Away from the discord within his own ranks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison could breathe a sigh of relief in Washington for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meeting on September 25, where no one would notice his prehistoric approach climate change.
Besides, a security compact with the United States and the United Kingdom (AUKUS) had just been signed, allowing Morrison’s government to have eight submarines with nuclear propulsion.
Morrison was careful to toe the line of the partner made supplicant for the US media. He was asked by CBS’s Face the Nation whether the US and its allies were moving towards conflict with Beijing. “I don’t think it’s inevitable at all”, he chirped, adding that co-existence is “in everybody’s interest”.
Morrison’s “co-existence” is premised on keeping China in the box or, as he put it, for “free nations like Australia” in the Indo-Pacific to stay vigilant.
Morrison was also pressed on climate change, having not “given a timeline” to get to net zero emissions. After admitting this, he slipped back into advertising mode, saying that, for Australia, “performance matters”. The net zero target was being pursued and would be achieved “preferably by 2050”.
The usual half-baked assurances followed: Australia’s record was “strong”; Australia has “already reduced emissions by over 20% since 2005”; “We committed to Kyoto”; and “We met that target and beat that target”.
As for the Paris target? Not an issue: Australia would romp it.
When CBS’s Margaret Brennan observed that no country had delivered on such targets, Morrison replied that it was not a problem. “It’s one thing to have a commitment but, in Australia, you’re not taken seriously unless you’ve got a plan to achieve the commitment.”
In a media conference on September 24, Morrison pursued his favourite theme in the global climate debate — technology. In his cosmos, Australia is never the laggard. Developing countries, he insisted, should be the “priority”, another way of saying they were the problem.
“If we want to address climate change, then we need to address the change that is necessary in developing economies so they can grow their economies, build their industries, make the things the world needs”, Morrison said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thanked Morrison for showing “leadership” on climate change, adding that she thought the new AUKUS security pact was “pretty exciting”.
The next day, she borrowed Morrison’s remarks about the Paris targets with candy-grabbing enthusiasm: Britain’s Boris Johnson and Morrison were “so exuberant about the urgency of addressing the climate issues”, she said.
It was Morrison’s slogan, “We Meet It and We Beat It”, that impressed. That was enough for Pelosi: “They’re leading the way and that’s what we all have to do”, she gushed, confident that Australia would commit to the Paris Accord.
Pelosi and company have proved to be something of a sounding board for the next federal election here. Morrison’s climate change action will be minimal, but that will be irrelevant in a number of electoral battlegrounds.
Just having a slogan, wrote Sean Kelly in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 25, will be acceptable to “a remarkable number of people as an acceptable substitute for reality — just as it was in America last week”. Kelly was an advisor to two previous Labor prime ministers.
The Labor Party, still languishing in hopeless opposition, has every reason to be worried.
[Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.]