Guardian Australia Editor: Our world has no time for any more faux policies of Australia’s climate wars

Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia editor

Peter Dutton’s climate policy is slowly emerging as another sham; the latest and most blatant instalment in the Coalition’s decades-long climate policy pretence.

For much of our recent political history, the Liberal and National parties have claimed to have a policy to address global heating while actually having a policy to continue using fossil fuels.

These faux policies are the bedrock of the mind-numbing, wickedly time-wasting “climate wars” – a parallel universe for public policy that pays no heed to the devastating impacts of global heating in the real world, or the views of business, or the views of the public.

After the 2022 election we dared to hope the wars might be over. But even without the fine details, we can see the opposition leader is dusting off the artillery once again, proposing to slow the rollout of renewables and ramp up use of fossil fuels for more than a decade, until – he says – nuclear power might be available here. Putting to one side the fact that nuclear is the most expensive form of new generation, this isn’t an accounting game and we don’t have another 10 years to waste. The point of the exercise is to limit heating to 1.5C – and that is a level we have already nearly reached, with devastating and hugely costly consequences.

Dutton’s disassembling serves the same purpose as earlier efforts, it allows the Coalition to appease climate sceptics in its own ranks, claim concern for the planet as far as it is politically necessary and then target the costs and difficulties of Labor policies to actually decarbonise – all the while asserting the Coalition’s own plans will magically achieve the same, but almost cost-free, sometime in the far distant future.

I have covered domestic and international climate policy for decades and watched this chicanery at close quarters.

In 2006, trailing in the polls, and with community concern about climate change high, John Howard reversed his government’s longstanding sceptical stance on global warming and announced a taskforce to look at an emissions trading scheme.

Then in 2013, long out of office, he conceded he’d never actually thought there was anything really “significant” or “damaging” about greenhouse emissions.

Kevin Rudd won that election and tried to legislate an emissions trading scheme, a policy thwarted by Tony Abbott’s claim it was a “great big tax on everything.”

At that time Abbott insisted he believed climate change was real, determined to neutralise politically difficult discussion about the climate so he could focus his political attack on the tax.

But by 2023, he was admitting he actually thought “that the anthropogenic global warming thesis, at least in its more extreme forms, is both ahistorical and utterly implausible” and was in fact a “climate cult” that would “eventually be discredited”.

And his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, now a Sky news commentator, admitted they’d always known the carbon price had never been a “tax” at all, and they’d only called it that to stir up “brutal retail politics”.

Dutton’s strategy appears to be the same.

Assert, against all available evidence, that building nuclear reactors that won’t operate for a decade or more is economically possible, and that the delay in emissions reductions is environmentally credible, and then employ some more of that “brutal retail politics” against the very real current pain caused by high power prices.

Whether he’s successful will depend in large part on how the “debate” is reported. I recounted in this essay how hard it was to factcheck the torrent of misleading information in Tony Abbott’s “axe the tax” campaign. Now the one-liners are coming thick and fast once again.

If Dutton’s rhetoric and policy are again reported as a “he said, she said” story, without connecting climate science and credible climate policies, if it is commentated as a political game with no consequences, if focus group-tested attack lines are transcribed without context, then it might succeed.

My team at Guardian Australia will not be reporting it that way. We will hold all parties to account, based on the facts and the science – including Labor, whose 43% 2030 target is also neither sufficient, nor guaranteed.

Because this isn’t a political game. It’s existential. And we have no more time to waste.

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