Australian media are this morning piling onto the Federal Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly after a train-wreck interview in the UK overnight in which Kelly tried to downplay the realities of climate change. But is he the worst offender? Chris Graham reports.
In truth, it couldn’t have happened to a ‘nicer bloke’. Craig Kelly, is a renowned climate denier, and he does, at one level, deserve the beating he’s currently copping.
But at another level… Kelly has been peddling precisely the same nonsense since he won his seat in 2010. The Australian media are only now catching up… although welcome to the debate.
But, is it fair to single out one politician? Should Kelly be feeling all the heat for all the failures and denial of the Liberal Party of Australia?
The answer is obviously no, because throughout the course of the interview, Kelly didn’t really say anything that Scott Morrison hasn’t in the past month… well, at least since he returned from his Hawaiian holiday.
It’s worth briefly mentioning that one of the UK interviewers was Piers Morgan. This is a man with plenty of other people’s blood on his hands. Morgan was the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, which was forced to close after it emerged his journalists were hacking the phones of dead children. In the subsequent parliamentary inquiry into the affair, Morgan was found to have lied. Repeatedly.
So it’s jarring to watch Morgan lecture anyone with phrases like “wake up”, but even so, with our nation on fire, we’ll take all the help we can get. And Morgan’s crimes – and they were literally crimes, although he was never charged – are arguably not as heinous as climate denial, at least not anymore given the scale of the emergency now confronting Australians.
So what did Kelly say that has drawn so much fire down upon him? Kelly was asked if he accepted the planet was getting hotter: “Yes,” he replied. “It’s clear since the 1970s, there has been a warming.”
Scott Morrison also accepts the climate is warming. He’s said as much multiple times in the past month. So Kelly was asked what is causing the bushfires.
“What causes the main thing of the fires is the build-up of the fuel on the ground, and the drought….”
Scott Morrison said that last week. Indeed he said he was open to a Royal Commission probing exactly that.
Kelly also said: “One thing you have to understand about our fire-fighting regime… it is state-based.”
Scott Morrison said that too, last week. Indeed, The Prime Minister’s office was caught backgrounding journalists against the NSW Liberal Government on exactly that point over the weekend, after Morrison a few days earlier announced an inquiry into the responses of state governments to the crisis.
Kelly was also asked if the bushfires were directly linked to climate change. He ducked and weaved, and waffled. Scott Morrison has spent a month doing precisely that. Still to this day – with almost two dozen deaths, around 2,000 homes lost, an estimated half a billion animals incinerated and more than 16 million acres scorched – Morrison has refused to acknowledge climate has played any part in the crisis.
The point being, as the national tragedy continues to unfold, Craig Kelly didn’t say anything the Australian Prime Minister hasn’t already. He didn’t flatly deny the climate is changing, he just ‘squibbed’ it a bit. That is Liberal Party policy. It’s straight from their daily talking points.
Surely you remember those? Some of them were sent accidentally to media a few months back. While they don’t specifically detail how politicians should fudge it on the links of climate change on bushfires, they explain how to fudge it on climate change policy. And they make for illuminating reading (skip to page 9 for the deafening silence on the growing bushfire crisis, which attracts just a few dull points, then skip all the way to page 16 for climate change… which gives you some indication of how much of a priority it is for this government, but also what the spinners know about the likelihood of media actually asking any questions about it).PM-talking-points
As to Kelly himself, the fact is he didn’t wake up yesterday, bump his head and become a climate denialist. Kelly has been campaigning on precisely that for at least as long as he’s been in public life. And the good residents of Hughes, in the south of Sydney, voted for it.
In fact, at the last election in 2019, Kelly – despite widely campaigning that climate change was not real – increased his margin. He now holds 60 per cent of the vote.
There is, of course, a deeply perverse irony in the residents of Hughes repeatedly endorsing a climate denier, because of all the seats in Greater Sydney, Hughes, arguably, is the most likely to be impacted by the effects of climate change, a fact we have increasingly seen for more than two decades.
Hughes takes in the Royal National Park on the edge of the city, which was devastated in the 1994 fires. It also takes in suburbs like Grays Point, Bangor, Bundeena, Heathcote, Illawong, Lucas Heights, Menai – all suburbs which have been, and will continue to be, at very high risk from bushfires.
Indeed, shortly before Kelly was parading his stupidity on the world stage, five of the suburbs in his electorate – Sandy Point, Voyager’s Point, Pleasure Point, Holsworthy and Wattle Grove – had been told to either shelter in their homes or flee west. The place is still on fire as you read this.
Obviously, it’s difficult to emphasise just how reckless it is, that Kelly would be flummoxing his way around the world denying the realities faced by the people who elected him, but Kelly’s actions are no more reckless than those of his Prime Minister, nor his party. He’s just being reckless on a much smaller scale.
In the Liberal Party’s defence, internally there have been two recent attempts to oust Kelly from pre-selection for the seat. In 2015, one of Australia’s most famous media climate deniers, Alan Jones, threw his support behind Kelly. Here’s a video of Jones explaining how climate change is not real, using a bag of rice (and for international readers… yes… the video below is an accurate representation of the quality of debate in Australia on this issue. And FYI, the woman in the video is Peta Credlin, the chief-of-staff to our former climate denying Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
Kelly was again expected to be challenged for pre-selection for the 2019 election. This time, the nation’s most famous climate denier – former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott – also wrote a letter of endorsement.
It’s worth remembering that Abbott seized the Liberal Party leadership from Malcolm Turnbull specifically on the issue of climate change. Kelly voted for him then, and he voted for Tony Abbott when Malcolm Turnbull subsequently rolled him for the Prime Ministership.
Malcolm Turnbull then lost the leadership to Scott Morrison, also specifically because he tried to introduce a more coherent policy to tackle climate change.
But it’s also worth remembering that in the face of the planned 2016 pre-selection challenge to Kelly, Turnbull jumped in and supported him, writing a letter of endorsement for Kelly describing him as one of the government’s “most consistent performers”, with a “fine reputation”.
The fact is, Kelly is as much a symptom of the problem as he is the problem itself. True to form, this morning he posted this – now deleted – on his personal Twitter account.
But still, he’s a very small cog in a very squeaky wheel. Politics is supposed to be about the art of the possible, but that hasn’t been the case in Australia for at least the last two decades.
Now, it’s about the lowest common denominator. That’s why Craig Kelly is the Member for Hughes, and that’s why Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister.
It’s also why our nation has no coherent policies to tackle climate change, why our parliament is full of climate sceptics, and why they argue and obfuscate while our nation burns.
On that front, watch this space while it gets worse, because Australia’s climate crisis is only just beginning.
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