Abbott’s ghost lurks behind Dutton’s climate strategy

With his attack on the Albanese government's climate policy this week, Peter Dutton is taking the Liberals straight back to the times of Tony Abbott.

It is a daring and dangerous strategy, focused on big goals, marked by loads of negativity and seasoned with a pinch of political adventurism.

Former chief scientist Ian Lowe said in an article within the Guardian: “Given the attitude of the population, this looks like the stupidest political death wish in recent history.”

But some in Labor quickly realised that this was a “two-stage strategy” by Dutton. They desired to give attention to the suburban seats where individuals are under a whole lot of financial pressure. They wanted to offer up the blue-green seats for the moment. They desired to attempt to force Anthony Albanese right into a minority government. And then they hoped to use the instability that may lead to the subsequent term.

This is how Abbott – like Dutton, an unusual Liberal leader – got here to government. Of course, Dutton needed to hold the leadership for a second term in opposition (which was somewhat easier since Josh Frydenberg was not available).

Dutton's climate strategy addresses two major current problems: the high cost of living and the resistance of many communities to the expansion of renewable energy infrastructure.

As opposition leader, Abbott described Labor's program to cut back carbon emissions as a “big new tax on everything”.

Dutton is updating an old theme, attacking the Albanese government's goal of reducing emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 – Australia's pledge under the Paris climate agreement – and accusing it of “destroying the economy”.

Abbott's campaign brought him a political win, but at a big cost to Australia's energy policy. But times have modified on this never-ending climate debate, and Dutton's climate policy march is in quicksand.

A pointed query was asked at an Albanese press conference this week. With the fee of living crucial issue for people, did Australians want one other election on climate change?

Probably not. To sustain his gamble, Dutton must persuade voters that Australia's climate targets are hurting them through their energy bills. He must also persuade them that the energy transition will be safely slowed and that nuclear power is credible and desirable.

This is a big task that puts a whole lot of pressure on politicians. And the opposition has to date approached this task with extraordinary sloppiness.

Months ago, it was already indicated that the country would announce its nuclear policy before the budget was passed. But then the plan was postponed.

The company's nuclear strategy initially focused on small modular reactors. It later shifted its focus to larger reactors to be built on or near coal-fired power plants once they are decommissioned.

In an interview with the Australian newspaper last weekend, Dutton said the 2030 goal was unattainable. However, he left open whether a coalition government would follow the Paris Agreement. Shadow Energy Minister Ted O'Brien needed to clear the air, saying a Dutton government wouldn’t try to drag out of the Paris Agreement.

Such disarray is a feature of the Dutton opposition, which usually makes it vulnerable and causes confusion amongst the general public.

Policy research shall be behind Dutton's lines. If we take a look at public research, the recently released Lowy Institute 2024 poll paints a posh picture.

In that poll, 57% said global warming was a serious and urgent problem that “we should take action now, even if it comes at a significant cost.” Only 30% said the issue should be addressed, “but its effects will be gradual, so we can tackle the problem gradually, by taking action that has little cost.”

There were differences by way of age and political beliefs. Young individuals are more motivated by global warming than old people, and the identical is true for Labour supporters in comparison with Coalition supporters.

Beyond general attitudes, trends on the related topic of energy are very relevant. Some 48% say that reducing household energy costs needs to be the essential priority of the federal government's energy policy, up 16 points from 2021. Those who say that reducing CO2 emissions needs to be the essential priority have fallen by 18 points to 37%.

The results show how changing circumstances change people’s priorities over time (and the way these can, in fact, change again).

The Dutton strategy is a backwards-loading policy, making less effort now (thereby putting much of the issue on the back burner) and counting on nuclear power after 2040 to realize net-zero emissions by 2050, a goal Dutton says the Coalition still supports. Progress to 2050 doesn't need to be a straight line, he says.

The Government's argument is that while the energy transition is difficult, it’s urgent and progress should be cumulative. Failure to satisfy our 2030 goal would damage each investor confidence and Australia's international status.

Dutton says he is not going to announce the goals of a coalition government until after the election. Of course, those goals, in the event that they are achieved in any respect, could be lower than those of Labor.

That position would cost the Coalition some votes. Dutton would need to depend on other voters to not get too worked up about his lack of targets. That would allow him to give attention to attacking not only the federal government's current 2030 goal, but additionally the 2035 goal it must submit early next yr under the Paris Agreement.

The government could also be more vulnerable in the talk over the 2035 goal than in the present dispute over the 2030 goal.

The Climate Change Authority will present a advice to Energy Minister Chris Bowen by October on what the 2035 goal should appear to be. In its discussion paper, the authority has proposed a variety of 65-75% emissions reductions in comparison with 2005 levels. The authority believes that this “could be achievable and sustainable if governments, businesses, investors and households take additional action to achieve it”.

This would represent a big increase in ambition in comparison with the 2030 reduction goal of 43 percent, particularly on condition that there’s controversy over whether this goal will be achieved.

The government doesn’t have to simply accept the authority's advice if it considers it too high. However, if it rejects it, it exposes itself to attack from the Greens.

The Greens, for his or her part, say if a Dutton government tries to back away from the present 2030 goal, it could be breaching the law the Albanese government passed to enshrine the goal. (That could spur legal motion from a Coalition government, assuming it cannot repeal the law.)

Despite his claims that he could return to government in only one term, in practice he doesn’t expect to face this problem any time soon as a part of a two-term strategy. The herculean challenge facing Dutton is to make nuclear power palatable to voters.

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