Around 350,000 Australians took to the streets in the nation’s major cities and centres on 20 September, as part of the global School Strike for Climate, to demand that the Morrison government take action on the climate emergency and begin transitioning away from fossil fuels.
While, just two nights later, our prime minister Scott Morrison attended a White House state dinner in his honour, accompanied by guests that he invited, which included Australian mining magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Twiggy Forrest.
Even those who avoid politics these days are aware of the PM’s stance on fossil fuels. He made it easy to grasp when he trotted into parliament brandishing a lump of coal in early 2017. Indeed, he later went on to rush through the final federal approval on the Adani mine right before the election.
Morrison ticked off on the mine to look after mates, as he’d expected to lose. Yet, despite polls showing climate was the top voter priority, the Coalition was re-elected, due to what some claimed was jobs at the Adani mine, which is slated to be one of the most automated operations on Earth.
However, the political climate in this country has experienced something of a feedback loop since May. Growing numbers now realise climate action is needed. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion are household names. And this rising sentiment is starting to engulf Morrison’s agenda.
Deputy Trump does the UN
On the day following his Trump sponsored Washington dinner, there was a UN Climate Action Summit in New York. And Morrison promptly snubbed it, sending a clear message that the crisis isn’t a priority for his nation, much to the annoyance of 70 percent of Australians, an Essential poll found.
Instead, our PM turned up at the same venue two days later to address the UN General Assembly. And he spruiked the virtues of his government’s climate efforts, which have seen a rise in greenhouse gas emissions every year since his party revoked the carbon tax back in 2014.
Climate Council chief executive Rebecca McKenzie frankly stated that Morrison’s claim Australia was doing enough on climate change was “colossal bullshit”. And she went on to point out that many of the assertions he made during his speech were falsehoods.
Morrison also responded to 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg’s calling out world leaders at the climate summit for not doing enough on the unfolding crisis, which she made clear is violating her generation’s rights to a future.
In his usual rhetoric, the PM said he doesn’t want children to be subjected to “needless anxiety”. He added they “have a right not just to their future, but to their optimism”. And the irony that it’s actually his government robbing Australian kids of their hope was lost upon no one.
Beam me up, Scotty
And while Mr Morrison was over in the States – in somewhat of a throwback to the 1980s – he also took it upon himself to pledge $150 million in taxpayers’ money to NASA’s planned mission to fly to the moon and then onto Mars.
So, while the climate’s collapsing and the community calls for a just transition to renewable energy, the prime minister is investing in a space program, which could see Australian companies play a role in interplanetary “minerals exploration”. He added that the nation “is pretty good at mining”.
The investment is in a five year program aimed at beefing up the Australian space industry. Why the PM is focused on this right now is anyone’s guess, but he assures it will generate 20,000 jobs by 2030: the year the IPCC asserts is the end point for change on climate to happen before it’s too late.
Let them eat nothing
Yet, as he reinvigorates the idea that “space is the final frontier”, people on the ground who can’t find a job are skipping meals because the Morrison government refuses to lift the rate of the Newstart allowance from its level that now sits way below the poverty line.
And in showing herself to be quite the PM’s pollie, social services minister Anne Ruston told a forum in South Australia’s Murray Bridge that the government can’t raise welfare payments, as more than likely “all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money”.
The minister charged with looking after the social welfare system implied that everyone on the dole is just getting high, as the government is in the midst of trying to pass legislation to enable random drug testing of welfare recipients, with the aim of quarantining their money if they test positive.
And Ruston was making these off the cuff remarks a fortnight ago, despite the fact that those on Newstart have to survive on $277.85 a week. The allowance hasn’t been increased in real terms since 1994. And ACOSS states that there’s only one job available for every eight people looking.
The emerging war on climate activism
Not to be shown up by his colleague who beat him to the role of PM, home affairs minister Peter Dutton has stepped into the media spotlight again. This time he’s condemning climate activists – calling for their detention, as well as the removal of their welfare payments.
The former Queensland cop reckons that the increasing numbers of climate protesters taking to the streets and causing nonviolent disruption to transport in a bid to draw attention to the climate crisis should face serious time for their crimes.
And in true shock-jock-interviews-reactionary-politician form, when 2GB’s Ray Hadley put it to Dutton that protesters should have their welfare payments stopped because they’re “bludgers sticking themselves to the roads”, the home affairs minister simply replied, “Well, I agree, Ray.”
Dutton went onto to question judicial appointments in Queensland, implying that magistrates are soft on climate protesters, he insisted that the government should consider passing mandatory sentencing laws in relation to their activism and threw in that climate activists “are a scourge”.
The Bigot Bill
Meanwhile, simmering in the background, Morrison’s got his Religious Discrimination Bill. It’s another expression of how his conservative government is so off the mark as to what’s actually happening on the ground in this country.
Unlike his climate rhetoric – which is about backing the interests of corporates over the fate of the Earth – in this case, the PM is putting his support behind conservatives Christians against diversity: targeting LGBTIQ people, women, First Nations people, people of colour and people with disabilities.
So, in one of the most diverse societies on the planet, the reactionary government is continuing to legislate in the interests of rich white men and ignore growing calls for something to be done about the pending climate collapse.
This is a system that simply can’t sustain itself in a multitude of ways.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.