In Australia, Abbott’s Disaster in the Making

Australian PM Tony Abbott
Australian PM Tony Abbott

If you’re a big company or tycoon with lots of cash and don’t care too much about labour laws or the environment, Australia is the place for you.

Climate change? Don’t worry about it. The government doesn’t, why should you?

Red tape? It’s heading out the door. Along with the green tape, too.

Tough labour laws and a meddlesome civil service? No problem. The government is busy rolling back “restrictive” labour practices and making deep cuts to government services.

Science? Only if it makes money. Anything to do with conservation and environmental science is being slashed back. We don’t want anything to hold back all the new mines, do we?

In six months since winning the election, the government of Tony Abbott has trampled upon just about every regulation and the rights and freedoms that have defined Australia. Over the past century, strong labour movements and passionate environmental activism have created fair and decent working conditions and tough conservation laws that protect the environment from unbridled development.

Abbott’s government is seeking to roll much of this back and in the process create an Australia that many will not recognise. Of course, if you’re on the right side of the outcome, such as the head of a powerful mining firm, you might do nicely. But for many Australians, the future might become less rosy than they expected.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while for many Australians to wake up. Indeed, they are largely to blame for the mess. They elected Abbott and his associates knowing full well they had no credible agenda and seemed intent on destroying everything the previous Labor government created, particularly anything with a climate or clean energy focus. Abbott’s election agenda was full of spite and destruction, not of growth or support for innovation.

Abbott also wanted to create a business-friendly Australia. But everyone in Australia knows this is code for looking after your mates at the big end of town. And what’s particularly disturbing is that Abbott and his ministers do not seem to care about the damage they’re creating and haven’t fully comprehended the impact of that damage on the country or their own political survival when it blows up in their face.

That is what makes them truly dangerous. Abbott’s government is driven by blind ideology and seem incapable of rational, consensus-driven policy-making focused on the greater good of the country. It’s all top-down, dictatorial and nasty.

It is hoped that this government will go into what is called over-reach. Meaning that they’ll simply go too far and the broader electorate will finally wake up. By then you would hope Australia will have a credible and politically savvy opposition. At the moment, it doesn’t.

It could be a while before the present policy rape and pillage is halted. Australia has become a very affluent place and most Australians, though certainly not all, live very comfortable, material lives. And with that, they have also become pretty selfish and not too much concerned with politics as long as it doesn’t affect their comfortable, affluent bubbles of existence. But start messing about with job security, wages, property prices and a clean environment, then you’re in trouble. And Abbott’s government is risking just that with its review of workplace laws. Abbott might have pledged not to mess with wages and conditions but his government’s actions suggest the opposite is true.

Australians also need an independent, investigative and interested media. Here, too, they are let down. The excellent Australian Broadcasting Corp tries to fill the gap but is under attack by the very government that funds it – because the ABC has been busy exposing the government’s misdeeds. As is typical of Abbott government, it viciously attacks anyone who dares to speak out against them. Fairfax Media also tries to fill the void as well as smaller outfits such as The Conversation and

Bu many Australians still rely on the Murdoch empire for their news and Rupert is very much in the Abbott corner. So do not expect his newspapers or TV stations to give Australians unbiased news. Instead, he’s all too happy to give the paying public highly selective reportage on politics and plenty of vacuous coverage of film and entertainment and titillation to keep the masses amused. Who wants real news, anyway? Better to have a brain-dead public.

For those who doubt the current government is a disaster, here’s a selection of recent actions that have earned them widespread ire:

n  Abbott wants to strip 74,000 hectares (185,000 acres) of forest in Tasmania state of its World Heritage listing. The wilderness area is part of a larger parcel of 175,000 ha requested and approved by Unesco last year when Labor was in power. Abbott and his Environment Minister Greg Hunt say the area is degraded, should never have been included (a view greens dispute) and should be opened up for logging. This decision comes after years of negotiations to craft a deal on managing Tasmania’s forests. Allowing the resumption of logging in the area could spark conflict. Earlier this month, Abbott told a forest industry meeting that Australia had too much forest placed within national parks, declaring that the country is now “open for business for the forestry industry”.

n  Abbott has consistently failed to fully brief Australians about a controversial programme aimed at stopping asylum seekers trying to cross by boat from Indonesia to Australian territory. Illegal incursions into Indonesian waters by the Australian navy, allegations of abuse of asylum seekers and embarrassing spying scandals have seriously damaged relations between the neighbours.

n  Abbott is hell-bent on scrapping a well-designed carbon pricing scheme that has business buy-in and is attempting to replace it with a system that won’t work. Abbott hates the existing carbon tax scheme (brought in by Labor) and wants the Senate to repeal it mid-year.

But the Direct Action scheme meant to replace it has been widely panned as unable to achieve Australia’s internationally pledged emissions reductions by 2020. Direct Action aims to pay polluters for low-cost carbon abatement through a A$1.55 billion emissions reduction fund – bankrolled by taxpayer cash. Yet it has no emissions cap, is not mandatory, has no links to international markets or an explicit price on emissions, all of which are necessary to achieve cuts, says The Climate Institute. A Senate inquiry into the Direct Action scheme has attracted scores of submissions.

n  Last month, Abbott approved the appointment of self-confessed climate sceptic Dick Warburton to head up a mandatory review of the country’s renewable energy target scheme, or RET. Warburton is businessman and former central bank board member and has come under intense scrutiny by greens as an inappropriate choice to review a scheme that has mobilised billions of dollars in renewable energy investment, particularly wind. The RET mandates a target of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 in Australia and is backed by tradeable renewable energy certificates to reward investors. But Abbott says the RET has helped drive up power prices and that renewables are too heavily subsidised by taxpayers, suggesting he wants the RET scheme scaled back. Investors are furious.

n  His government approved a major expansion of a coal port within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the dumping of 3 million tonnes of dredging spoils within the park as well. While the government has imposed strict environmental conditions, it later emerged the government ignored internal concerns from the marine park authority (whose leadership backed the project). A report from the authority, obtained under freedom of information provisions, said “the proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million cubic metres of sediment per year … has the potential to cause long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef”.

n  A ”green army” of 15,000 young people will be paid as little as half the minimum wage, according to legislation introduced for the scheme aimed at using unemployed youth to create a large environmental workforce. However, the nation’s top union body, greens and others have criticised the scheme because the workers will be excluded from protections granted by federal workplace laws and say the program threatens to push youth wage rates sharply lower in one of the world’s most expensive countries.

As bad as things are, Australia is not the only place where dictatorial, climate-sceptic leaders are wreaking havoc. There’s another big, resource-rich Western country whose image has “gone from a nation admired for its sophistication in mediating, peacekeeping and working co-operatively in multilateral institutions to one that’s belligerent, divisive and dismissive of the United Nations and other international institutions.”

That nation is Canada.

In his latest book How We Lead, Joe Clark, former Conservative prime minister, laments the deterioration of Canada’s international reputation under current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is infamous for pulling Canada out of the U.N.’s Kyoto climate pact and his fervent support for exploiting tar sands deposits.

Harper has been in power for eight and it’s clear his unbalanced policies are taking their toll on a once vibrant economy. It’s hard to see Australia surviving eight years of Tony Abbott.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.