Budget deficit

Josh Frydenberg mentioned climate change once in his budget speech.

“Australia is playing its part on climate change, having met our 2020 commitments and on track to meet and beat our 2030 target,” he said, echoing the prime minister’s tired slogan.

But the treasurer offered nothing to support this statement.

Instead, he budgeted for more public funding of fossil fuel projects.

It is a decision entirely divorced from the reality of the climate crisis, which Australia both faces and hastens through its coal exports.

While the threatened $600 million for a government-funded gas plant in the Hunter did not eventuate in the budget, there was more than $100 million in support for gas projects across the country.

A further $263.7 million for unproved carbon capture and $275.5 million for four “clean hydrogen” export hubs will only serve to further delay Australia’s transition to net zero.

The Morrison government’s obsession with distraction and delay on climate action needs to end. As must its exploitation of the pervasiveness of climate change.

After so many years of inaction, the climate crisis is now like water – it is everywhere, it has seeped into every aspect of our lives. And the Coalition is more than happy to leverage this ubiquity to render climate change invisible in its policy platform.

Labor, for its part, has realised the immense opportunity that climate action presents for Australia’s economic recovery.

Joe Biden’s rhetoric has clearly been heard by Labor, its effectiveness with American voters noticed.

“Cutting pollution means creating jobs,” Anthony Albanese said in his budget reply on Thursday.

Yet comprehensive climate action was not one of the five key areas he promised the opposition will pursue if it wins the next election, which could come as early as this year.

Both major parties still merely tinker around the edges, paralysed by fear of backlash from voters in coal seats or, more acutely, from lobbyists and donors.

Resources continue to dominate Australia’s economy. Once it was called “Dutch disease”, this hugely risky gamble on a single sector to prop up a country’s economic fortunes.

But it always was, and still is, simply poor economic management.

This budget was another missed opportunity to diversify Australia’s economy – to invest in universities, research and green manufacturing – and most importantly to hedge against the almost incalculable risk of climate change.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 15, 2021 as "Budget deficit".

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