The phony election campaign launched after the Prime Minister returned from the Glasgow climate conference does not bode well for the real campaign in March or May next year.
Fresh from signing up to COP 26 deals and committing to net zero emissions by 2050, Scott Morrison’s government has basically said it’s business as usual, coal is here to stay for a long time yet and Australia will get there because it says so, not due to any tangible policy shifts.
His deputy has even said the Nationals weren’t in Glasgow and didn’t sign up to anything.
Now I don’t really care if the PM doesn’t believe in global warming and climate change, or that he believes protecting the lucrative fossil fuel industries and Australia’s energy reserves is in the national interest, which is a legitimate position.
But the double-speak on this and other issues, the swamping of the news cycle with baseless claims and the warped legislative priorities point to a campaign that will take political expediency into hyperdrive and into the territory of Trumpism.
Meanwhile, Labor’s small-target strategy has Anthony Albanese sounding inoffensively boring but hopefully sensible, offering hints at policy rather than anything too detailed so it doesn’t become the subject of a merciless social media campaign screaming this is the end of the Australian way as we know it.
This is the lesson Labor has taken to heart after the 2019 debacle. It will focus pragmatically on key gripes such as the NBN, perhaps cheaper electric vehicles but keep things firmly in the realm of aspiration.
The Coalition will hope to drown Labor in a shit storm while Albanese will aim to sound like the only sane one in the asylum, without actually standing for anything.
It’s a recipe for an election campaign that sets the bar so low most voters will likely switch off or look for an alternative.
That’s where Morrison’s double-speak comes in as he hopes to keep those tempted by Clive Palmers United Australia Party or One Nation from defecting from the Coalition.
Hence the late and qualified criticism of symbolic gallows at protests in Victoria against that government’s proposed pandemic management legislation, and the repeated statements about how Australians don’t want to be told what to do.
His legislative choices for the last two sitting weeks of Parliament starting this week are also illustrative such as giving priority to the wedge-worthy niche Religious Discrimination and Voter Identity bills over legislation for a federal integrity commission, which one might think ranks a little higher in the public’s thinking after the grants scandals and problems with Christian Porter’s legal bills.
The PM also road-tested some scare points about petrol prices and interest rates, over which both he or his opponent have no control, flagging the age-old question of who do you trust?
But the release with the Friday afternoon trash of Department of Industry-led modelling, along with private consultant McKinsey and Company, that supported the government’s roadmap to net-zero reveals how much Morrison is willing to co-opt the public service and marshal the private sector into producing work that argues its case but is so palpably preposterous.
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Even the pro-business Financial Review shredded the document for its ridiculous assumptions, reliance on unproven technology, fantastical projections, and the fact that it doesn’t even get Australia to net-zero by 2050.
But don’t expect Labor’s climate policy due out soon to actually commit it to anything much. Its days of bold action appear over.
This is the sorry state of public discourse within months of a pivotal election with the pandemic still with us, the warnings on climate change becoming ever shriller from the scientists, and the cost of putting a roof over your head dividing the country.
Call me naive, but it’s not the way a democracy is supposed to work. How do we make a valid choice in such a toxic swamp?
Perhaps the hope is in the Independents movement that is striving to spread the spirit of Indi to other seats, and restore some respectability to the political landscape, and save us from the hollow men in hi-viz.