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Self-interest blocks real action on climate change

By Georgia Lowe - posted Monday, 30 November 2009

On Monday, November 16, as Senate sittings commenced for the last time this year, 35 volunteers from the Australian Conservation Foundation and GetUP came together to talk to Members of Parliament about the woefully inadequate CPRS targets, the lack of Australian leadership on climate change and the huge amount of taxpayer dollars going to big polluters in the form of free permits to pollute.

As a fresh HSC graduate from Newcastle, I was invited by GetUP to give MPs from New South Wales some insight into youth sentiments on climate change.

In my experience, the questions young people have raised are largely uniform. They know about the science and they understand the urgency and broad implications of this issue. But the one question I am always thrown is: Why isn’t anyone in Australia doing anything to stop this?


I had one girl quietly point out that I must have made a mistake on my Youth Decide posters when I quoted Rudd’s current “ambitious target of 5 per cent reductions in carbon dioxide parts per million by 2020”. She politely informed me that I had probably missed a 3 or 4 in front of that number.

So I went to Canberra and asked where the leadership is on this issue.

I asked why we are dedicating more money to free permits (PDF 316KB) for polluters than to action on climate change, given that corporate welfare for Australia’s biggest polluting companies has blown out to $16.4 billion under the revamped emissions trading legislation and yet the Budget allocates the “total investment in climate change related initiatives and programs to over $15 billion”.

I asked why the government has watered down already abysmally low targets in negotiations with the Coalition, and what it would take for a worthwhile CPRS with a 30 per cent to 40 per cent target to be achieved.

The answer: politics.

While every Liberal and Labor MP I spoke to (bar Malcolm Turnbull’s hostile advisor) understood or at least acknowledged the implications and immediacy of this unprecedented issue, they all said that they must “follow community sentiment” in their electorates, and they simply cannot act strongly on climate change without their electorates showing strong support.


One Labor MP said: “It’s my job to get re-elected and to get my party re-elected. We can’t upset our electorates by taking strong action in the CPRS. I have to do what my electorate is asking me to do because I am supposed to represent them and I haven’t seen a wave of people demanding this from me.”

Although I am certain that the feelings of the electorates haven’t been taken into account in the past with GST, for one example, one thing is clear: not only do MPs understand that the CPRS is weak, but also that their job is not primarily to serve in the best interests of the people, but to get themselves - and their party - re-elected.

This nervous self-interest was evident in all of my discussions with Labor, Liberals and Independents, with Nick Xenophon being the single exception within those three groups.

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About the Author

Georgia Lowe is a student and activist based in Sydney.

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