To ScoMo's Party, Even School Kids Are The Enemy When It Comes To Climate Change

Of the squillion words to have been published about the disintegration of the Liberal Party since the catastrophe in Victoria, these are the ones I’ve found most telling.

“They are...non-religious but not anti-religion, somewhat concerned about the environment but not Greens, and compassionate about their fellow humans, but not Social Justice Warriors.” - Andrew Bond, Liberal candidate for the Victorian seat of Albert Park in a leaked internal email.

Andrew Bond is describing the people who have abandoned the Liberal Party having once been a core group of its support.  It’s telling because it reflects the way so many cheerleaders and participants on the conservative side of politics have framed the world for the past decade or so.

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Take the environment.  Bond needs to clarify that you can be concerned about it without being a Green because modern conservatives have simply refused to recognise that the environment stopped being some niche obsession years ago.

It’s utterly mainstream to care about climate change or the Great Barrier Reef, or the threat of plastics to marine life, but the Liberal Party missed this for two main reasons.

First, fighting things like climate change usually means some kind of regulation of the same free market the Liberals have tended to regard as inviolable.

Being concerned about climate issues, including our Great Barrier Reef, is utterly mainstream. (Image: Getty)

And second, faced with a political moment that has fallen out of love with free-market economics, the Liberals have retreated to a new brand of politics that is mostly about finding enemies to fight -- and then looking for every opportunity to fight them.

Even if they’re school students.

It might be true that some, or even most of the students skipping school today to protest inaction on climate change -- the Big School Walkout for Climate Action -- are green activist types.  But no prime minister who is serious would take it as a chance to attack them.

At moment like this, you’re meant to smile and say something that pretends to be gracious.  You know, like “I think it’s great that our school students care about the big issues of the day.  We might not agree on everything, but that’s what makes our country great.  And while I applaud their passion, I’d like to assure them the government is acting seriously on climate change with our emissions reduction fund and the renewable energy target”.

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Compare that to Scott Morrison’s “what we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools”.  Go back to school and get a sensible haircut on the way!  Is a protest from some schoolkids such a threat it requires such an aggressive response?

That only happens because fighting has become an instinct, and enemies appear to be everywhere.

There are many examples you could use here: the tone of the campaign against the safe-schools program, or the failed free-speech crusade on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, for instance.

Perhaps my favourite example comes from the Barnaby Joyce dual citizenship saga.  When we learned an Australian Labor staffer had inquired with a New Zealand counterpart about it, then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accused Labor using "the New Zealand Parliament to undermine the Australian government", and said the Turnbull government would struggle to work with New Zealand Labour if it won the election.

It’s a hell of a thing to say about perhaps our closest ally.  Then New Zealand Labour went and won the election, making Bishop’s comments no longer hypothetical.  Whoops.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with former Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, March 2, 2018. (Image: AAP)

On the environment, there was the time the Adani coal mine faced a delay in the Federal Court in 2015 because the court decided the Environment Minister had failed to consider some relevant environmental advice.

The Abbott government raged about “bullies in the green movement” who engage in “vigilante litigation” which amounts to 'endless legal sabotage'.  And this despite the fact that the laws in question -- introduced by John Howard -- had been used 33 times from 5500 projects, and only twice successfully, according to analysis by the Australia Institute.  Adani overcame this particular legal hurdle soon after.  This week it announced it would proceed with a reduced mine.

Again, why the overblown aggression?

Do this sort of thing long enough and suddenly everyone who squeaks an environmental concern is the kind you dismiss as a Green or a “bully in the green movement”.

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Every non-religious person begins to look anti-religious (see the handling of religious freedom debates over the same sex-marriage saga).

Everyone troubled by our treatment of asylum seekers -- or whomever even reports on it -- becomes a Social Justice Warrior (see Peter Dutton saying “the crazy lefties at the ABC, Guardian, the Huffington Post” are “completely dead…to me” over their reporting on his position on persecuted South African farmers).

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton lashed out at 'crazy lefties' in the ABC, Guardian and Huffington Post. (Image: AAP)

And over time, this does real damage.  It ends up taking mainstream concerns and construing them as somehow radical, with the ironic consequence that soon you’re the radical one fighting against the mainstream.

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You don’t notice until an election comes along somewhere like Victoria, or Wentworth, or Wagga, and the numbers don’t add up they way they were meant to.

It’s around then you find the country you’ve always claimed to be representing simply doesn’t exist.