A thought experiment: a foreigner who understands basic concepts of parliamentary democracy visits us, knowing nothing about Australia, to examine how we govern ourselves. The foreigner is especially intrigued to see how we handle the existential threat of global warming.
What would our visitor make of the spectacle of a small band of politicians who refuses to accept the factual reality of the threat and, while representing just one in eight voters at most, refuses to permit any action to address the existential threat for more than a decade? And then demands colossal sums of money from the rest of the community in order to withdraw its veto — much of which will line the pockets of the people who fund those politicians?
Her first question would probably be how this was permitted, and then to wonder why it was allowed to continue without the intervention of police.
In Australia, however, we accept as perfectly normal that a group collectively representing 13% of the electorate — 4.5% for the National Party, 8.7% for the Liberal National Party in Queensland — can stymie urgent action to address a major threat, and extort billions in order to stop objecting. On Sunday we’ll learn the price tag it’ll charge for allowing Australia to join the late 20th century and adopt emissions targets that would have been appropriate in the late 1990s.
Part of that normalisation reflects the persistent failure to understand what the National Party really is: it is, and always has been, a vehicle to exploit Australia’s parliamentary system to rort taxpayer funding in its own interests and those of the people who fund it — these days, fossil-fuel interests. It is not, by any conventional measure, a political party.
Being a political party requires having some sort of political philosophy of government and the public interest — however warped or appalling it might be. Pauline Hanson is more of a politician than the Nationals, even if you might find her idea of the national interest repugnant. At least she has one. The Nationals have a common aim of racketeering, not a philosophy.
Part of it is also the special indulgence given to the Nationals by the press gallery. The Nationals have permanent licence from journalists to be “colourful” and “authentic” and break basic political and governance rules with impunity. They are held to a lower standard of behaviour than other parties — even minor parties.
No other party could have permitted the return to the leadership of a man facing allegations of sexual harassment by a credible complainant without an appropriate independent investigation. No other party could have returned verified rorters of taxpayer money to the cabinet. No other party could have permitted its senior members to break cabinet solidarity, to publicly vilify cabinet colleagues, without penalty.
And these are the acts, bear in mind, of a party in formal coalition with the Liberal Party. Despite this, Nationals ministers are permitted to engage in performative ignorance, in which they lament that they have been kept unaware of policies being developed by the cabinet of which they are part, that “the government” hasn’t handed them policies for their approval. Thus the peculiar theatre of this coming weekend, in which a Nationals party room partly composed of Nationals cabinet ministers will sit and debate the merits of a policy that those ministers have already agreed.
To the delight of the media, however, this theatre of the absurd has generated a constant stream of stories in which an activist Liberal leader tries to coax recalcitrant Nationals over the line on climate action, with the entire focus of journalists on the tug-of-war — using an extraordinarily expensive taxpayer-funded rope — between two parts of the same government, and none at all on the actual policy that emerges from the contest.
We’ve had a good 18 months of this old-fashioned race-calling journalism — albeit in this case with two winners to be announced in coming days: Scott Morrison, triumphant with his 2050 deal, and the Nationals, flush with billions more of rorted taxpayer dollars. The only loser is Labor (invariably deemed to have been “wedged”, “outplayed”, etc — you know the drill).
The biggest enablers, however, are not the race-callers perched high above the track but the alleged “Liberal moderates” who amiably tolerate the Nationals’ extortion and policy degradation.
The Zimmermans, the Falinskis, the Sharmas, the Wilsons — inevitably to be found in metropolitan newspapers with op-eds and dial-a-quotes urging a tad more climate action, desperate to avoid the fate of Tony Abbott. Except they vote for and endorse every single attempt to stymie climate action — from the abolition of the carbon pricing scheme to Abbott’s effort to destroy the renewable energy target and abolish independent climate agencies, through to funding carbon capture and storage and coal export subsidies and the latest wheeze, Angus Taylor’s “CoalKeeper” tax (which, in a rare amusing Morrison joke, it is Wilson’s job now to spruik).
The “moderates” have marched shoulder to shoulder with the Nationals through the ruins of Australian climate policy, burning and looting as they went with the same enthusiasm as the bastards from the bush.
In coming weeks, they’ll help the Nationals lumber taxpayers with yet more boondoggles and rorts in the name of the half-arsed climate distraction judged by the geniuses of the PMO and their News Corp advisers to be sufficient to avoid embarrassment for Morrison at Glasgow. Then they’ll try to giftwrap and sell that noisome turd of a policy to their metropolitan electorates, fervently hoping voters don’t crinkle their noses, check in the box and realise they’re once again being shat on.
That’s the problem with being an alleged moderate collaborating with thieves and rorters: it’s inevitable that you end up part of the racket, no matter how much you urge more renewables investment, tut-tut over coal-fired power stations and try to look the urbane sophisticate at your local north shore or Double Bay café.
You’re still a chump, being used by crooks. Like the rest of us.