Slogans mask a shallowness of leadership skills and strategic thinking. Neither Donald Trump nor Boris Johnson should be your role model. Remember Malcolm Turnbull failed to deliver the “better government” that he promised on seizing the leadership. The die is already cast on your government and, if you continue as you have been doing, time will not be your friend. Ultimately, you will be judged on authenticity and policy outcomes – on genuine leadership.
Given your hang ups on the climate issue, why not come at it from a different perspective? Why not focus on challenges such as pollution, waste, regenerative agriculture, and fuel security? The effective resolution of all will involve something of a technological revolution, with the possibility of many new jobs, and of global leadership, while contributing significantly to our emissions reduction objectives.
While successive governments have done much to penalise the polluting of rivers and dumping of asbestos and the like, why is it still OK to pollute the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels – particularly, coal, gas, diesel and petrol – without penalty, even though they produce some 50 to 60 per cent of total emissions and have serious health consequences?
The argument that polluters should pay is well established in the electricity sector and the threat of it has spurred the take up of renewables (which would accelerate if a price was put on carbon). Renewables are now cheaper than coal or gas fired power, and developing storage technologies are about to stabilise power supply and network services. Attention can move more to the transport sector.
Vehicle emissions kill more people annually than the road toll. Why isn’t this a constant front page story? We persist with the second dirtiest petrol among all OECD countries (after Mexico). Our government has consistently delayed the introduction of Euro 6 emissions standards. This was sign posted as far back as 2011 (to take effect in 2017), but your government recently announced a delay of the standard until mid 2027.
New Zealand introduced Euro 6 in mid-2018. It will be an interesting situation if new European cars, compliant with the standard, can’t leave our showrooms because they can’t run on our dirty fuel.
The transition to electric vehicles will occur faster than your government has admitted, especially once the major manufacturers release their affordable models – it took only 10 years (1903-13) for the transition from horse drawn to petrol driven vehicles in the US. You should recognise and lead the change.
Related to this is our lack of fuel security, leaving us to depend on some 44 ships coming from Singapore annually. Why would your government do a deal with the US for us to draw on its fuel stocks in an emergency rather than develop a domestic bio-fuels industry? And a related question: Why do we accept that some 80 per cent of our exports of canola to Europe are used to manufacture biofuels there rather than here?
Waste is a serious problem now we can no longer export it. Yet, technologies exist, and can be improved, to convert almost any waste (green, sewerage, household, industrial, plastic, animal) to electricity or biofuels, and a host of other byproducts. Moreover, as the waste supplies are spread right across regional Australia, the opportunity for many regionally centred recycling and refining businesses is significant.
Recognising the significance of droughts, getting more frequent and intense, there is an enormous opportunity for regenerative agriculture programs to improve the resilience and drought resistance of our soils, to the financial benefit of farmers.
Indeed, agriculture can, in time, make a net negative contribution to our national emissions, and farmers can sell the credits as additional income from improving the carbon content of their soils, with simple changes to their farming practices – land clearing and management, shallow or no tilling, organic rather than chemical fertilisers, and crop/grazing rotation.
Morrison, your imperative for 2020 is to stop playing your ill-conceived political games and to lead. It’s do or die.
John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.