Timeline Of A Capitulation: How Morrison Finally Conceded Climate Change Makes Bushfires Worse

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The cracks were certainly starting to show, but it’s hard to know what exactly caused the dam to burst.

I am, of course, referring to the Prime Minister’s capitulation over the weekend that he’s “open” to increasing the government’s 2030 emissions target. At least that’s how The Australian reported it, although in truth what Scott Morrison has mostly just acknowledged, finally, is the bleedingly obvious: climate change is playing a significant role in the severity of Australia’s unprecedented bushfire crisis.

On changing government ambitions to lower our carbon emissions, all he really said is his government ‘wants to do better’.

This is from a report in AAP: “Scott Morrison says he accepts climate change is driving longer, hotter and drier summer seasons and the government’s emissions targets need to “evolve”.

The prime minister has faced criticism for lacking ambition on cutting Australia’s emissions and many of his coalition colleagues have downplayed the link between climate change and the devastating bushfires. Australia has pledged to cut emissions by 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, under the Paris Agreement.

“It is my intention to meet and beat that target,” Mr Morrison told ABC TV on Sunday. “In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we are going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices and without shutting down traditional industries.”

Asked whether he was open to moving the existing target, he said: “What I’m saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it.”

Mr Morrison acknowledged some within coalition ranks felt climate change had nothing to do with the bushfires. But it was the government’s “uncontested” advice and position that climate change was impacting on longer, hotter, drier summer seasons.

“That is the position of the government – let there be no dispute about that,” he said.

Well, firstly, that’s ridiculous. That very fact has been disputed by Morrison’s own party for years, even while the nation has burned. An interview with the man Morrison ousted for the top job, Tony Abbott was played in Israel as the bushfire crisis began to peak on January 2, in which he denied the affects of climate change, and suggested the world was in the grips of a “climate cult”.

UK Morning hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, pictured overnight with Australian politician and climate denier, Craig Kelly.

A few days later, one of Morrison’s backbenchers, Craig Kelly gave a train-wreck interview to UK television, denying the reality of the climate crisis while residents in his own electorate were being ordered to evacuate.

It’s not just limited to Canberra, of course. The Liberal Mayor of Kangaroo Island, Michael Pengilly (a former Liberal SA minister), was trolling people on Twitter – including former US president Barack Obama – while his community burned, and people died.

Even so, the fact the Morrison government now accepts that the bushfire crisis is directly linked to climate change is information the nation could have used six weeks ago, if for no other reason than to help silence the endless parade of clowns and Liberal-National boosters.

The fires on Kangaroo Island are still burning, as of January 13. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

What’s so galling about Morrison’s ‘brand deathbed conversion’ is that after finally returning from his Hawaiian holiday (only a few weeks back), he was busy reassuring the public, and most importantly his minders in the the hard right of the Liberal-Nationals, that Australia was already doing enough, and there would be no change to the Coalition’s climate policies.

Now he’s conceding we must do more, just like the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack did while Morrison was chilling in a tropical paradise, and lying to media about his location.

Even so, it feels like progress. Or to use the Morrison parlance, we should thank the heavens for small miracles.

But what finally triggered Scott Morrison. What finally convinced the PM that, like government policy, he too must ‘evolve’?

It might have been the news on Saturday that another firefighter (in Victoria) has died. Or maybe the two dozen deaths so far, the 12 million acres of bush lost, and the half billion animals consumed by fire.

Or it might have been the tens and tens of thousands of protesters who turned out in cities around Australia over the weekend, demanding Morrison’s resignation.

But more likely, I think it was the news that thousands of protestors in cities across Europe – in London , Berlin, Madrid, Copenhagen and Stockholm – echoed the protests in Australia. Morrison was branded an “international laughing stock” on the world stage. That’s got to hurt.

Those global protests were organised by climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, which is a beautiful middle finger to the politicians and media commentators who spent last year describing them as useless extremists.

Extinction Rebellion don’t look so useless now.

Extinction Rebellion protestors pictured in Brisbane in October. This action was known as the ‘Extinction Rebellion South East Queensland Choir’.(IMAGE: Supplied)

Scott Morrison did though, after the release of the first opinion polls of the year this morning, which record a brutal slide.

But wait, there’s more, because the fires still aren’t out – we’re not out of the woods yet, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s still months left of the official bushfire season, if that actually means anything anymore, but at some point there will, eventually, be a mop up, both in the bush, and the Bush Capital of Canberra.

Political minds will have already turned to the question of whether or not Morrison’s brand – like so much of the Australian bush – is trashed, unrecoverable.

Australians have certainly seen the ‘Real Scott Morrison’ through this crisis – the arrogance and the smirk, followed by the faux contrition that enabled him to blame his kids for his holiday to Hawaii.

They saw ‘Rattled Morrison’ as he toured the South Coast and later Kangaroo Island, and bumbled his way through the sort of personal interactions that are supposed to ‘make’ a Prime Minister.

What we all actually saw was ‘Default Morrison’, and that’s been the only useful thing from this bushfire tragedy – we’ve all been able to see the real Scott Morrison, Scotty from Marketing, who is smart and slick, but easily rattled. All sizzle, no sausage, as they say.

But while it’s tempting to think that Morrison as PM couldn’t possibly survive failures on this grand a scale, it is possible for him to recover, although it won’t be up to him.

Ironically, it will be up to the significant numbers of climate change deniers within the ranks of the Liberal-National party room. Just like it has been for some of the previous seven prime ministers, including the one he just replaced.

Tony Abbott, pictured in happier times (2014). (IMAGE: RubyGoes, Flickr)

There is little mood for a change in leadership within the Liberal-Nationals, after years of blood-letting. There’s no question many in the party are surprised at how poorly Morrison has performed, but what ultimately really matters is what the government does to mitigate our emissions.

On that front, whatever revised targets the Morrison Government eventually does announce, they will almost certainly be woefully inadequate.

Morrison’s minders will see to that – the wreckers inside the Liberal-Nationals do not roll over so easily. Their zealotry is so deep, that even an ongoing national tragedy that has claimed so many lives and destroyed so much of our nation, is not enough to soften their arch-ideology.

They will be still looking for the lowest politically and socially acceptable ground, which they’ll describe as ‘the sensible middle’.

Australians who believe that Morrison surely must now go would do well to remember one the tale of his mentors, John Howard, known as ‘Lazarus with a triple bypass’ for his capacity to bounce back from leadership failures.

So too, Scotty from Marketing might just rise from the ashes again.

Watch this space.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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