No! No! No! The headland speech given recently by Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, was just more of the tired old evidence that he doesn’t get it. His are the economic and political priorities of another time when people still believed resolutely in the worth of neo-liberal economics and unfettered globalisation. It was not the bold speech for a time when the natural environment and ecological systems that sustain all of human activity are collapsing, and global warming threatens not just more and worse storms, droughts, and floods, but also climatic shifts with unpredictable consequences for, inter alia, agriculture, public health, and the viability of existing urban infrastructure.
Jobs, jobs, and more jobs! Secure jobs, new economy jobs, well paid jobs! And growth; he says, ‘Labor is proudly and resolutely pro-growth’. It is not that what he was discussing was not important. It was. Albanese’s desire ‘to lift up our fellow Australians and help us reach our full potential not just as individuals, but as a nation’ is admirable.
However, there is a need now for political leaders to keep two ideas in their minds at once. It’s not a big ask. It is not all about the future. Contemporary citizens are entitled to expect that their leaders will not unnecessarily sacrifice to the benefit of future generations the real and immediate need for their own welfare, well-being, and security to be addressed. It is not just about now. Future citizens also have a right not to have their welfare, well-being, and security sacrificed to satisfy current needs. Yet these two communities are not clearly distinct and overlap.
New technologies will undoubtedly have transformative social and economic impacts. Judicious and prudent interventions by government are important for reducing accompanying inequality. The deep inequalities and predations generated by the gig economy need to be rectified and with some urgency. Women and men are due economic security and a fair and liveable wage and a reliable social security net that guarantees not simply survival but dignity in adversity. Legislative fixes to labour market inequality and a decent welfare system are warranted.
But to embrace with hubris the past, to invoke Hawke, Keating, Gillard and Rudd, as justification for idea that Labor, or any political party, can ‘shape change in the interests of people’ is delusional. The past will be little guide to the future.
Albanese’s acknowledgement of the climate change as ‘one of the greatest challenges we face today’ feels forced. While it needs to be conceded he was announcing policies, well, more of a vision, related to rebuilding manufacturing and creating jobs, and not global warming, it is short-sighted folly to just focus on a ‘low carbon future’ and Australia’s prospects of becoming ‘an energy exporting superpower’. The argument that because ‘it takes more than 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal to produce one wind turbine’ Australia is justified in continuing to export and mine coal seem a poorly disguised attempt to square the circle of pursuing renewables while pursuing votes in coal mining electorates.
The Labor leader did not set out an energy policy with a coherent path to a zero emissions economy. In fact, while emphasising growth, productivity, and revitalisation of manufacturing, he spoke only of a ‘low-carbon future’. He castigated the government for being ‘in denial about energy and science’. At the same time he neglects the IPCC judgement that ‘Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate’ and that ‘Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C’.
The IPCC stresses that 1.5°C will have serious impacts and 2.0°C will be far worse. To avoid overshooting 1.5°C global emissions will need to have declined by 45 percent on 2010 levels before 2030, reaching zero by 2050. To avoid a 2.0°C rise net emissions will need to be zero by 2070. The current trajectory is the reverse. The period addressed in the IPCC calculations coincides with the period in which Labor would be seeking to implement its vision. Achieving these mitigation targets will be of crucial importance for as yet unborn generations and as well as for people currently in, or about to enter, the workforce.
Albanese’s upbeat sense is at odds with the enormity of the task confronted not only Labor but any Australian government. The IPCC states with high confidence, ‘Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems’. More than technology will shape future jobs and jobs will just be one of the things reshaped. Albanese is as guilty of ignoring the science as the government.
How any political party could take to an election a set of policies concerning jobs, growth, productivity, and revitalisation of manufacturing without factoring the radical changes necessary to mitigate emissions and adapt to the inexorable march of global warming is incomprehensible. For any party in government not to be addressing the impacts and risks of global warming and environmental degradation with a heightened and sustained sense of urgency is near criminal.
Albanese’s speech should have commenced along the lines ‘Australia like the rest of the world faces a challenge that will only be tractable if its management sits at the heart of everything the government does’. It should have concluded with ‘The unpalatable truth is that the shape of the radical transformations that are necessary is still unclear and the roads that will takes us there are many and difficult to navigate. But every fibre of government should be straining at the task’.
Mike Scrafton was a Deputy Secretary in the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, senior Defence executive, CEO of a state statutory body, and chief of staff and ministerial adviser to the minister for defence.