MUNGO MACCALLUM. Morrison channels Joh Bjelke-Petersen

Oct 16, 2018

We are now more than six weeks into the ScoMo regime, but most of us – and that includes some of our most recent Prime Minister’s close colleagues as well as a tentative opposition – are still trying to figure out just who the man really is trying to be.

Admirers have suggested the down-to-earth, supreme ordinariness of John Howard is the revamped model; others go back to the paternal style of Bob Menzies, or perhaps the easy familiarity of Ben Chifley. Those of a more historical bent invoke the avuncular ghost of Joe Lyons.

But last week, when I heard Morrison answer questions about the IPCC report warning of imminent disaster if climate change was not addressed, the reality dawned: our leader is channelling Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

I could almost hear the corrupt old peanut farmer mouthing his mantra “Don’t you worry about that” as Morrison deftly avoided the subject with a homily on the need for lower electricity prices. And the chooks having been fed, he moved on to something more important – how Bill Shorten was going to raise taxes on absolutely everything in his manic desire to wreck the Australian economy.

Morrison’s shtick is smoother and less demented than that of the hillbilly dictator – he is, after all, a professional, having honed his craft in both the Tourist Commission and the New South Wales Liberal Party, both organisations which required constant cosseting. But once again the medium is the massage:

Don’t worry, be happy. Forget about those distinguished international scientists – UnAustralian almost all of them, by definition. We are an independent, sovereign nation: we will decide how much carbon we emit, and the circumstances in which we emit it. Stop the world, we want to get off.

Morrison’s easy rejection of the science rests easily in his party room, although there are signs that some of the Nationals are getting the word from their rural constituents that the current policy of complacent negligence is no longer completely appropriate – it may be a wild idea, but what if climate change is real? What if it is actually happening as we watch our traditional livelihood drift away in drought, fire and dust storm?

Morrison’s glib answer is, don’t you worry about that: pray for rain and if that doesn’t work we’ll send you more money – not to fix the problem,  but to keep you hanging on until something else turns up. His close ally Craig Kelly has an even better idea: mine more coal, because you can use it to make electricity to pay for air conditioning when the rising temperatures become unbearable.

Of course burning the coal will produce more emissions, which will make the planet hotter, so we will have to mine more coal for more  electricity for more air conditioning, a perpetual cycle which keeps everybody happy, don’t you worry about that.

Okay, these are politicians. We can’t expect them to be logical, straightforward or even rational. But surely the expert commentators can be relied on? Come in The Australian’s Judith Sloan, who wiped out the entire scientific establishment with the devastating put down: “Scientist make appalling economists”.

Well some might; after all, economics is  hardly their day job. But it might be added that some economists don’t make the grade as scientists either. Sloan correctly cites the scientific method: start with a credible hypothesis and then test it with evidence. But unfortunately she seldom practises what she preaches.

She has constantly insisted that company tax cuts benefit  the whole economy – that what is popularly called the trickle down effect means that eventually the workers get some of the dosh as well as the employers and shareholders. This, as Malcolm Turnbull liked to declare, is Economics 101 And indeed it used to be – solid theory based on the laws of supply and demand.

But recent evidence clearly shows that it hasn’t worked lately: big corporate tax cuts in Britain, Canada and even the United States have been squirrelled away in share buy backs, in increased profits,increased dividends and in executive bonuses. Where there has been something for the workers, it has often been in the form of a one-off payment, an act of charity with no long term advantage.

Sloan’s claims to the contrary have more to do with ideology than science – or even to economics. This is even more apparent in her endless campaign against  industry superannuation funds .. because they have union leaders among their directors. They also have employers in the same role, but that is apparently okay: the unionists must be expunged because – well, because they are unionists. This will free up the distortions of the system and give members an immediate bonanza.

Except that it won’t, because it doesn’t: most of the industry funds consistently and regularly produce bigger returns to their members than do their retail rivals. But why let the facts spoil a good polemic?

Sloan argues that the hypotheses and models developed over many years of research on climate change have not always led up to their predictions, which is true: but it does not mean they have been useless or  misguided. Global warming is now generally accepted even by most of the sceptics: it is patchier than might be expected, but the base temperature is going up and will go up further.

And while some of the doomsday scenarios have been premature, the trend is clear: it is too late to stop a rise of 1.5 degrees, and 2 is more likely. There will be severc consequences, both foreseeable and unforeseen.. Sloan calls this astrology: but it is far more reliable than most of the predictions proclaimed by her and her fellow economists. Even the federal Treasury seldom gets it right – think debt and deficit prognostications.

I used to say that examining the entrails of a chicken made as much sense as listening to economists – more, in fact because you can eat the chicken afterwards. But the economists and the politicians have their own agendas. The Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, said climate change has nothing to do with his portfolio, which is to flog more coal. And the so-called Environment Minister, Melissa Price, said she hadn’t got around to reading the IPCC report, but it didn’t really matter – it was a long bow to suggest getting rid of coal so there was no point in going into the details. The environment will just have to look after itself. Don’t you worry about that.

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