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Australia’s Best Chance – John Quiggin

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Australia’s Best Chance – John Quiggin

On the evening of May 21, as polls closed, most of the comments focused on the depressing election campaign that had just ended, in which both big parties had avoided any substantial confrontation on political issues, focusing instead on trying to discredit the opposing leader.

Even the best of Australian politics had expected a reversal of the last parliamentary composition, with an Australian Labor Party (ALP) able to win enough seats to form a narrow majority and an increase of one or two seats for the independents. As we later found out, these predictions were wrong. The National Liberal Party (LNP) has lost many “crown jewels” to the benefit of ecological forces, namely the Greens and the party of independents (nicknamed “teal” because they combine a conservative fiscal policy with a program attentive to the climate crisis).

This means that the new Labor government will have to face a climate challenge different from the one anticipated: rather than avoid making excessive concessions to historical adversaries, Labor will have to find ways to adopt more ambitious climate policies. It will be impossible for the government to use the most effective lever (a tax on carbon dioxide emissions) because the liberals have managed to irreparably poison the debate on the subject. But there are other ways to accelerate Australia’s transition to cleaner and greener energy, starting with public investment in large-scale wind and photovoltaic projects.

The next three years will be very difficult both economically and politically, but the turning point sanctioned by the elections has paved the way for an equally radical change in climate policy. If the measures taken are courageous enough, a bright future awaits us.

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A crucial issue
Labor’s path to victory was unusual. The party, in fact, will rule the country despite a vote in the primary which has fallen to the lowest since the postwar period, well below the defeats of 1996 and 1975.

Outside of Western Australia (where the outcome was largely determined by the success of the Marc McGowan government’s anti-covid policy), Labor has essentially confirmed the numbers it had previously.

The big surprise of the elections was the liberals’ loss of a series of seats considered safe, won by the Greens and the independents. All the winning candidates in these seats based their campaign above all on climate change, a theme that the big parties and most of the media had decided to put aside as too dangerous and divisive.

During the election campaign there was talk of the possibility of a blocked parliament, and for this reason both large parties had promised (with little credibility) that they would never make an alliance with the Greens or with the independents to guarantee the possibility of governing. . Realistically, one possible scenario looked like one in which Labor could offer a slightly more ambitious climate agenda to facilitate the creation of a minority government.

In retrospect it is evident that the assumption of those analyzes was a confirmation of the usual political mechanism in Australia: a two-party system in which a handful of interdependents occasionally played a crucial role in forming a majority. All comments on the eve of the elections took for granted the confirmation of this scenario. Independents were seen as a potential threat to a couple of liberals in urban colleges, while the Greens were essentially ignored.

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Instead, the system has undergone a shock of enormous proportions. Australia has radically changed its political scene. The prerequisites for the two-party system no longer exist. Even if Labor can count on the majority, it is unlikely that it will be able to confirm it in the next elections, also because the economic circumstances that the next government will have to face will be prohibitive. As for the liberals of the LNP, unless they manage to regain some lost seats for the benefit of the Greens and the independents, they will have no chance of forming a government in the next elections, even if they win a clear victory over Labor in the seats. traditionally more competitive.

The challenge for Labor will be to adapt to this new world. The party will have to find ways to meet the climate demands clearly expressed by voters, among other things after excluding all obvious options during the election campaign. The new LNP leader, on the other hand, will have the unenviable task of regaining lost inland areas, while trying to appease a party dominated by climate change deniers and coal “fans”.

After ruling out the possibility of a tax on emissions, Labor will have to be much more aggressive with the mechanism inherited from the LNP, which in itself will not be anywhere near sufficient.

The real need is to promote rapid growth in large-scale wind and photovoltaic projects and a much greater effort to facilitate the transition to electric vehicles. The solution could shift in part from public investment, following the Queensland CleanCo model, or from greater use of subsidized loans through the Clean energy finance corporation and the new Rewiring the nation corporation. The political attraction of this approach lies in the fact that the two agencies are external to the budget, therefore the expenditure would not affect a public debt that will suffer the effects of the anti-pandemic measures in the next few years.

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Democracy, however imperfect, works through the possibility of change, and these elections have shown us that the political system can change. Now it will be necessary to apply politics – the art of the possible – to the mission of modifying our energy systems, abandoning fossil fuels and marrying clean energy. We have never had a better chance.

(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)

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