Dismaying Australian Politics

By Bryan Walker 29/08/2011

Sunday’s Guardian carried a telling editorial on the poisonous political climate currently holding sway in Australia in relation to climate change. It opens with the observation that 1700 miles from Canberra the indigenous peoples in islands of the Torres Strait fear that climate change may soon overwhelm them, with communities vanishing under rising seas. Their concerns haven’t a show of being heard in the prevailing clamour against Julia Gillard’s government’s plans to curb pollution generated by the nation’s big companies.

’When parliament returned recently, there were 2,000 protesters outside, equipped with placards bearing slogans such as “ditch the witch”. The opposition leader, Tony Abbott, partly distanced himself from such language, but demanded Ms Gillard scrap her planned carbon tax and call an early election. And last week lorry drivers converged on Canberra to demand an instant poll.’

The editorial chronicles the fall of Kevin Rudd for failing to steer through the legislation to deal with “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”, and the toppling of Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the conservative coalition, who ordered his party to support the government’s plans to combat climate change. Tony Abbott, who replaced him, ’no doubt on the basis of long and subtle scientific analysis dismisses the whole case for man-made climate change as ‘crap’.’

Julia Gillard who led the plot to displace Kevin Rudd promised no carbon taxes, but has had to ditch that promise, allowing the opposition to charge her with deception. ’Mr Abbott’s intention, which opinion polls suggest is being fulfilled, is to use the issue to prise Labour’s blue-collar voters away from the party.’

The editorial concludes with the wry comment:

’It may make little sense in those distant islands, but, as often in climate change debates, while most scientific assessments point to one conclusion, politics points to another.’

Abbott has pulled back somewhat from his earlier dismissal of climate change and his party proposes direct measures to reduce emissions marginally by 2020, in effect substituting government subsidy of chosen projects for the market-oriented effects of a carbon tax. But the grossly exaggerated terms in which the carbon tax is being caricatured and the fevered atmosphere which the attacks have generated are a sad reflection of how the excitements of gaining political power outweigh any rational appraisal of the scientific picture. The Guardian did well to juxtapose Canberra’s tumult with the likely fate of the inhabitants of Torres Strait islanders. The dangers ahead for humanity should be bringing politicians together in constructive common endeavour. It can reasonably be called the duty of care.