Forget any post-election hubris. This may turn out to have been an election worth losing. And that is quite apart from the inevitable problems the re-elected Morrison government must deal with as the international ill winds (Trump’s trade wars, China’s territorial expansionism and hegemony ambitions, Brexit uncertainty and European internal instability) threaten to blow our way. If we felt safe that Morrison’s win would protect us from the economic madness of Bill Shorten’s uncosted climate change revolution, get prepared to face up to the other side of that coin: the inevitable disruption and psychological warfare of what will certainly be a virulent campaign by the frustrated eco-terrorists whose climate change ambitions were thwarted at the ballot box.
‘It was supposed to be Australia’s Climate Change Election. What Happened?’, cried the headline in the New York Times. The Guardian’s pre-election editorial urged an anti-government vote to bring about ‘substantive action on climate change’ and the ABC lamented that a recent Lowy Institute survey showing strongly increasing public support for action on climate change had not received appropriate numerical substance on May 18. The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, wrote last weekend that ‘momentum is building behind a grass-roots movement to bolster demands for change and broaden the UN agenda past climate to biodiversity and sustainable development. A concerted push to build a mass movement of civil disobedience under the banner “Extinction Rebellion” is likely’ as the noisy minority once again seeks to bully ScoMo’s ‘quiet majority’ to accept their climate change mantra.
The manner in which the major political parties respond will determine Australia’s future. The May election demonstrated the political wisdom of Morrison adopting a reasonable non-confrontational modest acceptance of the Paris emissions targets that satisfied middle-of-the-road views that pollution was a problem that needed some action while rejecting Shorten’s economic suicide proposals. So voters in the pro-mining states like Queensland climbed aboard the Morrison train while the Coalition held onto its rich inner-city heartland seats as the elites voted to protect their negative gearing and franking credits rather than display their environmental social consciences. But some results do nevertheless add weight to Tony Abbott’s perceptive comment in his concession speech that the Coalition has problems (with the green Left doing well) in rich seats when climate change is a moral issue but does very well in working seats where it is an economic issue. Demonstrating this, in Brisbane’s LNP-held Ryan electorate, the Green first preference vote was over 20 per cent, double the Green national average and just under half the LNP’s first preference total. In inner-Melbourne the Green vote topped 20 per cent, in inner-Sydney it was around 16 per cent, as it was in WA’s Curtin. But in aspirational outer-suburban seats like Sydney’s Lindsay, the Greens vote drops to only four percent.
The Greens have the potential not simply to frustrate the government through their Senate representation, but also present a preferences threat in marginal seats; Labor holds five and the Coalition two with margins under one per cent and there are a further six under two per cent. To survive, Morrison’s must continue to keep both climate sceptics and those with reasonable concerns on board; this will require his rejecting the confrontational demands from either extreme.
The provocations will begin shortly with the Queensland Labor government reversing its delaying tactics (after recognising the swing against an ambivalent federal Labor in Queensland) by undertaking to determine final approval next week of Adani. Having become a totemic issue for anti-coal warriors in their battle to keep coal in the ground and kill its $67 billion of overseas sales, Adani’s go-ahead will prompt a campaign of fear and loathing, crying children terrified by school-fed propaganda of impending doom, and uncivil disobedience. A nation thus divided may require more than a Morrison miracle to be reunited. All this rests on the contested claim that for the first time ever in history, climate change now is not only catastrophic but also irreversible: really?