Politics Opinion

Scott Morrison's 'let them eat coal' Party

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Scott Morrison is still expecting Australians to vote Liberal despite poor performance at COP26 and no climate policy, writes Geoff Dyer.

MAHATMA GANDHI believed that “the control of the palate Is a valuable aid for the control of the mind”. Donald Trump reportedly thought otherwise, eating fast-food exclusively. Perhaps history will show he should have varied his diet. Our own PM, Scott Morrison, it appears, takes an even less palatable approach to dining — “let them eat coal”.

Amidst this dining absurdity, a reluctant PM Morrison accompanied his fossil fuelled Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, to the COP26 conference in the UK. They sat down at the table with 197 nations, at an event believed to be the world’s last chance to get climate change under control. 

Boarding the plane, Taylor said:

‘Australia is committed to a successful outcome at the global COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.’

Like his boss, who had concealed his “new” climate policy until the last minute, he was patently lying — or should we not abandon our table manners and suggest he was “disguising the truth”? Angus’ definition of success for Australia involved stopping or delaying international action to control climate change. That’s An Inconvenient Truth rather than a lie.

Though reluctantly committing to net zero emissions by 2050, Morrison brought nothing new to the table in Glasgow. He served up Tony Abbott’s old and ineffective climate policy repackaged. To Morrison, The Australian Way of dealing with climate change involved serving up a main of coal, fossil sides and a gaseous dessert. These unpalatable offerings were plated up for the Australian display table at COP26. There was no green salad and indigestion was sure to follow.

In Glasgow, Scott and Angus refused to break bread with the other countries and turned down most items on the menu. They rejected efforts to curb global emissions of methane. They refused to strengthen Australia’s 2030 target for reducing emissions, a target that is the weakest in the developed world. Shamefully, they were amongst a handful of nations to reject calls to return to the negotiations with stronger targets next year.

Their effort is best summed up by Australia winning five Fossil of the Day Awards — more than any other country. The Climate Action Network gives these awards daily to countries ‘who are the best at being the worst’ and ‘doing the most to do the least’. On the first day of COP26, Australia won the award for “aiming low”.

Throughout the conference, the Coalition served up coal, refusing to stop – or limit – subsidies for fossil fuel industries. No one bought Morrison’s self-congratulatory “meet it and beat it” banter, so he remained isolated at the table. Talk of explicit plans to reduce emissions and cut subsidies swirled around him.

In a confused slip, the PM seemed more interested in tackling China than tackling climate change. No wonder the Australian delegation was not invited to be after dinner speakers and Morrison delivered his one speech to an empty room.

After being heavily sledged, Morrison left the conference table, diminished. He had made a meal of it, playing a spoiling role throughout. He thought no action was the best action. Other diners thought Australia ‘the rich world’s weakest link’.

Angus also returned to Australia early, claiming success. Tellingly, Senator Matt Canavan and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce agreed, mumbled about the quality of life and pocketed the tip that Morrison had left on the table.

This L-NP pro-fossil fuel stance has been evident since 2013 when Tony Abbott swept to power chanting axe the tax and abolished the carbon pricing scheme brought in by the more climate friendly Julia Gillard. In typical Coalition style, on gaining access to the Government benches, they took climate change off the menu. Instead, they trotted out a new slogan, Direct Action, which meant “pay the polluters”.

Prior to the conference, Morrison, Australia’s “chef-in-chief”, had doubled down on his technology, not taxes mantra. He seemed happy with the sound of it and blithely unaware that his Government had spent the last eight years withdrawing funding from CSIRO research, technology and innovation.

They also undermined any organisation researching climate change or pursuing research into alternate energies, preferring instead to change the rules to allow greater government subsidy of – and investment in – the fossil fuel industry.

Furthermore, the current, supposedly technology driven Government has ignored the universities, cutting funding and denying them access to JobKeeper. This lack of COVID-19 support led to, according to ABS labour force data, the loss of 40,000 jobs in the tertiary sector.

It should be noted that no jobs were lost in the coal industry. Apparently, Morrison’s Government, rather than support universities, prefers to pour taxpayer resources into sports, coal subsidies, gas and car parks.

In an odd outburst, Barnaby Joyce blamed the CSIRO for climate change inaction and wanted to know who would pay. He didn’t actually explain who he wanted to be paid, leaving the impression he was once again talking about bolstering National Party funds for the next election. Perhaps he intends to offer a spread of more than cakes and sausage sandwiches at the voting booths.

So, Barnaby, I imagine, sat down with the PM demanding a feast of technology grants for farmers, miners and anybody he thinks might vote National at the next election. I say “imagine” because, once again, a veil of secrecy was thrown over these discussions, a sort of under the tablecloth matter, a new version of the “on-water” and “underwater” secrecy that has served Morrison so well in the past.

Barnaby’s willingness to even tolerate net zero emissions being mentioned by Morrison at the COP26 table was reportedly gained with an offer of billions of dollars of secret grants, or compensations.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said:

“A man’s palate can, in time, become accustomed to anything.”

I do not think this is true. I cannot become accustomed to Scott and Barnaby sitting at the head of the table leading a conversation bent on claiming that they didn’t ruin the climate, start the fires, or begin a pandemic.

Voters should not swallow their “past the use-by date” policies, trust their tainted after dinner spin, or vote on the basis of the blind taste test they are being offered. Before you vote, you should do a fact check and distinguish truth from spin. Ask around at “inner city dinner parties” or even do a bit of research down the pub — you’ll no doubt find that we are copping a very large bill for an indigestable meal.

Geoffrey Dyer is a retired, now casual, teacher with 41 years of experience in the classroom. Subjects taught include English, Modern and Ancient History, Society and Culture, Aboriginal Studies.

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