The political reality is that the climate doubters have been highly successful in stymieing attempts by the Coalition to move forward on the issue. Clearly, Mr Joyce still sees fertile ground for making mischief by backing coal among other issues.
And Mr Morrison would not be expecting any help from across the aisle. After getting thumped in rural and regional Queensland at the last election, Labor is finding itself in a rhetorical hot spot trying to pull back on its promises of ambitious emission cuts and restrictions on coal mining without alienating inner-city voters. That repositioning offers Anthony Albanese little incentive to provide the Prime Minister a lifeline.
The Greens are not about to play ball either. Straight after winning the party leadership, Adam Bandt was firing off unhelpful rhetorical bullets at coal, oil and gas companies for “threatening human life”. That approach goes against the need to build consensus and is hardly about to get him an invitation to the Prime Minister’s office to be part of future talks.
On Monday, independent MP Zali Steggall offered up a proposal to hand over climate policy to an independent, expert body called the Climate Change Commission. While in principle it seems a sensible suggestion to take the matter out of the hands of politicians, the proposal seems unlikely to muster the support needed to make it happen.
This all goes some way to explaining why Mr Morrison is looking to the states. The Prime Minister recently signed a deal with NSW worth nearly $1 billion to help upgrade its energy grid and invest in a grab bag of emission-reduction initiatives. Victoria is hoping to sign a similar deal, but is baulking at the Coalition’s demand to increase onshore gas exploration.
With such gridlock, one has to ask whether our political system is up to the task. The bushfires captured the world’s attention and we must improve our tarnished image. While many Australians are reluctant to pay the hip-pocket expense of cutting emissions, there is broad agreement that more needs to be done. And yet our history of climate policy being used as a political wrecking ball to bring down those who offer solutions has crippled the debate.
But our past also offers hope. Former prime minister John Howard’s remarkable effort in bringing in gun reforms is a case in point. The killing of 35 people at Port Arthur provided the public sentiment to bring in tighter controls, but Mr Howard and former Nationals leader Tim Fischer spent months arguing the case to often hostile crowds. They won the day. Let’s hope our political leaders today can show the same courage of conviction.