Climate failures cost us: ALP election review

The Australian, page 1, August 21, 2019 by Troy Bramston
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Bill Shorten’s Labor Party failed a basic test of politics by not articulating to voters who would pay for its climate change policies, how much they would cost and the ­impact on the economy.

A confidential submission to the party’s post-election review from the Labor Environment ­Action Network, obtained by The Australian, expresses “anger and disappointment”, and also “grief”, over the party’s failure to win what was expected to be an unlosable election. The submission is brutal about policy, political and leadership failures.

“Labor was unable to put a price on its climate change action plan,” a LEAN member says in the submission. “It couldn’t say how much it would cost, where the money was coming from or what economic dividend it would deliver or save. It is basic Australian politics — how much, who pays, what does it save. We had no answers.”

The submission reflects poorly on Mark Butler, Labor’s spokesman on climate change and ­energy. While LEAN members thought Mr Shorten was an ­“excellent leader” they concede voters “did not like or trust” him. This damaged Labor’s ability to sell a sweeping policy agenda.

LEAN has called for Labor to reconsider its “specific climate change policies” and how they are communicated, but warns “the party cannot ignore and must ­address the issue of expanding fossil fuel export industries”.

Labor’s franking credits policy, its wishy-washy stance over the Adani coalmine and its failure to “listen to the workers” are ­identified as additional reasons for its loss.

While LEAN members said they were “proud” of Labor’s bold policy agenda, the party failed to connect with voters and persuade them with a compelling message.

“LEAN members … felt we had many, many good and great ­policies but our narrative around them was problematic,” says the submission drafted by co-conveners David Tierney and Felicity Wade.

“Creating a narrative that connects with voters was ­identified as most important to win an election.”

A failure to balance mitigating climate change with the need for “economic opportunities” for workers, industries and rural communities is also recognised. LEAN argues Labor must rebuild its credibility with workers in areas such as the Hunter Valley, which swung against Labor.

“Addressing climate change has to be about the economic possibilities and prosperity, not the moral argument,” LEAN ­argues. “The new jobs need to be led and initiated by clever government policy and investment.”

LEAN urges Labor to stand by a bold emissions reduction target — currently 45 per cent by 2030 on 2000 levels — recommended by the Climate Change Authority and to also support a new federal environment act and the creation of an independent Environment Protection Agency.

However, it argues that Labor must recognise many voters do not trust market mechanisms and there is a worldwide backlash against globalisation, neoliberalism and deregulation. Many ­voters saw specific policy measures as a cost rather than an ­opportunity to deal with climate change.

“Labor’s policies were generally well received by the climate change, environment and ­renewables ‘industries’,” the submission notes.

“This support, however, didn’t translate to the voting public. While we have walked away from the policy purity of a carbon price across the economy, our policies are still in the technocratic and market mechanism sphere.

“They are supported by ­Treasury officials, corporations and the political class. It is hardly surprising many … people are suspect.”

LEAN urges Labor to build better links internally with members and externally with other environmental groups to help ­develop practical and pragmatic policies so they can help ­communicate and campaign for them.

The blistering submission to Labor’s post-election review comes as Labor, now led by ­Anthony Albanese, is yet to ­officially dump many policies some in the party regard as electorally toxic.

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