t was around three decades between the start of World War I in July 1914 and the end of World War II in August 1945. In between, most of the world changed dramatically, never to return to its antebellum status. Yet we are led to expect that governments and political parties can commit realistically today to emission reduction targets to be achieved by 2050 or, in the case of China, 2060.
In Australia the Labor opposition, led by Anthony Albanese, will not nominate an emissions target by 2030 but it will commit to one by 2050 — namely, zero-net emissions. Between now and then, there will be at least 10 elections in Australia and it is likely only a few contemporary members and senators still will be in parliament then.
In short, 2050 targets are fine for symbolism but they are so far in the distance as to be almost meaningless. This is the case with democratic nations or organisations such as Australia, Britain, the EU, Japan and South Korea. It is even more so with authoritarian regimes such as China. Who predicted in 1990 where China would be today?
On Tuesday Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor member for Hunter in NSW, quit his position as opposition spokesman for agriculture and resources and went to the backbench. The following morning he was interviewed on the ABC’s Radio National Breakfast program by presenter, and eco-catastrophist Fran Kelly.
Fitzgibbon had a near (political) death experience in the federal election in May last year when he went close to losing his seat to the Nationals. Fitzgibbon did not change his view on policy as a result of this shock but decided he needed to fight hard to have his position prevail within the Labor Party.
Put simply, Fitzgibbon wants Labor to appeal to its once traditional base outside the capital cities: miners, agricultural workers, service providers and their families. This means a focus on jobs now, not climate change targets in the distant future.
Kelly put it to Fitzgibbon that his aim was not to make Labor more electable but to ensure that he was electable. To which the member for Hunter responded by asking: “What’s wrong with a Labor MP giving a voice to the views and aspirations of his or her electorate?” Good answer.
Fitzgibbon has supported each of Labor’s climate change policies through the years. It’s just that he knows Labor lost the elections in 2013, 2016 and last year in which emissions policy was an issue, while Tony Abbott nearly defeated Julia Gillard on this matter in 2010.
It turned out that there had been a substantial argument on Tuesday in the shadow cabinet over emissions policy. Kelly put it to Fitzgibbon that “this whole brawl started because you were admonished by Anthony Albanese for derailing Labor’s plan to use Joe Biden’s win in the United States to put pressure on the Morrison government over climate change”. She asked: “Why did you go out of your way to undermine the strategy of your leader?”
Fitzgibbon responded: “Because I wasn’t prepared to allow the cheesecloth brigade in the (Labor) caucus to use Biden’s win to argue for an even more ambitious climate change policy … that was going to cost us another election.”
Kelly regarded this as a “disparaging way” to describe “the millions of Australians who want action on climate change”. Well, millions do. And millions also want to retain their jobs in minerals, agricultural and manufacturing and the service industries that support them.
There is a tendency among members of the city intelligentsia to look down on Australia’s primary industry workforce. For example, on ABC Radio National’s Saturday Extra on July 27, Geraldine Doogue interviewed La Trobe University emeritus professor of politics Judith Brett on the publication of her recent Quarterly Essay, The Coal Curse. Brett told listeners: “Let’s not get overexcited about the jobs in coalmining … these are male, well-paid jobs; they’re unionised jobs. There’s a sort of masculinism about these jobs that tweaks a lot of chords for many Australians — they seem to like real blokes out there.”
Brett has spent her working life in universities. She seems unaware that the revenue from Australia’s coal and other mineral exports has helped protect the nation from the worst impacts of the pandemic recession. She also seems ignorant of the fact the minerals industry employs many women.
This is what Fitzgibbon is on about when he says that many of Australia’s inner-city set overlook the worth of their fellow rural and regional Australians.
Then there is the US election. What’s surprising about the result is that Donald Trump won so many votes at a time of pandemic and recession. Also, he received the second highest primary vote — 73 million votes. This is behind Joe Biden’s 78 million votes but ahead of the next best — Barack Obama’s 70 million votes in 2008.
A surprise result of the election was that the Democrats did so poorly in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. On CNN last Wednesday, Andrew Yang (who was defeated in his attempt to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president) pointed out that many believe the Democrats have taken up the cause of the “coastal urban elites who are more concerned about policing various social issues than improving the way of life” of Americans.
In a leak from an online discussion, House Democrat Abigail Spanberger, from Virginia, described her party’s congressional performance as “a failure”. She called for the words socialist and socialism not to be used again by members of her party.
While Labor fails to connect with its traditional base it will struggle to win elections. Biden won’t be on the Labor Party’s ticket in 2022, which is a long way short of 2050.