Labor must put up a fight

Labor is the line.

The opposition is at pains to make clear it is not the government, and certain decisions are matters for government. This is true.

But on the issue of climate change, the Morrison government is leaning its full weight into pushing Australia backwards.

And Labor is the line.

So when the party says it supports Australia exporting coal past 2050, we slip backwards once more.

And when Anthony Albanese won’t commit his party to a 2030 emissions target, there is no real pressure for the Morrison government to take this step.

It is bipartisan inertia in a moment of existential crisis.

Australia will be ravaged by the effects of unchecked climate change.

If the world warms by just 1.5 degrees, floods and bushfires will become commonplace. Our lives will be reshaped. An already harsh landscape will become more extreme.

Climate change will affect everything from our food supply to our health. It will scar our economy.

Without doubt we will look back and wish we had acted earlier, gone further.

There is no pragmatic argument for not acting now. No “just transition” – read: decades of gas power, and hydrogen made with fossil fuels – that will seem reasonable upon reflection.

This is not the time for small targets.

In Britain, the conservative Johnson government has just announced one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets: a 78 per cent reduction in the country’s emissions by the year 2035.

This would not be possible if the country’s Labour opposition was still capitulating on its own climate policy.

Australia’s Labor Party is frozen in place. So shaken by the results of the last election, it is trying to neutralise any facet of its platform that could prove divisive.

New policy proposals must be cost neutral, members have been told, offset by cuts elsewhere. But they must also somehow avoid alienating voters in Hunter Valley coal seats, the conservative expanses of Queensland and the inner city.

This is a Sisyphean task.

No real progress can come from it.

The Labor Party is not the government. But that is neither reason nor justification for its failure to show leadership on climate change.

If it hopes to avoid this issue being caught up in the culture wars, it is decades too late. When the country’s prime minister feels it is acceptable to stand up and say that “we will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities” that battle is already lost.

The Labor Party is not the government, but it is meant to be the opposition. And the country deserves better than its refusal to fight back on climate change.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 24, 2021 as "Labor must put up a fight".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on June 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.