Prime minister, you need a credible climate policy. It's too dangerous to keep pretending you have one | Lenore Taylor

Scott Morrison’s press conference on the Australian fires was just more talking points and spin. The country needs more than words

Scott Morrison says this is not a time for division, or partisanship, or point scoring. He says we should unite in response to the current crisis. That’s certainly true. We have been.

But prime minister, this is also time to stop pretending. Talking about Australia’s woefully inadequate climate policy at this time is not partisan, it is essential. And, with respect, the same same old talking points you rolled out on your return from Hawaii just don’t cut it any more.

As you acknowledged, we are facing Christmas with dread. The immediate losses – of loved people, homes, safety, breathable air, passable highways upon which to drive to holiday, blue summer sky – those are deeply unsettling and sad.

But the realisation that this is how Christmas may often be for our children, not carefree like the long summers we remember, but orange-skyed, fearful, choking and desperate – that is dreadful in the truest sense of the word.

As you said, we are all grateful for the firefighters’ selfless efforts, but you’re right, we need to ask whether we can really expect this from them year after year, and those questions become more urgent if we face up to the fact that this is now the way things are going to be more often.

You ignored the desperate, and as it turns out prescient, warnings from the former fire and emergency chiefs in the lead-up to this season. Your acting prime minister, just this weekend, again dismissed those experts because they had been funded by the Climate Council. Surely it is now time to put those political talking points aside and start to listen.

We know global heating is fuelling this unprecedented fire emergency; we’ve been warned this would happen for decades. We know it is also contributing to the drought. Not directly causing, but certainly exacerbating.

Surely it is time for your government to face these facts, instead of reciting Dorothea Mackellar or diverting blame to self-combusting manure or falsely claiming “greens” are somehow to blame by preventing hazard reduction burning. They haven’t, just for the record, and those former fire chiefs you refused to meet actually had some advice about hazard reduction burns, had you chosen to listen.

That requires something more than just agreeing there is a link between global heating and fires, as you now have done.

This isn’t about an adjustment to your language, it requires an adjustment to your policy, it requires a credible policy, the kind of policy we know could benefit us economically, that business is begging you to enact so that they can invest. And we know that would mean we could fight for effective international action rather than continue to act as a hindrance.

We know we can’t solve the heating that is exacerbating this crisis on our own, so please don’t insult our intelligence again with that “1.3% of global emissions” argument like you did at the start of this fire season. Given the consequences we are suffering, we should be doing everything we can, and we know that we are not.

You’ve just kept pretending.

We’ve watched your Coalition immobilised by its climate denialist faction for more than a decade, destroying repeated political efforts to do something. We watched it dispense with Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister to avoid implementing a policy that was supported by industry and green groups alike. We watched you, prime minister, hold up a coal-industry supplied lump-of-coal prop in the parliament and urge us all not to fear it, but then go to the election with a policy that was little more than a sham, enough to appease the electorate’s concerns but with fine print that didn’t promise to do anything much to reduce domestic emissions, and that didn’t offer any explanation of how you would do the things you did promise, like reduce vehicle emissions.

We’ve watched our domestic emissions continue to rise, or flatline because of the terrible impact of the drought, according to the latest accounts.

We’ve watched Angus Taylor act against reaching an agreement at the most recent climate talks in Madrid, by insisting – against howls of international protest – that Australia be allowed to continue using an accounting trick to meet our emission reduction obligations.

Days later, there he was again, interviewed against the orange backdrop of his own burning electorate, still mouthing the same discredited talking points about Australia “meeting and beating” its emission reduction target by the use of that loophole. You just used the same line yourself.

It’s too close now, too terrifyingly dangerous and loud in the fire regions, too unendurably long in the regions parched by drought, to keep pretending like this.

We need to know how you’re going to transition our economy. We understand that’s a complicated long-term process, so don’t treat us like idiots, as your deputy did on Saturday with the straw-man argument that those concerned about climate change are asking for all coalmining to cease tomorrow and risking the lights going out.

Katharine Murphy spelled out your political choices in her final column for the year –you could once again try to damp down our fears and hope the backlash from this summer of fires will ease when the skies do eventually clear, or you could change policy course.

On your return from holidays you seemed to choose the former, which is a tragedy, because there really is no more time to waste. We are past the point where the absence of credible policy can be papered over with talking points and spin. Your predecessor knows it, your former departmental head knows it, business, unions and farmers know it, scientists and environmentalists have known it for decades.

You asked us all to be kind to one another, and we certainly should be. One kind thing you could do now is to finally stop pretending.

  • Lenore Taylor is Guardian Australia’s editor


Lenore Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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