Although he didn’t say so directly, the Prime Minister made a telling admission in an interview in The Sydney Morning Herald in August.
He effectively acknowledged that his Government’s climate change policies have failed to convince voters that the Government is actually addressing this issue. And in a tight election where the environment and climate change are proving to be important issues, this is a worry.
So far, the Government’s election strategy on environmental issues has been not to go beyond its current policies. It portrays these policies as sensible and effective, while anyone who goes beyond them, as the ALP does, is portrayed as extreme and economically irresponsible.
Ian Macfarlane, the Minister for Industry, said earlier this year that "The only way the greenhouse policy will change will be a change of government".
By shifting the environment debate onto economic grounds, the Government’s plan was to deny the ALP oxygen for their environment policies and instead confront them on an issue where the polls show it has a clear advantage.
This strategy was perfectly illustrated by the Government’s energy white paper, released in June. This policy contained additional subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and failed to increase Australia’s target for clean, renewable energy. This was the latest in a series of backward-thinking climate change policies from the Government, putting Australia at greater risk.
The Government claimed that going further than the policies in the white paper would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment.
The paper met with widespread criticism from environment groups, the renewable energy industry, many commentators and others concerned about the impacts of climate change, such as the Australian Medical Association (AMA). In fact, just about the only praise came from major greenhouse polluters such as the coal and aluminium industries.
The Government appears to have misread the public mood.
It now recognises that the environment and climate change have emerged as major election issues.
One of the reasons for this is the current drought, which scientists have identified as being made more severe due to climate change.
Another reason is that the debate is moving and the Government is struggling to keep up.
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