The farcical political posturing over electric cars by Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his minister for small and family business Senator Michaelia Cash says a lot about the state of Australian politics.
It’s clear we have a government in the pocket of fossil fuel companies and allied rip-off merchants who are hell-bent on sacrificing our future in pursuit of their narrow interests.
That is why the school students who have gone on strike for climate action are right to say that this should be a climate election. It is their future that is being destroyed before our eyes by unbridled corporate greed.
Morrison says voting in a Labor government would force all big-car-loving Australians to “say see you later to the SUV”. But Labor leader Bill Shorten responded, saying any government he leads would not dictate to Australians what vehicles they should buy.
Shorten said: “What Labor has said is that by 2030, we would like to see half of new car sales are electric vehicles.
“That doesn’t mean the government is going to go around in 2030 and confiscate someone’s ute. Let’s skip the scare campaigns.”
But the truth is that Labor’s support for a shift to electric cars — a trend that car manufacturers are already planning for — will have little impact on climate change unless it is accompanied by a plan to shift electricity production to 100% renewable energy. Otherwise, those electric cars will still mainly be running off energy from coal-fired power stations.
Sadly, Labor is yet to commit to a shift to 100% renewable energy, despite it being technically feasible and affordable. In fact, Labor has not even committed to stopping Adani’s proposed mega coalmine for central Queensland.
Yet, the $300 billion that the Coalition has proposed to blow over the next 10 years in tax cuts that will mainly benefit the rich would more than pay for a 10-year transition to renewable energy.
A Beyond Zero Emissions study from 2010 costed such a transition at $370 billion, but since then renewable energy has become much cheaper.
We could also do a lot more if we had a government that was prepared to reverse the neoliberal course of the last three and a half decades and start raising taxes on the rich and big business.
Labor has committed to dropping the worst aspects of the Coalition’s tax giveaway to the rich, but it will still blow billions on tax cuts. This might be a clever political move in the eyes of Shorten’s cynical political advisors, but they won’t give much relief to the millions of people struggling to get by.
Worst of all, the tax cut games of the major parties and their shared commitment to spend 2% of GDP on military spending, means that urgently needed social spending is being sacrificed to pay for these cuts.
That is why neither major party will commit to raising the Newstart rate for the unemployed.
Shorten ended his budget reply with a promise to cover the $2.3 billion gap in cancer treatment costs currently not covered by Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
That’s good, but what about the other glaring gap in Medicare, dental health?
The Greens have pointed out that the tax cuts supported by both major parties is enough to fully fund TAFE and free university education for all Australians, raise Newstart, build 500,000 new affordable homes, provide Medicare-funded dental care and invest $10 billion to fight climate change and still have billions to spare.
But the real political debate needs to go beyond this or that set of socially and ecologically necessary policies. Unless we reverse the huge imbalance of power between the rich few and the rest, we will remain trapped in a cycle of alternating neoliberal governments for the rich.
We need to vote out the Coalition troglodyte government. But simply voting for Labor is not enough.
This week, the trade union movement organised a series of mobilisations under the slogan “Change the Rules”. But the Australian Council of Trade Unions has yet to acknowledge that it was the Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating that began the neoliberal course that saw the rules radically changed to suit the rich.
Those Labor governments introduced financial deregulation that enabled the great bank robbery that the royal commission belatedly exposed. They also introduced enterprise bargaining, which undermined the power of workers’ solidarity.
The Socialist Alliance believes that to change the rules — whether in relation to workers’ rights, social justice or the environment — we have got to change the system.
To do that we need to build a political force that is prepared to break with the old bipartisan neoliberal and environmentally troglodyte politics.
[Peter Boyle is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]