Analysis: Australia gives the nod to a coal-loving prime minister


Newly elected Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal into the Australian parliament back in 2017.

By Anders Lorenzen

Voters in Australia have re-elected Scott Morrison, who once brought a lump of coal into the Australian parliament chamber, and who is in no hurry to enact serious climate legislation.

This election was dubbed to be the climate election. It was to be the election where action on climate change was finally to be taken seriously, and where Australian voters were to reject a candidate with no serious policies on this issue. But this was not to be, despite reports of a surge in numbers of Australians who view human-induced climate change as not only real but a huge issue.  Recent extreme weather events are hitting the continent with farmers paying an enormous price. And there is the ongoing tragedy of the Great Barrier Reef.

But after the election last month, it has become clear that the majority of Australians are not seriously worried about climate change.  They have yet again elected a politician who will more or less do nothing to tackle the problem, and is even likely to strengthen the power and influence of the coal industry in the country.

This is now the third general election victory in a row for Australia’s right-wing Liberal-National coalition since Tony Abbott won power in 2013. This is a period dominated by climate denialism and inaction. When Abbott took power, one of his first actions was to abolish the country’s carbon tax scheme enacted by the Labor prime minister Julia Gillard.

Morrison first became Prime Minister of Australia last year when he ousted the most liberal of the three, Malcolm Turnbull, whose inaction on climate change was one of the key reasons he went. Turnbull said it had become impossible to enact serious climate policies, and he had no option but to leave as prime minister as he was forced to drop his key emissions reductions targets in the new energy plan.

It was a big loss for Labor and its leader Bill Shorten who resigned but will remain in parliament.  It was an election that showcased a divided Australia with the cities turning left and towards pro-climate candidates, and the rural areas pro-coal and more conservative. Not least in Queensland also dubbed coal country where voters chose to protect the coal industry and the jobs it provides. One victory, albeit a small one, for climate advocates, was that former prime minister Abbott, the climate denier in chief, lost his seat.  He lost his seat to Zali Steggal who ran on a pro-climate action bill.

All the eyes will be on Morrison and what happens next. It is expected that the very controversial Adani coal mine likely to have been axed by Labor will step up a gear. The mine is to be built by the Indian mining giant Adani and when completed it will be the world’s largest coal mine.

Australia will still continue to switch to renewables, but the country’s powerful coal lobby will want Morrison to put in place as many obstacles as possible and he is likely to comply. And any increase in emissions reductions targets or any legislation that would cut emissions will continue to be a distant dream.

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