The Sydney Morning Herald
August 6, 2020

A co-author of the Rudd government’s carbon reduction scheme has warned Australia is still not doing enough to reduce greenhouse emissions or prepare for a warmer climate, while arguing Scott Morrison’s focus on technology could end badly.

Former Prime Minister’s Department secretary Martin Parkinson has also used a podcast to say the Greens were much to blame for Australia’s failure to put a price on carbon and that social media and “Sky After Dark” were undermining facts vital to political decisions.

Dr Parkinson, a former head of Treasury, was in charge of the then Climate Change Department when Labor released its Carbon Price Reduction Scheme that was narrowly defeated in the Senate in 2009. It was a key issue in the downfall of Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who was replaced by Tony Abbott, an opponent of the scheme.

According to Dr Parkinson, who left the public service last year, the CPRS was “world’s best policy” that would have given business certainty over the price of carbon and delivered a pathway for Australia to reduce its emissions.

Instead, it was defeated in the Senate where the Greens sided with most of the Coalition.

“If you were a Green who voted down the CPRS, what have you gained? A decade on, we have still got a manifestly inadequate target, we’re not doing enough on mitigation, we’re not doing enough on adaptation,” he told the Blenheim Partners’ No Limitations podcast.

“We’ve made no real progress on adaptation. We’ve made no real progress on mitigation. So, well done, Greens.”

After axing the Gillard government’s carbon tax, the Coalition has adopted the “direct action” policy to reduce carbon emissions which Dr Parkinson described as a “policy you have when you’re not having a policy”.

The Coalition had also considered a clean energy target and national energy guarantee, with the government now focused on a technology investment roadmap which it says will lift investment in low emissions technology.

But Dr Parkinson said the Morrison government’s position was a risk as it covered far less of the economy than a price on carbon.

He said government selection of technology was a recipe for trouble, especially if politicians had to make choices between funding a greenhouse technology against other interests such as health or education.

“You run the risk of ending up in a bad position,” he said.

Dr Parkinson said Australia’s failure to start adapting to climate change was partly driven by the large differences between “deniers” and those with a “religious” belief in the phenomenon.

He said “deniers” who supported adaptation were effectively conceding that climate change was real. Those with a religious belief in climate change, by supporting adaptation, were in their own minds admitting defeat.

Dr Parkinson said the political system had struggled over the past decade, in part because of the narrow experience of politicians but also because of the rise of social media.

He said social media and late-night Sky television programs encouraged people to seek out news or views that agreed with their own rather than being pulled to a “centrist compromise”.

He said before social media, a person who might believe that “red heads are destroying the country” would be called out as an idiot by their friends at the pub, mates at a football match or even in their church congregation.

“(Now) somebody 10,000km away says ‘mate, not only are you right but here’s what you can do about it’,” he said.

“It’s very hard for (politicians) to distinguish how many people have a view. All they can hear is the amount of noise. When you look at things like Sky After Dark or social media you’re actually getting a megaphone and that megaphone might only be being used by a small number of people.”

Article by Shane Wright


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