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Holocene  •  19 May 2021  •  Non-Fiction

The Politics of Climate Change

By Pnina Hagege
The Politics of Climate Change

Climate change, a topic of contentious debate, has dominated much of recent political discourse. And yet, in spite of all this talk, a series of fatal natural disasters and record-breaking temperatures, Australia’s climate policy remains weak, at best. My guess is, Australia will not embrace a government who will adequately act on climate change in the upcoming federal election. 

So, why is Australia so reluctant to accept a green future? More specifically, why are our politicians? Based on my own general interpretations of our unique landscape, here is what I’ve narrowed things down to:

1. Post-Pandemic Progress Plateau

It’s no industry secret that beating an incumbent who has led a nation out of a crisis (like a pandemic or a recession) is no easy feat. In fact, the odds are usually heavily against any opponent who so bravely wishes to do so. But, for a society which has seen nothing but change in its most daunting, threatening, and invasive forms, during the past year, a politician or their party who have become the symbol of regained stability will (I suspect) become even more desirable. 

To address climate change adequately, substantial structural changes to our society are required. It also demands a considerable amount of foresight into problems climate change will pose in the future. I don’t believe much of our society is ready for either of these things after a pandemic. In turn, I believe we have reached a post-pandemic progress plateau, where many forms of change will be treated with caution and resistance as our world endures a change overdose from COVID-19. For a conservative government, built on notions of continuity, tradition and therefore largely climate inaction, this is very much a positive thing in terms of locking down a loyal voter base.

2. Hyper-Partisanship

The Australian political landscape has grappled with a profound hyper-partisan approach to climate change policy for the last few decades. According to popularised media, there exists a simple opposition between two main types of people; the conservative, climate-denying Bible bashers, and the radical tree-huggers who roam the streets of Byron in tie-dye shirts. In reality, things are far more complex. These polarising stereotypes, among other things, stand between Australia’s ability to spearhead progress toward climate action. 

The two-party system acts to the detriment of climate change progress. Term after term, election after election, Australians have been offered the same two major parties to choose from; the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party. Sure, you can vote for an independent party, or the Greens, but the chances of them successfully securing a seat is often obscenely limited in Federal Politics, with some exceptions. While we’ve seen the formulation of powerhouse Independents like Zali Steggal, Rebekah Sharkie, Dr Kerryn Phelps and Helen Haines unite successfully on the crossbench for a plethora of issues, independents remain the ‘new kids on the block’. That means, during elections with high stakes, like the battle over the seat for Wentworth in 2019, one of the two major parties usually takes the cake. Not to mention, the major parties are usually far better equipped with resources — both financial and human. 

In turn, we are offered to tick one of the following two boxes (as far as climate change goes), 1. The Liberal Party of Australia, where everything stays pretty much the same, with minimal improvements to climate change policy, or 2. The Labor Party of Australia, where there are seemingly huge changes to our climate change policy and the inherent sacrifices that come along with that sort of structural change. Dually, I predict that Anthony Albanese’s moderate stance on coal and climate change as a whole will push more voters toward the Greens, but the chance of seeing a Greens Prime Minister is less than likely. In order to address the often bitter and non-constructive by-partisan discourse Australians are offered each term, we must provide smaller parties and independents the privileges that major parties receive. In the interest of introducing greater nuance to the political spectrum, Australians have to be given more feasible options come election time. 

3. The Myth of Joblessness 

Labor Party policies on climate, particularly in recent times, have been made to appear as radical, by mainstream media or otherwise. It is claimed they will result in mass job-loss and economic ruin, both baseless statements. Last year’s quarterly essay stated that there are only around 35,000 jobs in coal mining as of June 2018. Yet, when Joey Jockey and Tony Abbott made the call to shut down Australia’s entire car industry, about 44,000 people lost their jobs. Even Adani’s own economist said (under oath) that the Adani mine creates, and I quote, “not that many jobs — we can agree on that”. But, telling people that they will lose their jobs, rather than communicating the myriad of opportunities that climate technologies can bring to our economy, is a scare tactic that (unfortunately) works like a charm for the Coalition. 

In a nutshell, many Australians can’t handle more change right now, even if it is for our own benefit. The allure of consistency and security that the Liberal Party offers, especially in the aftermath of a pandemic, is dangerous and profoundly tempting. 

For these reasons, I am (sadly) never surprised when voters elect representatives who refuse to adequately address climate change.

In order to truly tackle climate change, we must reckon with this post-pandemic world, riddled with fear of more changes to daily life. When we next fill out a ballot box, we must vote in the interest of positive change. We must forgo archaic policies now, so we are not forced to in decades time.

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