If Scott Morrison doesn’t go to the Glasgow climate conference, “his absence will send a very strong message about his priorities”, Malcolm Turnbull said this week during his general boycott of the prime minister.
Absolutely, would be. And Morrison’s priorities are clear. At the top of the list is political survival in next year’s election. Whether his political career lives or dies in that election will depend largely on how he manages the issues of COVID and climate in the coming weeks and months.
From now on the course of COVID is unpredictable. Despite the general (and politically acclaimed) enthusiasm at the prospect of lifting or easing restrictions in NSW and Victoria, what happens next is highly uncertain, at least in the short term. And Queensland is suddenly a concern.
He may be the PM but COVID management is always in his hands (except for the vaccine rollout, and we know the story there). The premolars will continue to flex their muscles.
Nor is climate policy, even at the federal level, under Morrison’s complete control. He is determined to achieve that 2050 net-zero goal for Glasgow, but can’t do it without the Nationals signing up.
We are being reminded how citizens work differently from Morrison’s preferred way of working. The PM likes secrecy, strictly adhering to talking points, then everything placed before the curtain is pulled aside to appear as a trumpet at ground level. When it arrives, there will be plenty of tinsel in the climate package.
Conversely, nations as minor partners in the alliance believe they have to play harder and harder to get what they want. Also, these days the party is full of bomb throwers, who do what they like.
Any notion of cabinet cohesion is out the window, as we saw when National Senate leader Bridget McKenzie went public this week at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in an opinion piece at the Australian Financial Review.
Mackenzie wrote: “It’s easier for a member than for Kuyong”. [Frydenberg] or members of Wentworth [Dave Sharma] To publicly embrace net zero before the position of government, as zero would have a real impact on the way of life of their affluent constituents.
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The next day, at a (virtual) joint news conference with Mackenzie called on another matter, Frydenberg countered with “climate change has no postcode”. Scientifically he is correct. But, politically, a challenge for both the Coalition and Labor in the climate debate is that it is often viewed as being differentiated according to voters’ postcodes. Hence Labor’s past problems in an attempt to deliver a different message to coal and inner-city voters.
It is said by insiders that Mackenzie was helping Joyce, making it clear that Nuts is not to be taken lightly, although the casual observer’s impression was added to the chaos.
The mood of Morrison, who is quarantined in the lodge, should be mixed. He is buoyed by his US visit, its AUKUS agreement and the promise of nuclear-powered submarines, even if he is in his 70s by the time of their delivery (perhaps criticizing his successors, as fashioned by the former prime minister). has been made). But they should also be dismayed that the policy and political difficulties of reaching a climate agreement within the coalition make the road to AUKUS seem like a walk in the park.
The bar is also being raised, as this week the NSW Coalition Government raised its ambition to cut emissions by 50% by 2030.
Nevertheless, Liberal backbenchers who sought a virtual meeting with Morrison to present their views before Glasgow were convinced by his response, including his indications that he found his discussions with Joyce constructive. Many liberals on Tuesday’s call spoke about the local political context they faced.
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It is not just Glasgow and pressure from Joe Biden and Boris Johnson that is making it imperative for Morrison to secure a settlement by 2050. Many liberals in secure seats will face the streamlined and cash-up challenges of independent candidates campaigning on climate change. Climate 200’s Simon Holmes Court says it already has more than $1.5 million in the kitty.
Independents will also be preoccupied with another issue that is a weak point for Morrison – integrity. Roarting (sports grants, car parks) is a touching point for voters, tapping into their distrust of politicians, and the government still hasn’t set up an integrity commission (it promises to introduce legislation before Christmas).
Given the electoral system, it is very difficult for independent candidates to win seats in the House of Representatives. Most recently his chances have been at best where the incumbent has weakened (this helped clinch wins at Indy, Mayo and Warringah), or dropped out (Wentworth after Turnbull resigned, although the seat is now back in Liberal hands). has arrived).
So one should not expect an influx of new independent candidates next year. But the prospect of management managing to add a number of people hoping to be re-elected will worry Morrison. Particularly if the election resulted in a hung parliament, which is not out of the question, voters have become disillusioned on both sides.
What Morrison has announced on the climate is unlikely to be enough, because with a firm target of 2050 and something for the medium term, the government has been widely criticized for failing to achieve sufficient medium-term ambition. can hope.
Morrison raised the possibility of not attending the Glasgow summit while abroad in an interview with West Australian, saying he ultimately decided not to. “It’s another trip abroad … and I’ve spent a lot of time in quarantine.”
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The Glasgow conference comes immediately after the G20; Morrison couldn’t go one without the other.
While there would be much criticism of his failure in Glasgow, the harsh counter-argument would be that leaving the country in a time of high COVID uncertainty could backfire.
Unlike the American Tour, Morrison would receive no accolade in Glasgow. He will be seen as the best under-performer who, in the face of immense pressure, upped his game to a greater or lesser degree.
Morrison’s absence from Glasgow would give ammunition to his opponents and those independent candidates. The more important issue, however, is the quality of the policy he unveiled, on home soil, before the summit.
Also, whether he travels can be left to a decision on how the COVID situation is going to look like, though a cynic suggests that until the decision is finalised, then He might have been wiser to remain silent on the possibility of cancellation until.