Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, a member of a party historically hostile to cutting fossil fuel emissions, has been, for the most part, at home. This was until his colleagues hammered out an understanding with their Liberal counterparts about a net zero emissions target by 2050.
This was only reached after much fuss prior to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attendance at the Glasgow climate change conference last year (COP26). Canavan was having none of it and expressed delight that, eventually, countries had agreed to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal burning.
The COP26 communique was, according to Canavan, a “green light” for Australia to keep digging and “supply the world with more coal because that’s what brings people out of poverty”. There had “never been a higher demand” for coal, he said and Australia’s fossil fuel industry would be happy to feed it.
With a federal election campaign in full swing, Canavan has again attempted to slay the net zero emissions dragon, taking his lead from Colin Boyce, the Liberal National Party candidate for the seat of Flynn. Boyce suggested that the Coalition’s commitment to net zero allowed for some “wiggle room”.
On the ABC’s Afternoon Briefing on April 27, Canavan went one further in roundly proclaiming that “net zero is … dead.” He went on: “[British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson said he is pausing the net zero commitment, Germany is building coal and gas infrastructure, Italy’s reopening coal-fired power plants. It’s all over. It’s all over bar the shouting here.”
These remarks in an election campaign were deemed unwelcome by the higher-ups. “That’s his view, it’s no surprise, he’s held it for a long time, it’s been resolved and our policy was set out very clearly,” Morrison said.
Given that farmers have been among hardest hit by climate-change induced extreme weather events, Nationals MP Michelle Landry told Canavan to pull his head in, Nationals MP Darren Chester suggested he had lost not only the argument but a sense of perspective. Former leader Michael McCormack said Canavan’s remarks were “not helpful”.
The Labor Party tried to ride this discordance in the Coalition, but is hampered by its own contradictions: in Dawson, in regional Queensland, Labor is giving preferences to the pro-fossil fuel United Australia Party and Katter’s Australian Party ahead of the Greens, whereas in the seat of Brisbane, it is giving the Greens at number 2.
Last year, Canavan, a former Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, tweeted photos of snow-filled scenes in regional New South Wales, mocking the science of global warming. He has described one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as “fear porn”, saying, “One of the IPCC authors was quoted as saying he hoped this report would scare people so it would help change their vote”.
The Senator champions the fossil fuel corporations, saying they should be cushioned from the predatory behaviour of banks which refuse to fork out finances for new mines. “Global banks that want to control who has a job in Australia should be locked out of our country.”
Canavan told an ABC Q&A program in 2020 that “Australian people have never voted for net zero emissions … We seem to try and get bullied into these positions that the Australian people didn’t vote for.”
He attacked the Paris climate agreement for “transferring industrial wealth from the west and from Australia to China, a country that’s bullying and threatening us.” The fact that Australia is happy to supply China with raw materials, notably iron ore, seems to have passed him by.
Unfortunately, Canavan is bound to win a fair share of votes. This comes down to a range of factors, not least that Labor is not campaigning for a job-rich transition plan to renewables, leaving those worried about their jobs in the fossil fuel industries to the mercy of the Coalition, the UAP and the Katters.
[Dr Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University.]