The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is facing the ‘untastly’ scenario of having to eat his words.
As the government´s treasurer in 2017, Morrison addressed parliament and said sarcastically to the opposition whilst brandishing a piece of coal: ‘Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you. It’s coal’.
Now, as Prime Minister and leader of the Coalition Government, he aims to win his party another term in power. On his campaign Morrison has prioritised traditional issues and has attacked the Labour Party on issues around the economy, saying a vote for Labour is ‘an economic leap in the dark’. However, politics has changed since he decided to bring fossil fuels to Parliament and the climate is no longer a cause for laughter.
In recent months, Australia has experienced severe weather conditions and particularly along their East Coast. The human impacts on climate have encouraged severe droughts, they have poisoned the Murray Darling river system killing millions of fish and in the cool southern region of Tasmania wild bushfires have destroyed vast swathes of land. What’s more, after the country’s hottest year on record cities such as Sydney, Darwin, Brisbane and Melbourne are facing the prospect of water shortages as regional dams have dropped to below 50 per cent capacity. Unfortunately for Morrison, there is nowhere for him to hide. People are demanding climate action.
However, one can afford to lack sympathy because Morrison and his party had been warned. In recent months Australia has been at the forefront of the world’s climate movement, leading the way in the school strikes, the stop Adani coalmine campaign, and last week saw the first signs of similar Extinction Rebellion activity that has been so effective across Europe.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, for the first time in its history, and perhaps setting a political precedent across the world, Australia is going to be voting predominantly on environmental policies. Last month, in a poll of 100,000 Australians the environment was rated as the number one issue by 29 per cent, a huge increase from 9 per cent in 2016. Behind the environment, the economy stills remains a priority (23 per cent), but people really want climate action first.
So, two years on from his lump of coal speech, voters are to have their say and Morrison looks to be their victim. As it stands, the opposition Labour party are leading the way 52-48 per cent in the polls.
Their leader Bill Shorten appears committed to leading his party to victory on an environmental ticket. In this week’s debate Shorten pledged to reduce emissions by 45 per cent and introduce 50 per cent renewables to the economy by 2030, saying:
‘On this issue, perhaps above all others, the contrast and the case for change is night and day, black and white’.
Shorten is not free from environmental criticism and his approval of the creation of the Adani coal mine (Queensland) has left many sceptical of his climate credentials. Yet, it is the clear sense of retribution towards the current Prime Minster that sits so well with environmentalists. So often, politicians take sides on an issue and then down the line, when it suits them electorally, they mould themselves differently.
However, this is a pure scenario like no other. If the polls are correct, and we will find out on May 18th, Morrison will have to pay the highest political price for his ignorance and I can think of no better way for it to be.