'In politics, as in religion and life, it is all about hope' a cabinet minister told journalist Niki Savva. For those Australians worried sick about climate change, there is very little hope to be had from the current polarised impasse in which Australia's climate politics is stuck.
Monster climate petition urges action
Ever since 2009 when Kevin Rudd failed to develop a bi-partisan legislative instrument to reduce Australia's carbon emissions, climate change has become a political football. Rudd's narcissistic ineptitude drove a wedge into the Liberal Party which saw Tony Abbott snatch the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull by a vote. Labor fumbled and fumbled, and Abbott picked up Julia Gillard's tin-eared description of the emissions trading scheme as a tax to help propel the coalition into government in 2013. Not that he needed the carbon tax to win. There were plenty of other reasons not to vote Labor. But having made the repeal of the carbon tax one of his core promises, and having made keeping his promises a core promise, Abbott had little political choice but to proceed.
And now he looks set to try to weaken, if not dismantle, the renewable energy target. This was not a core promise, but likely he made it off-stage to the fossil fuel lobby and they expect him to keep it. He certainly raised their expectations when he appointed Dick Warburton to head the review. Warburton says he believes in climate change but is a sceptic as to whether it is caused by human's carbon dioxide emissions. He is entitled to his opinion of course, but he is not a scientist. What's more, he is in a public position where his objectivity needs to be believable for the legitimacy of his review's recommendations, particularly as the overwhelming majority of submissions favour the target's retention.
As well as 865 detailed submissions from key environmental and industry groups, the review received 23,272 community submissions. And Solar Citizens, a non-partisan community organisation, will on Wednesday, present a petition from 20,000 Australians to the government to retain the target, accompanied by a message in the sky over parliament house.
People need hope. Solar Citizens is one organisation in a growing grass roots climate movement which is pushing back against the failure of our political class to put aside their short term political goals for humanity's long term future. Local climate action groups are lobbying councils to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by installing solar panels on council buildings and improving public transport. One Million Women ask members to commit to reducing their household greenhouse gas impact. The coal industry is coming to be seen as a greedy pariah, despoiling the Great Barrier Reef, ruining farmland, and taking no account of our long-term future. The international 350 movement is lobbying for widespread disinvestment in the fossil fuel industry and rural land holders are locking the gate. In an innovative campaign being trialled in Victoria, Get Up is urging people to switch their power suppliers away from the big three, Origin, EnergyAustralia and AGL. It all looks very like a new grass roots social movement, where people's anger and despair at their powerlessness propels them into political action. And this is what has happened to me.
I am one of a group of women who have just launched a monster climate petition to the House of Representatives to enact immediate and deep reductions to Australia's carbon remissions, and to remind our politicians that it is the fundamental duty of parliament to protect Australia's people, land and seas. Petitions to the House of Representatives require original pen and ink signatures on paper, which is a challenge in this on-line age, but it does mean that the petition is tabled in parliament and is on the record.
Historically petitions have marked fundamental shifts in political morality: the anti-slavery petitions against Britain's very economically profitable traffic in human beings, the Chartist petitions for democratic political reform, the suffragette petitions for the vote for women, the 1963 Yirrkala bark petition for recognition of indigenous land rights. None shifted the lawmakers immediately. But they did put them well and truly on the wrong side of history.
The Monster Climate Petition takes its name from the 1891 Victorian monster suffragette petition. In five weeks women walking the streets and lanes, standing on street corners and knocking on doors, collected more than 30,000 signatures. The pages of petition were glued onto a 260 metre long roll of fabric and carried into parliament on a cardboard spindle. The petition is inspiring material evidence of women's traditions of political activism. And a reminder of the leg work needed to collect pen and ink signatures. Former Australian of the year and public health expert Dr Fiona Stanley is the lead petitioner, and it is an invitation to all Australians to stand up and be counted.
Judith Brett is emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University.
This article first appeared in The Age
Picture credit Douglas Brown ;https://www.flickr.com/photos/dougbrown47/10096093273