Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced a “far-reaching” inquiry into the catastrophic fires burning across Australia. It will be “wide ranging, and include climate change”.
He also denied that comments by some members of his government showed that some in Government reject the impact of climate change on bushfires. Craig Kelly MP insisted on UK television that there was no link between climate change and Australia’s bushfire crisis.
Divisions between reactionaries who colonised the Liberal Party, and those that accept the science was on show again. This time globally while Australia burned.
This crisis, immense as it is, has opened an opportunity for Mr Morrison to save some face. He can redeem the badly timed Hawaiian holiday and his cringe-worthy responses to the fire victims and fire fighter volunteers. He squandered much of the good faith bestowed on him by Australians in last year’s federal election.
The inquiry is important, but not enough in itself. Mr Morrison can – if he wants – carve out his own position on the environment, and to do so without damaging his credentials as a ‘pragmatic conservative’, while augmenting support from the progressives.
Morrison can show that good environmental policy is not the prevue of the Greens or the Left and could diminish the impact of the tin-foil hat brigade in his own party. There is a vast untapped potential of green energy. The state, capital and labour can work together to develop energy solutions such as solar, wind, gas, electricity, battery including, at least in the discussion nuclear, and so on.
Mr Morrison can look to Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke who with Treasurer Paul Keating, dismantled Australia’s centralised wage indexation system, diminished unions’ power and opened up the Australian economy in the 1980s. Prime Minister Hawke, the former head of the ACTU, and Paul Keating passed far-reaching economic reforms that ran counter to Labor orthodoxies. They modernised Labor, became a blueprint for the Democrats under Bill Clinton and Labour in the UK under Tony Blair.
Mr Morrison should look at his hero former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, who as a big C conservative took on his own constituents to pass sweeping gun controls after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. The conservative’s loadstar former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is a great example for Mr Morrison. She galvanised the emerging green debate in Britain in the late 1980s and helped grow the membership of groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
The ecological and scientific arguments she used were not new, but their impact was profound. In a speech to the Royal Society on 27 September 1988 she outlined her position.
“For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world’s systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.”
Thatcher distanced herself from that position after the lunatic left began to align environmental degradation with capitalism. Australia, like most modern capitalist jurisdictions be they social democratic ones like Germany and Sweden, or more liberal economies like Great Britain and the USA, has often developed environmental, economic, educational, health and other policies that can be supported by conservatives, centrists and progressives.
Mr Morrison can make big emitters part of the solution, just as Hawke put made unions partners in liberal market reforms. Importantly, the Prime Minister, must publicly and openly accept that human engineered global warming is a reality.
Australia may not contribute to global climate change at the level of China, India or the US, but we can lead. We are an advanced economy, part of the Anglo-sphere, yet deeply linked to Asia, and have always punched above our weight.
A renewed focus on sustainable energy, new technologies and innovation, funded by government and business is a consideration. There is no reason why all of that cannot be spearheaded by Mr Morrison’s liberal-conservative government.
An ecumenical approach is needed. Any move should include scientists and experts across various fields; environment, forestry, land management, economics, health, planning, engineers etc. Business, including the big emitters and miners, must be in the tent. They will need to carry some of the burden of change and drive innovation. Indigenous Australians should have a seat on the table, given we may learn from more their traditional knowledge of bushfire management.
Mr Morrison must heed the call by Australians for leadership and action, not spin or blame shifting.
The term ‘Apocalyptic’ is not an enthusiasm when describing these mega-fires. The tally of destruction is mind-boggling; 15.6 million acres burned, half a billion animals, over 20 dead, thousands of homes, whole communities uprooted, and our cities choking in smoke.
The argument over the validity of global warming is a dangerous distraction and needs to be killed by Mr Morrison. The environment, like the refugee issue, should not be a casualty of partisanship where rhetoric outplays facts.