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Jumat, 13 Agustus 2021

The old politics of bluff will leave PM and Berejiklian isolated - Sydney Morning Herald

Australia is on the precipice of a twin-systems crisis. The first on climate change has been coming for more than a decade and threatens to turn us into a First World whipping post – the rich nation that unites the international community against it. The second on the coronavirus has crept up on us over the past month and threatens to send us back into recession at a time when the global economy is recovering.

Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian will bristle at the comparison, but each leader has brought us to a dangerous, and unfamiliar, place through basic errors of state craft. They have needlessly antagonised their peers, and misread their respective policy challenges, mistaking the old politics of bluff as the solution when the moment demands a large degree of humility. The Prime Minister continues to bait our allies that he will go it alone at the upcoming United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in November, while the NSW Premier has unsettled her fellow premiers and chief ministers in the national cabinet with her suggestion that she will reopen the state before the virus is suppressed.

Illustration: Simon Letch

Illustration: Simon Letch Credit:The Sydney Morning Herald

Each leader seems mystified that the response of their peers is to threaten them with isolation. Australia faces the prospect of a tariff on its greenhouse gas emissions if it doesn’t commit to a net zero target by 2050, while NSW may have already reached the point of no return with the other states and territories, where trust is lost and borders remain closed until at least the end of the year. The NSW position is complicated by a blind spot in our national vaccination plan – even the 80 per cent target leaves Australia exposed to further outbreaks because a significant share of the populations of Sydney and Melbourne won’t be covered.

A troubling aspect of each leader’s response is they accept the science, but can’t translate it into a coherent set of policies. Morrison had no quibble with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week. Berejiklian says repeatedly that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is a game changer. But they remain compromised by divisions within their respective governments. Morrison doesn’t want to antagonise the climate change sceptics on the government backbench, while Berejiklian has to manage the lockdown sceptics within her cabinet.

Morrison greeted the release of the IPCC report on Tuesday with a showbag of slogans and diversions. He talked about “the Australia way”, repeated the mantra of “technology not taxes” and took a swing at our largest trading partner. “China’s emissions account for more than the OECD combined,” he declared.

It wasn’t the best statistic to mount his argument. China has 70 million more people than the total population of the OECD. It stands to reason that it would emit more greenhouse gases, especially as it remains the engine room of the global economy.

But what of the OECD itself, the organisation which our own Mathias Cormann happens to lead as its secretary-general? Cormann tweeted on Tuesday that the IPCC report “highlights need for urgent, ambitious and effective global action on climate change”.

“Commitments,” he declared, “must be turned into outcomes on our way to global net zero emissions by 2050.”

Australia remains the odd one out in the OECD. We are the largest emitter per capita in the developed world, but have no plan as yet to take to Glasgow. The reason is that Morrison still doesn’t have the support of his Coalition partner for any cuts at all. That leaves him sounding shifty, at a time when the world’s leaders are speaking with an urgent moral clarity. Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and UN climate envoy, captured the global frustration with Australia when she asked if Morrison had even “read the IPCC report”.

“Because it is important that every country steps up ambitiously now, and in particular Australia is out of synch with other Western industrialised countries,” she told the ABC’s 7.30 on Wednesday.

Has Morrison considered that his allies might view him as a wrecker? Morrison, remember, was the first to face the cycle of fire and flood in the black summer of 2019-20, and he didn’t rise to the occasion. Does he seriously expect to tell the leaders who have confronted similar environmental catastrophes this year, from North America to Northern Europe, and from Turkey to Greece, that Australia should be excused from climate change action for another decade or two?

Berejiklian, meanwhile, has swung from bewildered to belligerent and back again as the state recorded more than 2000 new cases in a week. Friday’s number of 390 set a new record, with the virus seeded in multiple regional communities, and Canberra joined Melbourne in lockdown because of leaks from Sydney.

She is in a hurry to vaccinate the population, which is a good thing. But she rattled her colleagues in the national cabinet by suggesting that their goal to vaccinate 80 per cent of the adult population was an end in itself, and would see Sydney re-open even if the virus remained in circulation at that time the threshold was achieved.

Let’s assume the 80 per cent target for fully vaccinating the eligible population – those aged over 15 – is reached in each state and territory by December. What happens if the Sydney outbreak is still bubbling along with dozens of mystery cases each day, but the city, exhausted by lockdown, is granted some of the “freedoms” Berejiklian keeps talking about?

There are two connected dangers. The first is that virus simply takes off again, forcing the other states and territories to re-impose a hard border on NSW – a step that will almost certainly guarantee the economy contracts in the December quarter.

The second danger is in the areas where the virus is most likely to re-emerge. At the Doherty Institute’s “80 per cent” threshold, we will still have 35 per cent of the total Australia population vulnerable – comprising the 18.7 per cent who are under 15 years of age, and 16.3 per cent of the adults who won’t get the jab. The local areas at the very top of the ladder for the unvaccinated, with more than 36 per cent of the total population not covered, include the hotspots of the Melbourne outbreak in 2020 – in the city’s west (37.3 per cent) and its neighbouring north-west (36.8 per cent). These are areas with an above-average share of families with young children.

It is the same story in Sydney. In Sydney, the hotspots of the current wave appear to be even more exposed – at “80 per cent” Blacktown will still have 38.2 per cent of its total population unvaccinated, the outer south-west 37.8 per cent, and the south-west 36.8 per cent. And that’s assuming they all hit the Doherty target. There are also potential time bombs in the Northern Territory outside Darwin, and in the boom regions of south-east Queensland. Australia hasn’t even begun the conversation of what re-opening will actually look like.

The existential threats of climate change and the coronavirus can only be met through collaboration between nations, and across party lines within them. Yet Morrison and Berejilkian govern as if the old politics of bluff will be enough. It’s time both leaders read their respective rooms, parked their egos and offered to work with their peers. Otherwise, they risk ending Australia’s long 21st century run of prosperity and influence.

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2021-08-13 19:00:00Z
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