Australia’s Climate Change Election That Wasn’t

Photo: Dean Lewins, AAP Image via REUTERS

Australia re-elected center-right Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the weekend, who pulled off a “miracle” thanks to a big turnout from his base of older, suburban economic conservatives and of supporters in Queensland, which is the coal-producing, sparsely populated region of the country.  This happened despite the fact that Australia just experienced its hottest summer on record, with major fish die-offs as the country’s rivers run dry, and the Great Barrier Reef, one of the country’s most iconic and popular destinations, is experiencing a record coral bleaching event from which many believe it will never recover.

  • The real killer for the Labor Party was an economic analysis that came out at the beginning of May, in the final days of the campaign, that argued that Labor’s emissions reduction target according could wipe $264 billion from the Australian economy and kill-off 167,000 jobs.
  • The Labor candidate, Bill Shorten, had ducked questions for weeks around the cost of his climate change policy, which set a reduction target of 45% of greenhouse gasses, but he was unwilling to estimate it.
  • According to the Times, election observers believed that Australian populism fueled the victory, and the “weakening of the major parties and the country’s tilt to the right have been driven mainly by class envy and alienation, including the belief that the elite do not understand the needs and values of the working class.”

Why This Matters: Australian voters rejected the Labor Party’s climate change policies, despite some big wins casting out some high profile climate deniers from their legislature.  The New York Times reported that the incumbent Prime Minister was returned to office despite the fact that he has “long resisted plans to sharply cut down on carbon emissions and coal.”  So Australia, much like the Trump Administration, will pursue policies that in fact prop up mining in Australia, particularly the proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, which would be among the largest in the world if it is approved.  And this should be seen as a warning for the U.S. and other upcoming elections that climate change as an issue can drive high turnout from those who feel alienated by the movement or by those who believe that fighting climate will result in a loss of jobs. We must reach those voters and try to appeal to them – we can’t write them off.

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