NOEL TURNBULL. A slight yearning for the ‘mother country’

UK Tory Government climate policy is enough to create a slight yearning for the days when Australian conservatives looked to the so-called Mother Country for guidance.

These days Australian Tories seem to be a contradictory amalgam of fundamentalist Christians, neo-liberals and enthusiastic culture warriors who look to venerate US political conservatives almost as much as they once did the monarch. Now they combine enthusiasm for royalty and opposition to republicanism with being, to all practical purposes, US Republican epigones.

If there is one really significant thing which characterises the Morrison Government – other than incompetence, disregard of human rights and a total lack of compassion – it is their ongoing climate denialism. It is barely masked by: some marketing blather such as ‘making our Paris targets in a canter’; and, a program which combines channelling billions of dollars to farmers and companies to achieve insignificant or non-existent, emissions reductions. All combined with a religious commitment to the wonders of coal which is apparently some sort of modern day Holy Grail.

In contrast the UK Tory Government – even if in chaos – is committed to a set of policies similar to those Morrison and News publications ridiculed during the recent Australian election campaign. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher was the first national leader to talk about climate change, thanks no doubt to her scientific training, although it is less well reported that she fudged that position the closer she came to the US Republicans and their climate denial funders.

The record is clear. The UK Government has joined Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, France and a number of cities including Sydney in declaring a climate emergency. As far as electric vehicles are concerned the UK wants to achieve effectively zero car emissions by 2040. To help facilitate that there are currently 13,000 EV charging points in the UK compared with 800 in Australia which is 32 times bigger in area than the UK. The Tories are also spending some 37 million pounds to install more in-home and public charging points.

In terms of emissions the UK is aiming for 100% renewable driven power by 2025 (although some of their definitions of what is renewable are dodgy) and is aiming to eliminate coal-fired power as quickly as possible. During 2018 for instance the whole of the UK operated for 1000 hours without drawing on coal-powered energy. As for emissions the country has reduced emissions for six years in a row whereas in Australia ours are increasing – however much the Government tries to hide, delay or obfuscate about the official figures.

But don’t get too optimistic. The UK might shortly be more in line with Australia than it currently is on climate change. If BoJo (a nickname reminiscent of ScoMo) does become PM it may well be that his good friend Donald might persuade him to follow policies similar to that of his administration.

On other fronts, of course, the UK is far from perfect although what they get wrong is not that different from what Liberals get wrong here: failed privatisations; outsourced services which are more expensive and less effective; dodgy procurement policies; policies which disadvantage the most disadvantaged; skewed school funding policies; and, an increasing erosion of civil liberties and intrusive spying on citizens. In the last case, though, the empire-building Dutton-Home Affairs team has exceeded UK intrusiveness.

But one can imagine the uproar here if some other Tory Government policies, along with their climate policies, were followed. These include the requirement for all organisations – public and private – employing more than 250 people to report their gender pay gaps.

Putting this in a bigger context, however, the broader gravitational power shift from UK to US influence in Australia was inevitable given post-war developments. It was mirrored in the cultural shift from Eagle and Billy Bunter comics and UK TV to US movies and cartoons. Although culture may well still be one area where the British, like the Irish, do punch a bit above their weight – unlike their purported military prowess.This shift involved Australia moving from being with the British in Malaya to with the US in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and any other war which Trump starts in the future.

But the real shift was in the area of the culture wars. It started around the time of the Iraq invasion when John Howard was spending a fair amount of time with George W. Bush. They spent a lot of time talking about politics as well as war and Howard has admitted (not publicly as far as is known) that much of the political discussion was about wedge politics and how to persuade blue collar workers and others to vote against their own interests.The culmination of this strategy was Trump in the US and the May 18 election in Australia where it appears those who swung to the Liberals were more likely to be poorer and less well educated while the reverse applied to the swing to Labor. This phenomenon can be exemplified by the interview with a pensioner who said he had voted Liberal because he didn’t want to lose his franking credits. When asked what shares he owned he replied that he didn’t have any. This indicates that while the Bush-Howard years share with the Trump Morrison years the power of negative framing it has been compounded almost exponentially by negative social media campaigns.

Nowadays you can, however, predict what the next iteration of Australian conservative culture wars will be just by paying close attention to US developments. The so-called war on Xmas got a slow start in Australia but petered out. However, the freedom for religion argument (more properly knows as the freedom for religions to discriminate) is alive and well. ‘Free’ speech is already on the agenda, particularly from those like Senator Eric Abetz, who along with others, hounded Yassmin Abdel-Magied for using free speech to say: “Less we Forget: Manus, Nauru, Syria and Palestine.” As far as can be gathered Abetz has had no military service to justify his concern for Anzacs even though his family, through great uncle Otto Abetz, worked with many military people during his service with the Nazis in Paris.

Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/

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