Bill Shorten probably knows Labor can’t win the byelection in the Melbourne seat Batman while supporting the far-away Adani coal mining project at Carmichael in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland. So he looks set to oppose the mine.
However, Queensland LNP senators Matt Canavan and Ian Macdonald and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry have invited Shorten to come to Townsville to explain his position there, and ultimately that is what he must do.
The Greens can afford to take the principled high ground because they have nothing to lose politically and everything to gain. For them the path is, in the main, to take inner city seats, one by one to be able to leverage power in the lower house. If the Greens play their political cards right they can aspire to 5-10 inner-urban seats in the big cities without having to worry about how to win over the battlers. Antony Green tells how the creeping demographics of inner Melbourne make the Greens success there seem inevitable.
- Waves of ‘gentrification’ have changed the face of inner-city electorates where the population was once predominantly working class and significantly overseas born.
So with gentrification:
- The new residents moving into inner-city seats are overwhelmingly university educated, professionally employed, non-religious and affluent.
- Labor’s first preference vote share has declined nine percentage points across Victoria since Labor’s victory at the 2007 Federal election. Around half of that vote has been lost to the Greens.
Much of that story relates to inner Melbourne, where:
- Labor’s first preference vote share has fallen 25 percentage points in Melbourne, 26 in Wills, 22 in Batman, 15 in more marginal Melbourne Ports, and even 16 percentage points in Liberal held Higgins.
In 2016 David Feeney scraped in on Liberal preferences by 1.03% in a seat that once was a Labor stronghold.
Calla Wahlquist at The Guardian, in an excellent article, points out that Bell Street cuts Batman in two, with gentrification to the south and working class remnant to the north.
The Liberals in recent elections have preferenced Labor over the Greens. Wahlquist related what they are up to this time:
- The Victorian Liberals are under pressure from the Jewish lobby to block the Greens because of the latter’s support for Palestine, and have not yet declared whether they will run a candidate. It’s a “dilemma,” Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said: run and preference Labor to keep out an unsuitable Green; or quit the field, as they did at the Northcote state byelection, to increase the chance that the Greens would win and weaken Labor’s position in parliament.
That was published last Saturday. Since then the Liberals have chosen to skip the byelection, save their money and hope to maximise Shorten’s pain.
Choosing Jed Kearney shows how seriously Labor wants to stop the green wave:
According to David Hayward, the dean of global, urban and social studies at RMIT University, Ged Kearney’s nomination is a measure of the seriousness of the seat for Labor. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president’s left-leaning position replaces Feeney’s factional weight in the party’s right.
“Having somebody like Ged Kearney could be a very good card to play in that context because she’ll be able to appeal to both sides of the divide,” Hayward said. “She’ll be able to play well [in the northern half of the electorate] and I think she’ll also be able to play well at the southern end of the electorate, being able to talk up Green-type issues.”
Her early career as a nurse helps, as does the fact that she lived in the electorate.
Richard Di Natali has made it clear that Adani will be front and centre in the campaign, which he can do without any political downside, and without the prospect of having to implement his promise.
Shorten has given at least four reasons for his newly announced concern about Adani. Firstly, the market price of coal suggests that the world does not need the coal.
Secondly, two years of coral bleaching have shown that the Reef is already in trouble.
Third, Shorten has raised concerns that the development of the Adani mine will cost jobs elsewhere.
Finally, according to The Guardian Adani submitted an altered laboratory report while appealing a fine for contamination of sensitive wetlands on the Queensland coast near the Great Barrier Reef. This would provide a convenient mechanism to question Adani’s fitness as a company.
Other than that a Labor rejection of Adani would indeed raise the issue of sovereign risk, where a company’s hard-won approvals suddenly mean nothing when it is politically convenient.
There is a principled way that Shorten could withdraw the Adani approvals without relying on Adani’s misdemeanor. Shorten could upgrade the whole climate mitigation issue, giving it the urgency that has been clearly required a decade ago or more (remember Kevin 07?) This should mean that expansion of coal mining anywhere in Australia would be denied.
I don’t think that Labor is quite brave enough for that, and I’m not sure they would be elected if they tried.
Meanwhile it is disappointing that no-one in politics or the media is challenging the LNP’s spruiking of jobs flowing from the Adani venture. In the earlier guest post The Adani Project: – is it good for Australia? Geoff Henderson pointed out that Adani’s had promised was 10,000 jobs, but under oath revised that back to just 1460 jobs.
Nevertheless, Dennis Atkins in the Courier Mail today reminds us that Queenslanders don’t like being told by southerners what they must do. Same applies to regional people and inner urbanites. There is also a similar attitude between north and south in Queensland, where Brisbane is another country.
Fairfax today reports that Labor are working on a regional jobs policy package:
- A Queensland Labor MP told Fairfax Media that jobs in renewable energy, manufacturing, defence maintenance and tourism could be created in place of the foregone mining jobs.
However, in terms of changing votes, policy will not win the day when so much emotion is involved. All this over a mine, which left to its own devices is probably not a starter.