Moot caught

Perhaps a better question is why is the Energy minister writing to a lord mayor about her air travel? Is this the state of climate policy in Australia – a schoolboy snipe about planes, using grotesquely distorted figures?

You might ask where he gets the time, except it is obvious: he isn’t doing anything else. His portfolio is a joke to him, and his days are empty of responsibility. The climate changes without Angus Taylor.

Letters such as the one Taylor sent Clover Moore are written to be leaked to newspapers, and so his appeared in The Daily Telegraph. The outlet has campaigned against Moore for more than a decade, for her environmentalism and her building of bicycle paths.

The article said Moore had been “told by the federal government to rein in the hundreds of thousands of dollars her council is spending on international and domestic travel if she is serious about lecturing Australia on climate change”.

Taylor said there were many ways Moore could take “real and meaningful action” to combat climate change. He guessed she might be interested in this. “One such example is to limit unnecessary air travel,” he wrote. “Given your most recent annual report shows your council spent $1.7 million on international travel and $14.2 million on domestic travel, there is a real opportunity for your council to make a meaningful contribution to reducing Australia’s emissions.”

These figures are incorrect. They are more than 69 times the reality. There is conjecture over where they came from. Taylor’s office released a document and Labor called it a forgery. The police will be asked to investigate. If a crime has been committed here, the sentence could be up to 10 years.

Other sections of Taylor’s letter are patently false. He says the government is committed to action on climate change and will cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. “This target is achievable and responsible,” he says, although it is neither, “and represents one of the most ambitious reductions in per capita emissions and emissions per unit of gross domestic product among developed countries while ensuring our economy will continue to grow and prosper.”

As emissions rise, he says the government has a comprehensive set of policies to reduce them. As uncertainty created by his government halts investment in renewables, he says Australia is leading the way here. As energy prices increase, he says they are being reduced by efficiencies in appliances and that his government is encouraging more of this.

Taylor still hasn’t answered questions about his involvement with attempts to rezone endangered grasslands on property connected to his family. He dismisses queries over his place in the $80 million buyback of water leases from a company of which he was once a director.

He is high-handed and ineffectual, if being effective involves doing his job. If it involves simply keeping it, he is actually quite good.

Whatever the source of the figures in his letter to Moore, the argument that underlies them is offensive and childish. Claiming to point out hypocrisy is a lazy way to argue against change. If a person is imperfect, it doesn’t make their cause so.

Like others in the government, Taylor treats climate change like the proposition in a moot. He argues around it, as if the stakes are a university tutorial. He jokes and bullies and stretches the truth to see how much he can get away with.

This is how climate has been treated since the Abbott government was elected. The country has stood still through mock trial after mock trial. The letter to Clover Moore is the latest distraction, possibly criminal. But the point is the same: this is an unserious government, busy writing prank notes to councils about the most serious issue of our times.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 26, 2019 as "Moot caught".

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