreamed up by Abbott as a way of dodging the issue of a Parliamentary vote.

At this point, it is obvious that the whole thing is just an expensive and painful exercise in delaying the inevitable.

Equal marriage is law throughout the English-speaking world and is rapidly becoming so everywhere, as well as being supported by a majority of Australians. Even if the opponents could somehow carry the day in a plebiscite, the position couldn’t be sustained for long.

And of course the Abbott group know this. As soon as Turnbull was locked into the plebiscite they started loading it up with everything they could to ensure it would never happen. Even from the most cynical viewpoint, this seems silly to me. They are going to lose in the end and when they do, they will be wailing about freedom of conscience for cake-makers and so on.

If they agreed to a Parliamentary vote now, they could make it a condition for Turnbull to include such clauses and reject any amendment. But in three years time, or whenever a Parliamentary majority emerges, there will be no reason to appease people who have shown themselves to be bigots.

Then there’s climate change. Everywhere else in the world, things are moving fast. Country after country is abandoning coal and the share of renewables is rising rapidly. Even England is generating more power from solar PV (photovoltaic systems) than from coal. But Australia is going backwards.

Having dropped any idea of turning Direct Action into an emissions intensity scheme, Turnbull and Frydenberg have joined the science denialists at The Australian in a campaign against renewable energy.

At least they have signed on to the agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), an agreement driven by, among others, the US, Canada, China and Brazil. (The EU has already legislated an early phaseout.) It’s good that the Coalition Government has agreed to do the minimum required for developed countries under this deal but it takes some chutzpah to say, as Frydenberg does, that this makes Australia a "world leader".

The only remaining item about which the Government seems to care is Abbott’s vendetta against the unions — settling scores dating back to the 1980s.

Abbott and Hanson and are almost exact contemporaries of mine (as is Turnbull, though he scarcely seems to have any active role). But politically, it seems to me that they have chained themselves to ways of thinking that were ossified even in John Howard’s generation.

This article first appeared on Professor John Quiggin's blog at johnquiggin.com under the title 'Dragging the chain'. Follow John on Twitter @johnquiggin.

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