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Australia ‘exposed’: Turnbull, Rudd slam PM over climate inaction

Jessica Yun
·4-min read
(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

Former Prime Ministers on both sides of politics, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, have joined forces to criticise the federal government’s failure to address climate change.

In a searing joint letter published in The Guardian, the 26th and 29th Prime Ministers of Australia said the country was getting left behind by global counterparts as Japan, South Korea, Canada, and “even China” and Russia signalled greater commitments to ramp up emission reduction plans.

“Our country, however, continues to bury its head in the sand, despite the fact that Australia remains dangerously at risk of the economic and environmental consequences that will come from the climate crisis barrelling towards us,” the former Prime Ministers wrote.

The letter comes days ahead of US President Joe Biden’s virtual climate change summit, which will be held on Earth Day this thursday, where 40 world leaders will come together to “tackle the climate crisis”.

The leaders warned that there would be “consequences” for Australia’s inaction, pointing to Australia’s ‘Black Summer’ of 2020 that saw out-of-control bushfires claim homes, wildlife, and human lives.

“Our own environment is especially vulnerable to global warming as the recent massive bushfires demonstrated. Our economy is also vulnerable to the transition away from fossil fuels,” they wrote.

“With more than 70 per cent of Australia’s trade now with countries committed to net zero, the prospect of carbon border taxes being introduced – beginning with the European Union – also leaves us economically exposed.”

Investment in coal should be instead diverted to renewable energy projects, the former leaders argued, pointing to the Asian Renewable Energy Hub in the Pilbara region and promising hydrogen projects based in Gladstone, a traditional coal port.

“Building dozens of new coalmines won’t set Australia up for the future; it will lock us into the past.”

But Morrison used a speech earlier this week to say that the Government would not look at taxing mining or coal giants and instead focus on innovation, and net zero emissions would not be achieved in “the cafe’s, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities”.

ScoMo in the firing line

Rudd and Turnbull pointed the finger at Morrison specifically for failing to concretely commit to the target of net zero emissions.

“Prime minister Scott Morrison’s refusal to adopt both a firm timeline to reach net zero emissions and to increase its own interim 2030 target leaves us effectively isolated in the western world. It also goes against what we signed up to through the Paris agreement – which both our governments worked so hard to secure.”

The Prime Minister has been increasingly backed into a corner over the issue of climate change as states and territories and major Australian companies make their own commitments to reducing emissions.

But Turnbull and Rudd also said there were other factors at play.

“The main thing holding back Australia’s climate ambition is politics: a toxic coalition of the Murdoch press, the right wing of the Liberal and National parties, and vested interests in the fossil fuel sector.”

Late last year, Rudd initiated a national petition calling for an inquiry into Rupert Murdoch’s influence on Australia’s democracy and media diversity, with the petition amassing more than half a million signatures.

The appointment of Biden to the White House has also served to put pressure on the Federal Government’s stance as the Biden administration indicates it won’t be afraid to challenge nations and allies to take stronger action on climate change.

In response to recent criticism, Morrison has revealed Australia will commit more than half a billion to spend on new clean energy projects.

The funding, which comes as part of the May Federal Budget, will see $275.5 million go towards four more hydrogen production hubs and $263.7 million towards carbon capture storage projects.

However, critics have said that this is not enough, with Rudd and Turnbull’s open letter appearing to contain a veiled threat to Morrison, hinting that his political position was at stake.

“If our country’s last decade has demonstrated anything – with five prime ministers in just eight years – it’s that political winds can change very quickly.”

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