Our media, it seems to me, are more interested in biffo than policy. For example, can anyone in the media tell me why they constantly interview Joel Fitzgibbon as though he had any influence on Labor’s climate policy?
James Massola in the SMH in February gave us an explainer What are Labor’s factions and who’s who in the Left and Right? To cut to the chase, Joel Fitzgibbon is nominally in the Right, but he says:
- The Left’s national conveners are Victorian MP Julian Hill, NSW Senator Tim Ayres and MP Sharon Claydon, while MP Matt Thistlethwaite is the national convener of the Right along with South Australian Senator Don Farrell.
What, no Joel Fitzgibbon?
No Joel Fitzgibbon. Massola says this:
- While Thistlethwaite is the national convener of the Right – and his state faction – frontbench MPs Chris Bowen and Tony Burke are the most influential in that state. Joel Fitzgibbon, long the convener of the NSW and National Right, is now seen as on the outer for the “whatever it takes” faction.
Massola makes a distinction between convenors and people of influence. For example:
- In Queensland, Anthony Chisholm is the convener of the Right but Jim Chalmers [also on the Right] as shadow treasurer is the most senior member of the group.
Labor’s shadow cabinet is a finely calibrated mix of Left and Right. The current state of play is:
- At the moment, of the 94 Labor MPs in the House of Representatives and the Senate, 49 belong to the Right, 43 are in the Left and two are not factionally aligned.
The Left is currently allocated 14 of the 30 seats in the shadow ministry on a proportional basis and the Right receives 16…
In my experience all members of cabinet sing from the same song sheet on climate change. The one that has caused a stir in recent times is Madeleine King who has been talking about mining coal to 2050 and beyond. Let me first remind readers, so did the International Energy Association (IEA) in its recent Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. These graphs tell the story:
I have not studied the report in detail, but the above implies that the continued use of fossil fuels would be accompanied by carbon capture, or offset by such means as carbon farming and drawing down emissions.
An article in The Monthly of 16 April 2021 Labor backs coal beyond 2050 (probably pay-walled) tells us:
Labor’s opposition resources spokesperson Madeleine King has come out in support of thermal coal exports beyond 2050, in a position at odds with achieving the ambitions of the Paris climate accord. In an interview with The Australian (pay-walled), the West Australian MP simultaneously backed Anthony Albanese’s commitment of net-zero emissions by 2050 and continued export of both thermal and metallurgical coal for decades to come. “I think we go beyond the middle of the century, I really do,” she said.
She was asked a direct question about whether she supported the coal sector.
She also said she believes coal will experience “a slow gradual decline in demand”.
Labor’s position before and after the 2019 election was that Australia was not responsible for emissions created by burning exported gas or coal. In effect, if other countries burn coal we will supply it. Labor’s position is consistent with the IEA.
King has been Shadow Minister for Trade and for Resources since Fitzgibbon resigned. On 27 May King had an opinion piece published in the AFR Labor must be honest on climate and jobs.
Then for the summary line underneath the headline, which comes from the editors rather than the author, we have:
- Joel Fitzgibbon says that Labor cannot forget the miners. But it also can’t forget that world markets move on.
Why does a Labor shadow minister have to have her statement cast as a disagreement with a backbencher?
King starts off by reminding us that before World War II wool accounted for a third of our exports. Now it’s down to one per cent.
In the future the same could happen to our current big three merchandise exports: iron ore, liquefied natural gas and coal. Indeed she points out that “rest of the world is moving inexorably to net zero emissions by 2050” so it “is undeniable that the economic realities of climate change will drive the next big shake-up in Australia’s merchandise exports.”
- The movement is backed by international investors. If Australia continues to ignore the reality of climate change, we risk being boycotted by global capital.
Our exporters face the additional burden of carbon taxes on imports that are seriously being considered by the European Union, Britain and the US, with others likely to follow.
These taxes will be designed to hit nations, including Australia, that have made insufficient efforts to combat climate change.
Other countries have their own paths to decarbonisation. Some will make use of our coal longer than others. The decision is theirs, not ours.
- as the world decarbonises, new export opportunities will arise and new jobs will be created.
Australia has huge reserves of the minerals – lithium, copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt and rare earth elements – needed to make lithium-ion batteries, wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles.
And we have an opportunity to process minerals here.
Finally she says that she has listened to the concerns of thousands of miners in the Pilbara and next month (ie. late June) Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will lead the Labor shadow ministry to Port Hedland in the Pilbara, the home of the world’s largest bulk export port:
Next month’s trip will be an opportunity for many of my east coast colleagues to see for themselves and listen to the concerns of the miners who contribute so much to our national wealth.
The message to the people of the Pilbara, the Hunter, the Goldfields, Queensland and all other mining communities is clear: Labor unequivocally supports the resources sector – all of the resources sector – and the jobs it creates. Now and in the decades ahead.
I hope that the AFR’s political editor Phillip Coorey reads and takes note of King’s article. Two days earlier he had just written Labor is split on tax cuts and energy. Labor’s position is yet to be resolved on whether tax cuts for the well-off, legislated but not due to take effect until 2024-5, should be repealed or modified. However, Labor has never been divided on energy. It had a rogue shadow cabinet minister, now a noisy backbencher.
Two days before the King piece, the AFR had published an opinion piece from Fitzgibbon Why Labor must not abandon the miners. Does Fitzgibbon say more than King said in her article?
Yes, he does. There is no mention of coal production diminishing over time. He says coal production, metallurgical and thermal, achieved records last year, and miners:
- know they’ll be exporting coal for decades to come. Unless, of course, politicians put the kibosh on them.
No acknowledgement, as we got from King, that financiers and customers are demanding change.
Fitzgibbon speaks of “alarmism” and the “so-called climate emergency”. He says miners:
- are looking for a person or a political party willing to say: “Your industry is critical to our economic fortunes, it has our unqualified support, and we will fight to keep it alive and well.”
He says it would be a terrible mistake to ignore Tony Blair’s thoughtful contribution last week where he:
- warned that centre-left parties around the world must break free of the influence of “radical progressives” and to bravely speak of a new and moderate progressive agenda.
At the end of the article the AFR wrongly designates Fitzgibbon as “opposition spokesman for agriculture and resources and the federal Member for Hunter.”
The best commentary I have read on the Hunter byelection is from national LEAN (Labor Environment Action Network) co-convenor Felicity Wade in NSW Labor followed the Joel Fitzgibbon playbook in the Hunter and look what happened:
After months of calling for Labor to reject credible climate change policy, Labor head office handed Joel Fitzgibbon everything he wanted at last Saturday’s Upper Hunter byelection. There was a former miner candidate, an embrace of all things coal, a patchy honesty about the economic changes coming the Hunter’s way and some old-fashioned dog whistling about climate change-obsessed inner-city elites.
When the Labor vote crashed, Fitzgibbon was straight back on the horse, threatening to leave the party that has sustained him for a quarter of a century and arguing the only problem was that the campaign lacked conviction.
For cooler heads, it was empirical proof that NSW Labor’s decision to abandon its leadership on climate change is a dead end in regional seats, and likely electoral poison in the cities and suburbs.
She said that unfortunately the campaign too much was reduced to binaries such as “city versus country” and “pro coal or no coal” which are false and offer nothing. She says:
On one of the big questions for the region, how the power of government would be used to intervene to protect communities from inevitable economic change, Labor had very little to say, the cupboard was bare. Leadership, an orderly plan, funding, training and some well-crafted industry policies are needed to ensure the Hunter prospers deep into the 21st century.
This is core business and there was no excuse for Labor being bereft of this for the byelection. Throughout the campaign, John Barilaro did better than Labor at articulating support for coal workers alongside acknowledgment that change was coming and the region needed to prepare.
- The ANU’s Australian Electoral Study showed that climate change was one of Labor’s greatest vote attractors at the 2019 federal election. This was confirmed by the Emerson-Weatherill review of the party’s federal election performance.
I would add, we didn’t sell the message well enough, sat on the fence on Adani, and the message was hijacked by Bob Brown’s intervention.
- Anthony Albanese and his front bench are building a credible platform – committing to deliver credible emission reduction targets, backing coal workers, and designing jobs of the future in regions that need it. And supporting locally led initiatives like the Hunter Jobs Alliance.
The Hunter Jobs Alliance was founded after the 2019 federal election by the Labor Environment Action Network and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. It is a coalition of nine unions and four local community environment groups in the Hunter that aims to turn down the heat in the divisive culture wars, instead finding spaces for workers, community, business and government to come together to deal with the shared challenge of creating jobs now and in the future.
What we need is genuine community engagement.
- Labor once was, and can be again, a party deeply connected to its communities and trusted by them to manage change. Hunter Jobs Alliance aspires to rebuild that kind of community cohesion and connection, bringing interests together and being a vociferous voice for the community interest in a system that often focuses elsewhere.
NSW Labor has provided the perfect test of the electoral saliency of a simple pro coal agenda, that pretends climate change is not a pressing priority and ignores the rapid shifts in the global energy market. It fails. Labor must lead on climate change and work harder to deliver a sophisticated transition policy and foster trust within impacted communities.
Labor’s policy has been clearly laid out in the draft national platform, which was confirmed by the ALP National Conference on March 31. See Chapter 3, para 20ff for a just transition. Labor (para 23) proposes to:
- establish a statutory authority charged with mitigating the adverse impacts of coal power station closures on regional workforces and communities as a priority.
It’s about the only mention coal gets. Gas is mentioned from para 31:
- Labor recognises and supports the critical role that gas plays in the Australian economy. Labor recognises that gas has an important role to play in achieving Labor’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.
This includes support for new gas projects and associated infrastructure, subject to independent approval processes to ensure legitimate community concerns are heard and addressed.
- Following voting, Chapter 3 was adopted and agreed.
The Australian reported two resolutions coming from unions. First, from AWU national vice-president Paul Farrow:
Second, from CFMEU Mining and Energy general secretary Grahame Kelly:
“Labor supports Australian industry, including agriculture, manufacturing, minerals including coal, oil and gas,” the amendment said.
Then there was a third:
- A resolution pushed by Labor MPs Ged Kearney and Josh Burns committed a Labor government to “recognising a climate emergency”.
A resolution supporting nukes was dumped.
The Oz reports LEAN’s Felicity Wade:
- the conference “confirms Labor’s commitment to showing up to keep Australians safe from a disrupted future where terrifying fire and flood are just the beginning”.
And Anthony Albanese:
- delivered a speech to close the ALP’s national conference, declaring “we’ve generated the light we need for the road ahead”.
In closing the two-day event, the Opposition Leader said Labor was “on the side of Australians”.
“If you want an Australia where no one is held back and no one is left behind, Labor is on your side,” Mr Albanese said.
Today’s feed from RenewEconomy reports “Running dead on renewables:” Albanese slams Morrison in clean energy pitch to Minerals Council.
If anyone cares, or does the media just use biffo to attract the eyeballs of a disengaged public?
Irrespective of when the election is held, the campaign has begun.
While there is nothing inconsistent in Labor’s stance over recent years, its stance is firmly committed to following the science, and to accepting the international Paris commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. It’s the only game in town. Much will depend on the release of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) Working Group I The Physical Science Basis which appears to be due on or around 9 August this year.
Readers of this blog will know I believe the IPCC scenario has the wrong aim (we should be aiming to draw down emissions to 350ppm or lower within 10 years), carries unacceptable existential risk, and does not offer hope of a livable planet for generations to come. Dangerous climate change is here; we are collectively planning to make it worse.
I have written about this many times, most recently in The fierce urgency of now: ie 2009…2021…?