Tim Flannery talks with Robert Manne

Paul Johnson:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the first of a large and successful series of lunchtime events that we’re going to be putting on in the university, to address a whole series of issues of significance to Australian and international society. We have tremendous expertise within our university, within our alumni groups as well. There are no issue of greater concern just at present in the world then the issue of climate change and sustainability. Today I am delighted to welcome someone who I think someone who probably needs no introduction, Professor Tim Flannery to come here and talk with Professor Robert Manne to talk about sustainability, climate change, politics, the world, a whole range of issues. Tim, Robert, over to you. Thank you.

Robert Manne:

Can I raise a melancholy topic before I get onto a more optimistic one about your own role in this, Australia. I have views about the Rudd Government’s response, and I’ve been basically a supporter of many things the Rudd Government has done, but not in this area. I’m more interested in what you think about how the government’s behaved in the area.

Tim Flannery:

Well I think it’s been spectacularly inept politics in many ways. We’ve seen people come into power with the right aspirations, they want to reduce emissions, they want to have their own CPRS scheme and all the rest of it, but from the very start what Rudd has said is this will be a middle of the road scheme, so we’re going to alienate the polluters and we’re going to alienate the greens, we’re going to be in the middle of the road. And I can’t believe he thought there was anyone in the middle of the road. There’s no one there, we’re either on one side or the other. So what’s the politics of the middle of the road on this issue? It doesn’t exist. And of course that’s reflected most strongly in the senate, where you either play with the Liberals or you play with the Greens and the minor parties. So you’ve either got to green up the middle of the road scheme or let it die.

That is the reality, so it was a fundamental political blunder, but there was another error made, when Ross Garnaut produced his report. The first important point he made was don’t give away any concessions, because once you start giving away concessions, everyone will be in for their chop. So what does the Rudd government do? First thing, give away $3.9 billion to the states, the old coal fired power generators in NSW and so forth. Just because they’re in the same political party, does that mean you‘ve got to do that? I don’t know, but as soon as they did that, then trade exposed industries, we’ve got to have our chop. And then Woodside, God bless their cotton socks, gas generators who you thought would never be in on this, we’ve got to have our bit too. And now coal, believe it or not, is a trade exposed industry. Can you believe that? Coal! So now they want $20 billion. It just goes on and on and on, and of course, you could see it with the very first concession being given. So there’ll be no money now, at least in that scheme, to compensate people who are hard hit, pensioners and so forth by these rises in electricity, and the scheme has lost a lot of it’s integrity. The difference between that and the Waxman-Markey approach is really salutary. Because sure there was a lot of horse trading with Waxman-Markey but none of it was around the core objectives of the bill, the tradeoffs were elsewhere. That’s American politics. In Australia we’ve traded away the very centre of efficiency.

Having said all of that, Robert, I’ve got to say that I’m still a supporter of the CPRS and think we have to pass it through the senate. We’ve got to take a first step, as flawed as it may be we have to take that first step. Because if this bill dies, how long will it be before another bill can be resurrected or another approach happen. Our emissions peak in 2015, we have to.

Robert Manne:

I’m very interested in the difficulties the Rudd Government has had. You know more about this than anyone I know, that is the different atmosphere in Australian corporate world to the atmosphere in the corporate world outside Australia. One of the things that seems to be a problem is the corporate sector in Australia has not been coming to the party in a way that, I think your experience, it has from elsewhere.

Tim Flannery:

I chair a thing called the Copenhagen Climate Council, we made a decision two years ago that we’re going to do a lot of stuff overseas, because here it was looking so dismal, but we just held the world’s biggest business summit on climate change in Copenhagen. We had 500 CEOs from companies like BP and Intel and so forth there. That was a fantastic event, and those people signed on to a very aggressive call called The Copenhagen Call for Emission Reductions and a proper framework for this new treaty that is going to be brokered. That Copenhagen Call we put out has had accolades from green groups now which is fantastic. We’ve had a few complaints as well but by and large people are thinking it’s a job well done, and yet when you come back to Australia who is the voice on business and climate change? Mitch Hook! Who in their right mind would let Mitch Hook be the voice on climate change for BHP? My Godfather, I mean really, the Australian Mining Council is just way out there on a twig and it’s just so pathetic to see that happen. And I can’t understand why businesses here who have a stake in a better future for the country and in the scheme aren’t raising their voice in a similar way to what we saw in Copenhagen. And the brutality of the industry lobby is ridiculous, the energy people coming up and saying that the lights will go out if we don’t give them more money, that’s blackmail, it’s not negotiating, it’s just disgusting.

Robert Manne:

Is there any other country, in the western world at least, where you would have so much media coverage of denialism or skepticism?

Tim Flannery:

No. The Australian is unique as far as I’ve seen. There may be some papers in the mid-west of the USA that are just as bad, the Cooch Grass Chronicle for example, but I don’t know. They win the medal for that.

Robert Manne:

Perhaps the most important thing for an audience like this is for you to say something about what students can do. I mean everyone comes away from meetings like this feeling that it matters and then wondering what is it that we can do. Do you have any sense of what can be done?

Tim Flannery:

I do, and I think that action campaigns that remain within the law, but are still hard hitting towards the offending industries is important, it’s one thing students can do that we can’t do. I can’t do that, but young people have time. But you see it today with forestry, there’s a lot of people who commit their lives to protecting forests which is a very noble and wonderful thing that can be done, but they don’t realize that those forests are in peril not just from the axe man but by climate change as well. So I think there’s a role for that determined voice to be heard from young people, after all it’s your future, the younger you are the bigger stake you have in the issue. You and I might have a miserable old age, but you won’t have a miserable middle age if you get the problem solved.

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