by Colin Chapman
As Australia enters a new decade — likely to be one of the most challenging in its peacetime history — even wearers of rose-tinted spectacles must see that the country is slipping into the delusion that we have seen in the United Kingdom and the United States. This is a belief that all will be well in the months and years ahead, based on the fact that Australia avoided the recession some economists had predicted for late 2019.
In reality, Australia, the US and the UK will probably suffer what Queen Elizabeth II described on Christmas Day as a ‘very bumpy year’. The main cause, common to all three countries, is a severe leadership deficit. In the US, the odious Donald Trump has created hideous worldwide conflicts, and smugly claimed to have resolved them. His well chronicled falsehoods are almost as numerous as those of Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, whose lies are detailed in a website devoted exclusively to revealing them. Johnson returned to 10 Downing Street in early December, proving you can actually fool the majority of voters all the time.
In Australia the worst bush fires in living memory have spread across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, destroying homes, costing lives, burning precious forests and woodlands, as well as the limited budgets of brave fire fighters. But ScoMo, as Scott Morrison likes to be known, remains indifferent to the global call to step up action to combat climate change. Far from pursuing policies that could help mitigate global warming, the obliteration of species, and the toxicity of air quality in our cities, Morrison actively pursues the development of coal resources in the vast Galilee Basin under the spurious slogan of ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. He and treasurer Josh Frydenberg seem to have immunised themselves to the fact that – as other countries have found – far more jobs could be created by swiftly expanding secure and reliable electricity generation from solar and wind power.
Australians tell Morrison he ‘should be ashamed -ABC TV
The Indian-controlled Adani Carmichael mine, with a lifespan of just three decades, will cost the Australian taxpayer just under $4.5 billion in subsidies, according to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which says it would be unviable without the government handouts and tax breaks. Put another way, as climate change protesters see it, Australians are giving private Indian interests a huge dollop of foreign aid to fuel coal generated power stations in an already heavily polluted India. It will also suck 12 billion litres of water a year out of the Great Artesian Basin. To be fair to Morrison, the mine has strong support from the Australian Labor Party at federal and Queensland state level, as well as from the governing coalition.
The Sydneysiders who have been coughing and wheezing through the smoke that masked the harbour city over the holiday period, the result of blazing bush fires in the mountain ranges that half encircle the Sydney Basin, are not so supportive. As the new year was rung in, thousands of people on the south coast of New South Wales and eastern Victoria were forced to onto the beach and into the ocean as winds of over 20 kph pushed a wall of flames towards their homes.
None of these Armageddon-like incidents deterred the lord mayor of Sydney from pressing on with an extravagant new year’s eve fireworks display over the harbour city, defying a barrage of protests and counter to the wise decisions of the nearby cities of Parramatta, Liverpool and Wollongong, which cancelled their displays. The City of Sydney insisted that the show go on, insensitive to the feelings of the families of the 12 who had died in the bush fires, and the thousands who have lost everything except the clothes worn as they fled.
Morrison should have persuaded Lord Mayor Clover Moore to abandon the display and keep the fireworks in dry storage for next year. There is more than a little hypocrisy in Moore’s criticism of the government for inaction on climate change while splurging city resources on the New Year’s Eve festivities. Not least was the oprobium it earned us overseas.
Admittedly, the crowd drawn by the pyrotechnics contributed over $800,000 to a fund set up for bush fire victims, and while climate change and record temperatures were a contributory factor to the scale and intensity of the wild fires, they were by no means the only cause. Some were lit by arsonists, most of whom will escape prosecution. Too many homes, many of wooden construction, have been built adjoining or within bushland. Many state forests have been sold off to private investors or developers. Not all of these land holders or leaseholders have managed the forest and woodland to reduce the risk of fire, by clearing dead timber, creating and maintaining fire breaks, and installing electronic surveillance. With most of south-eastern Australia parched by a two-year drought, wildfire risk is at a peak.
This state of affairs owes much to neglect by both federal and state governments. The cost of wildfires is enormous and cannot just be measured in dollars or shattered lives, or the glib assertion by Morrison that ‘the great Australian spirit’ will rise to the challenge of restoration. Woodlands are precious assets. They capture tons of carbon and replace it with oxygen, which is why some countries plan to plant billions of trees. Over the new decade, our forests and woodlands will regenerate, but the scale of destruction demands action to halt the root causes of climate change.
The message is clear. Morrison needs to lift himself out of his suburban torpor and give the environment the high priority it needs. It means a stop to subsidies for environmentally damaging projects like the Adani mine, and using the savings elsewhere. Capturing or reducing carbon emissions has been given a far too low a priority but should be top of the agenda for 2020 and beyond. The states must penalise all but the cleanest private cars, phasing them out altogether by 2030. The same policy must be applied to commercial vehicles, albeit more slowly. Other cities are already doing this. Why not ours?
Morrison’s Coalition government has been found wanting in other areas too. The prime minister claims that there has never been a better time to be Australian. While he does not indulge in the kind of lies that have tarnished the leadership of Trump and Johnson, his optimism in the future of ‘our amazing country’ is misplaced. Speaking to Australians on New Year’s Day, he claimed there was ‘’no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet”.
One might respond: “Tell that to those in Mallacoota, Victoria, who had to race ahead of flying embers to the safety of the ocean; or those in NSW towns who saw their homes, shops and schools burnt to a cinder; or the one third of the wineries in the Adelaide Hills that have been wiped out; or the truckies stuck in blistering heat on the only tarmac road across the Nullarbor Plain linking South and Western Australia”. Morrison’s message might not go well with parents whose children are about to enter Australia’s ailing education system, where standards are slipping quickly down world league tables. With world growth slowing and Australia’s competitive edge slipping, the ‘she’ll be right’ mentality is surely not the answer for economic policy. Worse may be on the horizon: the Trump-induced US trade war with China is far from over, despite optimistic noises from Washington just before Christmas.
The message for Morrison for 2020 and beyond is “Wake up!”. So many areas of policy need immediate attention; a medium-term vision for Australia’s future is needed; and there must be reform in the way both the Federal government and Parliament work to address the democracy deficit. In coming weeks, further articles on Australian Strategieswill analyse new approaches.
But all is not lost in the Anglosphere. There is hope that Trump, while surviving impeachment, will lose the November presidential election, especially if the Democrats have the courage to select former New York mayor, Mike Bloomberg, as their candidate. The Brits have undertaken a double act of self-harm by deciding to leave the European Union and electing the charlatan Boris Johnson as their prime minister. As the full impact of these decisions hits wallets opposition will grow, though it has to be said the British Labour Party is a long way from reforming itself and will have difficulty in picking the right leader and forming a strong opposition.
As for Australia, the whole country needs to rethink its future for the rest of the first half of this century. The 2020’s will be a decade when risks grow, rather than diminish. Re-read Julie Gillard’s tract Australia in the Asian Centuryand see how dated it is and how the aspirations have faded. It’s unlikely Morrison will be the man to lead us into the promised land, but at least he should abandon the clichés in favour of decisive action.
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