As the climate argument meanders slowly through the science it is becoming more apparent that the “Canberra bubble” is a misnomer. “Canberra vacuum” better describes the thinking related to our national capital’s climate change policy.
Further evidence that our Canberra decision-makers are comfortable in their vacuum comes from a report in the Sun-Herald of 8 December by Michael Koziol.
Headed “Liberals look for climate realist to deny Steggall a second term”, this outlines a Liberal strategy (if you call it that) to dislodge Zali Steggall, the Independent who took Warringah from Tony Abbott at the last election, ending his 25-year incumbency. This was despite the Liberal Party allegedly spending at least $1.5 million in the electorate to fend her off.
Those vying for Liberal preselection for the seat at the next election, and their advisers and Liberal heavies, detail in the report their scheme to deceive the voters of Warringah. They plan to install a candidate who, “at the very least” accepts the climate science and supports pragmatic climate and environmental policies, according to Koziol.
“I don’t think the community wants to keep having an argument about climate change . . . They want to see practical things happen, whatever they may be,” said James Griffin, the State MP for the seat of Manly, which sits within Warringah. He is undoubtedly right on both counts but, given the Coalition’s steadfast record of climate change denial, its enthusiasm for coal and its reluctance to embrace renewable energy, would any successful Liberal candidate have a chance of pushing through the desire of a clear majority of Warringah voters to adopt renewable energy as part of a low carbon future? Warringah voters are, after all, in a prime position to bear the brunt of sea level rise and any cyclones that follow warmer ocean temperatures down the coast, both of which, according to the latest climate science, are now expected sooner than previously thought.
Well, it seems a successful Liberal candidate would not be expected to do anything like pushing for the electorate’s desire for a progressive climate and energy policy.
Let us hear from Felicity Wilson, the Liberal MP who holds North Shore, the seat adjoining Warringah: “We don’t have to have a socially progressive Liberal Party but we do have to have candidates and members who reflect the interests of each individual electorate, and then they can hash it out in Canberra.”
So there you have it. The Liberals want another member like Tony Abbott, expected to take a seat in Parliament but not expected to do anything about the most urgent issue of our time. Even if another miracle occurred and a majority of Liberal climate believers was elected entrenched attitudes and the coal lobby would surely prevail.
Warringah residents will also remember the TV footage of Tony Abbott scuttling out of the House of Representatives to escape voting on the same-sex marriage bill. One would have thought that the Warringah Liberal Party local branch might have noticed that these two episodes — failure to accept the consequences of climate change and failure to vote on the same-sex marriage bill according to the clear wishes of his electorate — clearly demonstrated that Mr Abbott had not grasped the first principle of democracy: those elected represent those who elected them. This is not too abstruse but it remains to be seen whether the local Liberal branch will start using its collective head.
Among those choosing the next Liberal Warringah candidate will be Dave Sharma, the member for Wentworth who regained that seat for the Liberals from Independent Kerryn Phelps at the last election. Sharma demonstrated the extent of the Canberra vacuum the Liberals have spun themselves into by saying Warringah voters needed to be “reassured the person they elect will take the [climate] issue seriously and make a contribution”.
Sharma is surely right on both points. But whether the Liberals will be able to find a person who is conflicted enough to stand as their candidate and to take the climate issue seriously is one thing. Whether that person could “make a contribution” from within the strictures of the Coalition’s backward-looking climate policy is something else entirely.
So it appears Zali Steggall is the person best placed to satisfy Sharma’s requirements — and those of a majority of Warringah voters.
Rory McGuire is a Sydney-based journalist. His main interests are climate change, renewable energy and the Middle East.