The Coalition government remains in thrall to a tiny rump of its support base despite its wilful refusal to make changes necessary to the national interest and the climate.
This is the week in which the Morrison government will make enough cosmetic change to its years of obsessive, debased, vote-winning climate action denial for the PM to travel to Glasgow and participate, however half-heartedly, in COP26. But what will actually change on the ground? Under the oceans? In the air? Realists should not hold their breath.
As I write this from Howard Springs Quarantine (Centre for National Resilience) in the Northern Territory, my rage grows that the Morrison government failed so abjectly on replicating this immensely effective dedicated quarantine model nationally. How many billions could have been saved, both before and after the vaccine-ordering debacle? More to the point, how much illness, death and irreparable loss could have been avoided? This is, though, just one in a rosary of missteps from the Miracle Man. The sheer idiocy of so many federal government “decisions” has been extensively scrutinised here at Pearls and Irritations. The overarching feature of those processes and their outcomes is, surely, an almost pathological resistance to any notion of the common good, and a protection of self-interest and vested interests that is as blatant as it is brutal.
This is exactly what neoliberalism promises (“A political approach that favours free-market capitalism, deregulation, and reduction in government spending”). In contemporary Australia though, there have been some variations on that theme. Far from reductions in federal government spending, lavish sums are unapologetically directed towards the very industries best placed to benefit from the government’s unprecedentedly narrow ideological agenda, supported by those in the media who do not just share but enable that vision. (“They take us for mugs,” is what I hear almost daily. And, indeed, it would seem they do.)
The scandals of JobKeeper costing the nation at least a “wasted” $40 billion, as reported by The Australian Financial Review, reveal the tip of a deep-sitting iceberg. Supporting fossil fuels is estimated to cost this nation from $5 billion to $12 billion a year. The Australia Institute calculated the subsidies for 2020-21 as $10.3 billion. They reported, “Every minute of every day $19,686 was effectively given to coal, oil and gas companies and major users of fossil fuels.” Let us also not forget that mere months ago, Morrison’s Big Idea for a Covid-led financial “recovery” was to be gas-fired. Perhaps it still is.
Government rhetoric around subsidies invariably evokes “jobs”. That’s a lie. To an insane degree, the scale of subsidies surely demonstrates a loyalty to fossil fuel barons and media owners, not workers or jobs. Matt Canavan, Keith Pitt, Barnaby Joyce, David Littleproud, George Christensen, Bridget McKenzie, Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison himself can bellow to their base, but they surely know they are doing more than wrecking the environment. They are supporting jobs in industries that are not just major contributors to the climate crisis we face but are becoming increasingly automated. The mirage of continuing jobs is that: a mirage.
Meanwhile, these job ambassadors are happily abandoning the workplaces where people cannot be replaced by machines. Fields such as research and needed development in all its huge variety, academia, vocational and remedial education, health, health and health, urgently required social and affordable housing, agriculture, an unlimited encompassing of creative and community arts. The “parties of business” have long trashed manufacturing. They have been a rusted brake on renewables despite the eagerness of industries, entrepreneurs and business groups. They have refused to listen to those still young enough to inherit whatever will remain of the earth. They have refused even a voice to First Nations to lead them on what custodianship of earth, oceans, air might look like, rather than grasping, plundering and destroying.
Last week while the horror show was accelerating of Morrison doing a double pike (two backflips with straight legs) on whether Australia dares to commit to net zero by 2050 at Glasgow, or even whether climate action is necessary (the Murdoch media told him he could), I put out a call on Twitter for voting figures in the 2019 election. I keep a close, wary eye on Australian politics, with occasional life-saving pauses for self-care. But even I was stunned to discover how low the primary vote was for the Nationals currently holding Australia to ransom and squeezing massive concessions from a prime minister who seems incapable of acting simply or justly for the common good, even when it is his privilege to do so.
Outside Queensland, in the 2019 election, the Nationals received 642,233 votes. Please re-read that. The current system of voting allowed them 10 seats in the House of Representatives. The Greens, in the same election, received 1,482,923 votes. The system allowed them one seat in the House of Representatives. Because the Liberals depend on those 10 Nationals’ seats for their survival, the Nationals wield a power that is even more disproportionate to their voting supporter base. This allows some of the most ignorant, self-important, puffed up pretenders to be making grave decisions that will affect each one of us. These decisions and decision-makers will affect our children and grandchildren more seriously still. In a total population of 25,879,581 (October 2021), a political party attracting a mere 642,233 votes beyond Queensland (where votes are cast jointly for the LNP), is free to bully and demand concessions beyond imagining. We believe this is a democracy? If yes, then we too are free to demand far more coherent attendance to the common good.