Liberals win razor thin majority despite surge in voter support for climate action

May 26, 2019 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

Here at Climate Action Moreland we were expecting a Shorten Labor government to be elected on May 18. Even though Labor climate policy was very problematic in many areas, the targets were more ambitious (though not nearly enough). We were as shocked by the result of the re-election of a Morrison Government with a slim majority, which was out of step with public opinion polls.

Climate change was one of the big issues of the campaign, with wide concern expressed. This can be seen in The Australia Institute polling which showed that action for climate change was a strong concern, including support for climate emergency action. Read David Spratt’s blog: Support for action surges, majority say we face climate emergency.

The Votecompass survey, encompassing well over half a million citizens found that support had grown to 81 per cent for greater climate action.

Even when that support was broken down by parties, 59 percent of Liberal National Party voters also supported greater climate action.

Support is strongest for increased renewables, but also there for carbon pricing and transition to Electric Vehicles.

At the concession speech of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who lost his seat convincingly to climate independent Zali Stegall, he commented: “Where climate change is a moral issue, we Liberals do it tough,” he said. “But where climate change is an economic issue, as the result tonight shows, we do very, very well.”

Clearly the Government focused narrowly on jobs, taxes and the economic costs of climate action. There was little media attention raising the huge economic costs of climate action. The Climate Council’s report, ‘Compound Costs: How Climate Change is Damaging Australia’s Economy’, finds there are few forces affecting the Australian economy that can match the scale, persistence and systemic risk associated with climate change.

We should not forget the role of Murdoch media in peddling lies and mistruths, and the advertising campaign of mining billionaire Clive Palmer, estimated at between $60 million and $80 million to attack Labor and the Greens policies. Palmer’s United Australia Party have not won any seats in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, but the advertising played a key attack role, and their preference deal with the Liberal Party also contributed to the Government win. Clive Palmer will be expecting some eventual return on this investment. Clive Palmer has the Waratah coal mine project in the Galilee Basin waiting in the wings.

The Climate Election was a choice between two fossil fuel parties for Government

It became clear as the election campaign proceeded that while this may have been a Climate Election, the choice being presented by the two major parties was between climate inaction and only moderate climate action, but both effusing support for fossil fuels. The Coalition government support was plain for all to see with the rushed approval of the water management plan for the Adani mine, with revelations that advice of the government’s own scientific experts wasn’t followed, according to the Climate Council.

While Labor took a reform agenda to the election, they were equivocating on climate action, refusing to commit to Stop the Adani mine, a policy of expanding new gas extraction and a new $1.5 billion gas pipeline which was justified by Peter Khalil at our local climate forum.

This was not a true climate election in comparison to the 1983 election which was very much an election referendum on the Franklin Dam Issue. Bob Hawke promised the Dam would be stopped, the Fraser government refused to make this commitment saying it was a states rights issue. Labor won the national election even though they lost all 5 Tasmanian electorates.

Of the 3 major parties, only the Greens took a climate policy to the election that was anywhere near in alignment with what the IPCC 1.5C special Report on global warming says needs to be done to meet our Paris Climate targets and avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

House of Representatives Results

Nationally, all three major parties went backwards in their primary vote.

The LNP received a major 2 party preferred swing in Queensland, while on first preferences their vote marginally increased by 0.8 percent. The ALP primary vote dropped by 3.9 percent and the Greens vote increased by 1.1 percent. Just two seats changed hands as Liberal gains: the highly marginal seats of Herbert and Longman.

The hoped for electoral gains for Labor in Victoria did not eventuate with the Coalition primary vote dropping by 2.8 percent and the ALP increasing their primary vote by 1.5 percent. The large swings to Labor occurred in inner urban blue ribbon seats of Higgins and Kooyong and to a lesser extent Labor seats. Their were no seats changing hands based on demographic projections (Corangamite held by Sarah Henderson was notionally Labor due to a redistribution)

Labor lost the two northern Tasmanian seats of Bass and Braddon with a state wide drop in their primary vote of 4.1 percent. These two seats often change hands, often against national trends.

North-east Victorian electorate of Indi Independent candidate Helen Haines made history with an independent candidate succession from a previous Independent, Cathy McGowan. Climate action was an essential part of her campaign.

In NSW the Liberals won the western Sydney seat of Lindsay from Labor and won back Wentworth from Independent Dr Kerryn Phelps. Labor won the south coast seat of Gilmore. The blue ribbon seat of Warringah based on Sydney’s northern beaches, Tony Abbott’s electorate, was convincingly lost to Climate Independent Zali Steggall, a clear sign of the level of climate concern.

Senate Results

In the Senate the Coalition parties will not have a majority. The Greens will likely have 9 senators, the same as the previous parliament. The Government will need to negotiate with and get the support of 5 of the 6 crossbench senators: 2 Centre Alliance, 2 One Nation, and conservative (former Liberal) Cory Bernardi and possibly Jackie Lambie to get legislation through.

Similarities to Keating winning 1993 election

This election had similarities to 1993 with the Liberal Party in opposition taking a fairly detailed economic reform agenda (but also a substantive climate policy) to the election after Paul Keating had rolled Bob Hawke as Labor leader and Prime Minister.

Keating stood on Labor’s record and attacked the policy ambition of the Liberals. He won the ‘unwinnable’ election, but climate action faded from the agenda under his Prime Ministership and policy withered in this area, never taken up by John Howard when he won in 1996. Climate as a significant issue did not resurface for 14 years until the 2007 election with the promise of an Emmissions Trading Scheme promised by both Rudd and Howard.

Where was Labor’s Policy on Just Transition?

In Labor’s climate policy booklet Just Transition had just a third of a page in 2019 with no headline (you had to read through carefully to find this section) while the 2016 climate policy booklet devoted 2 pages with a headline.

While Labor’s policy on just transition may not have been less in substance, the simple fact was a downgrading in emphasis.

It should at the very least have been a significant headline and wasn’t. This policy was not highlighted or sold effectively at all to the people in Central and North Queensland and the Hunter Valley.

Add to this the equivocation on the Adani mine and it fed right in to the Opposition frame of not being able to trust Labor, from both sides of the fence. Adding a major subsidy to gas extraction and fracking just highlighted Labor’s dishonesty on climate to the informed and educated part of the community in the necessity of strong climate action.

The work of some in the ALP in working to implement strong climate action should be appreciated. But this time round the climate movement was badly let down by Labor (and not vice-versa as some in Labor claim)

Labor failed to prosecute just transition and the economic arguments and necessities for change. Labor’s Just transition policy was too narrowly focussed on workers in coal power station closures and needs to broaden to encompass thermal coal mining and forestry dependent communities and workers.

First steps were taken by Labor’s Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke floats Green New Deal-style approach to Labor’s climate policy.

Thermal coal facing long term structural decline

Coal is a problematic issue because it is thought of in simplified terms. But not all coal is the same. About 60 percent by value of Australia coal exports is the higher grade metallurgical or coking coal. While eventually this will need to be eliminated, it will require steel making processes to convert to using renewable hydrogen as a fuel, something that is only at the very first pilot stages now. It will take much longer than a decade to research, develop and scale up these processes before this export coal market will be challenged.

While the value of coking coal exports exceeds thermal coal, most of the bulk is in thermal coal. Australia has significant high quality low ash thermal coal, but also lower quality high ash coal such as the Galilee basin.

The Greens were the only party with a policy to phase out thermal coal by 2030, to meet the science as detailed in the IPCC 1.5 Special Report on Global Warming that a rapid phaseout of coal was necessary to meet Paris climate targets. Labor has no policy to phaseout thermal coal (or a just transition plan for thermal coal mining for the export market.

If change is not driven locally with a managed phase down in thermal coal production, ultimately thermal coal jobs will be lost due to global market conditions, a much more chaotic outcome for employment in this sector.

Adani’s Galilee basin coal project just doesn’t add up on a commercial level. David Fricking from Bloomberg argues Adani’s cost of production are at least $88 per tonne, with thermal sea coal fetching about $66 on the international market and facing a long term depressed price well below $90 per tonne. Adani needs to sell their coal for $90 per tonne every week to be profitable.

This week also saw the Galilee Basin China Stone thermal coal mine next to Adani quietly put on hold, will thousands of promised jobs in doubt, as reported by the ABC. The mining leases were for a 38 million tonnes per year capacity, as against the scaled down Adani project of 10 million tonnes.

Director of the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis Tim Buckley commented to the ABC:

“China has made it very, very clear it wants to progressively reduce exposure to highly polluting coal fired power generation. That won’t happen overnight, it will take decades to come,” he said.

“But if you are moving in that direction, the last thing you want to do is introduce a whole lot more expensive imported thermal coal. So strategically, it’s not aligned with the Government of China.”

My Buckley said it validated his analysis the Galilee Basin more generally was “financially unviable”.

“The inability to get financial backing for a project in the Galilee is key here for MacMines,” he said. “The four largest SOE (state-owned) banks in China all agreed not to finance mines nor infrastructure relating to Adani, hence the company eventually declared they would self-finance, an acknowledgement they could not find external finance.”

The new Galilee coal mines pose a substantial stranded asset risk as reported in the Financial Review, posing a risk to mine owners because of changing demand for thermal coal. This is in contrast to coking coal used in steel-making, for which there are no present commercial alternatives. Tim Buckley again:

“The Queensland government last week approved the Olive Downs, 15 million-tonnes-per-annum coking coal mine. This is a strategically sensible thing to do [because it is] best leveraging existing infrastructure and best using the limited carbon budget left,” Mr Buckley said.

“To also concurrently open up a massive new low-quality thermal coal basin is strategically short sighted, and entirely out of step with the Paris Agreement.”

Don’t expect India to take more coal, the cost of solar generation is now well below the coast of coal generation, according to Carbon Tracker analysis

Even mining giant BHP sees early end for thermal coal, and plugs in to an electric future.

Entry filed under: Adani, coal export, Labors Climate Record, Vote Climate. Tags: , , , , .

Will Bill Shorten step up ’emergency’ climate action or is it just more gas? Call to action to Moreland: #GlobalClimatestrike on September 20 – Melbourne

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