Libs' fight detracts from climate crisis

December 2, 2009

The deadline to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) approached, and passed, on November 26, with the Senate extending debate on the issue until the week after. The nation's media were transfixed by the spectacle of the Liberal Party annihilating itself over what position to take.

In part, the Liberals' problems stemmed from the fact that the Labor government accepted the Liberals' proposed amendments, making the CPRS even more polluter-friendly than before.

But the Liberals' crisis also revealed deep division over climate policy — between the party's climate deniers and climate pretenders.

The pretenders, such as party leader Malcolm Turnbull, are no more serious than the deniers about acting firmly to stop climate change. Rather, they want to present the illusion of action to a public increasingly worried about global warming.

The government also settled for a pretend policy on climate change long ago.

Turnbull, the so-called opposition leader determined to support the government's CPRS (after "browning" a brown policy further), was due to face a party room leadership ballot on December 1.

With the Senate due to finish debating the CPRS that day, at the time of writing it seemed likely a new leader could change tactics, uniting the party around opposing the legislation.

The Liberals' crisis has shifted attention and criticism away from the woefully inadequate CPRS.

For the big parties, climate change is just another policy issue. The debates and controversies about the CPRS are detached from the scientific predictions of pending climate disaster.

Yet while the politics-as-usual went on inside parliament, a small group of committed climate activists outside spent their third consecutive week in an unusual protest for urgent climate action.

Participants in the Climate Justice Fast began their protest hunger strike on the parliament house lawns on November 6. Some intend to fast until the Copenhagen climate conference ends in mid-December.

Paul Connor was on day 19 of his fast when he spoke to Green Left Weekly. The big parties' attempt to strike a dirty deal on the CPRS had not lessened his commitment to campaign on climate change.

"Everything that has happened politically has reinforced what we are doing and why we are doing it", he said.

"The battle for adequate science-based legislation is a very young one, and we have a long way to go. It's not going to happen from that building [parliament house] up there until the people demand it. We're seeing that the leaders are not going to lead. So we need to build a real social movement."

Connor said the fast had received some media attention, particularly from overseas. However, he also said some journalists had told him they won't cover the action because they don't want others to emulate the fasters because it is dangerous.

"If society could only be as risk-averse about climate change as we are about fasting then we'd have nothing to worry about", Conner joked.

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