Prime Minister Scott Morrison used both of his favourite methods of deception in announcing his net-zero policy this week: smoke AND mirrors. The smoke hides and the mirror deflects.
He has been roundly condemned by academics; business; think tanks and journalists. But it was still masterful – a brilliant conjuring performance. You can abbreviate that to “con job”.
But it goes a long way to explaining why Morrison and the Coalition could win the next election,as in 2019, despite a looming change in electoral dynamics which I will explain in a future column.
The 2019 election win was not the “miracle” described by Morrison the Believer. It was a smoke-and- mirrors trick performed by Morrison the Conjurer.
The smoke was used to hide all his Ministers so he could perform alone and to hide the detailed consequences of his policies. The mirrors were used to deflect attention to the Labor Party’s death tax, which did not exist.
It is the same with the Coalition’s new commitment to net zero. The smoke hides the facts that the technology to reduce the emissions has not yet been invented; that there is no legislative requirement; and no new Federal action.
The mirrors deflect the fact that the bribes to get the Nationals on board and the “investment” in unicorn technologies like carbon capture will cost the public purse more than any carbon tax or carbon caps and will let the polluters (who should pay) off the hook. The mirrors deflect attention to Labor’s “big carbon tax”.
The conjurer sawed a woman in half. The conjurer pulled a rabbit out of an empty hat. The conjurer moved the three cups so fast no-one could tell which one the pea was under. No he did not. The woman stayed in one piece. The rabbit came from somewhere else or the hat had a false bottom. And the pea was only placed under a cup after the shuffling ended.
Morrison the Conjurer got the Nationals to commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Morrison the Conjurer has solved Australia’s emissions problem.
But he hasn’t.
The Canberra Times headline summed it up: “A net-zero plan that makes no sense the deeper you look.”
Therein lies the tragedy for Australia. Eighty percent of the voters do not dig very deeply, if at all.
Many voters will applaud the conjurer as has British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He who has notoriously pulled electoral victories out of a morass of deceit and chaos. Nearly all the other voters will not look deeply enough to see they have been conned. Or they are just sick of it all.
The aim, of course, is to divert electoral attention away from climate change and create the illusion that the problem has been solved.
But, and it is a big but, our major trading partners will most certainly dig deeply into the Australian commitment, and they will find it lacking. They will impose retaliatory tariffs on Australian exports, particularly agriculture, hurting the very people the National Party purport to represent.
Further, a very large, but not widely trumpeted change in attitude to climate change has occurred among a key group – the billionaires. Hitherto, they have supported their billionaire colleagues in fossil industries who over the years set up think tanks to try to discredit climate science and poured millions into lobbying to ensure nothing was done to hurt the profits flowing to their industry.
In Australia, billionaire publisher Rupert Murdoch, billionaire miner Andrew Forrest and the Business Council of Australia have changed their tune.
The billionaires’ club has finally realised that climate change is real and poses a far greater threat to their profits and power than any regulation to mitigate and/or reverse it. They do not want to fry either. Moreover, they see a way of making large profits out of government support for renewable energy.
Even that bastion of capitalism the International Monetary Fund has called not only for action, but asserted that carbon caps and taxes are the only way to reduce emissions quickly enough to avert economic catastrophe.
In the past, the billionaires’ club has allowed billionaires in other industries to succumb to regulatory strangulation or extinction after previously supporting their long campaigns denying the public harm they have commited: tobacco; hydrofluorocarbons; asbestos; and even pharmaceutical opiates.
Morrison’s conjuring trick and ruling out carbon caps and taxes might get him through to the election, but whoever wins will not be able to withstand the collective forces of international capitalism and will inevitably rule them back in.
Of course, it would have been better not to have wasted another six months on top of 10 years of failure to seize the opportunities of renewables. But it might have been too much to ask Morrison the Parliamentary Coal Handler to admit that he had sacrificed so much Australian economic opportunity to keep a few Queensland votes.
Humans do not move easily, just a so many ordinary people duped into climate denialism by Big Fossil propaganda cannot bring themselves to now acknowledge the impending disaster and the need massive action to avoid it.
Now that the billionaires’ club has seemingly cast off the fossil industry, they might develop the really useful carbon capture and storage technology – not capturing carbon as coal and gas are mined and burned, but extracting the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Because at north-west Tasmania’s aptly named Cape Grim and at Hawaii’s 3400m high Mauna Loa Observatory – where you will find the cleanest air on the planet – the measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere inexorably and relentlessly climb ever upward. It is now 413 parts per million, up from 315 in 1957.
Proven, measured fact.
This week’s smoke and mirrors are an ephemeral irrelevancy, aside from tarnishing Australia’s good name, but let’s at least hope the billionaires are on side.
This article was first published in The Canberra Times and rother Australian media on 30 October 2021.
Crispin Hull BA, LLB (Hons) | Property Convenor | ANU School of Legal Practice Lawyer of the Supreme Court of the ACT, on the Register of Practitioners kept by the High Court of Australia