News Politics Has Anthony Albanese finally snookered the Greens on climate?

Has Anthony Albanese finally snookered the Greens on climate?

47th Parliament holds first meeting

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On the eve of the opening of a new Parliament, only the Greens are proving a fly in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s ointment.

The PM has promised to get down to the business of government with 18 bills for openers.

But it is one bill setting a target of reducing carbon emissions by 43 per cent – that relies on the Greens’ support in the Senate – which could upend things at the outset.

The Greens say the targets are insultingly unambitious; others say they are better than the alternative.

The parallels to Labor’s last first term in office draw themselves, but Mr Albanese has helped to draw them all the same.

Greens ‘snookered’?

But if Labor’s bill does get up this time it could be because a PM who spent a previous life in Sydney politics brawling with them has found a way to snooker the Greens – perhaps even with a touch of much-hyped ‘‘new politics’’.

Labor has taken pains to engage on climate with the ‘teal’ independents.

The government’s negotiations with the independent MPs representing a growing constituency opposed to going slow on climate have been careful and run in parallel with talks with the Greens.

So far, some of the independent MPs, who came to power advocating much higher targets, seem to have quickly gotten on board with the idea that politics is the art of the possible.

They have set about seeking improvements to climate policy where they can, without counter-signing the government’s approach either.

A shared view has made its way into the government’s rhetoric on the bill: The targets are a floor, not a ceiling, one on which further initiatives like making cars fuel efficient or getting rid of phoney schemes for “offsetting” carbon pollution can be built.

The government gets an opportunity to maneuver without accusations it is in bed with the Greens. And the Greens are on an oppositional track.

The Greens claim climate targets are pointless if new coal mines are opened.

The party has said the climate targets were pointless as long as the government continues to allow new coal mines to be opened.

The government says stopping new mines in Australia will drive overseas pollution.

Rhetorically at least, the Greens seem to be backing off that fight, which narrows their objections to (relative) bits and pieces.

“This target is consistent with more bleaching of the reef, crop failures, worst fires and floods,” Mr Bandt said on Monday.

​​“You can’t put obstacles in the way of governments in the future that might be more ambitious.

“We don’t want Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer to be able to put a brake on future governments.”

On the first of Mr Bandt’s two other objections, members of the Canberra press gallery have been tying each other in knots all week: How the bill will treat future increases to targets for cutting emissions.

The issue is simpler than the coverage has let on but disagreement remains.

International agreements on climate change have been made in the expectation that progress gathers pace – perhaps technologies get cleaner or industries more efficient or governments more conscious.

An earnest debate is ongoing about whether the bill will expressly bank these gains via a “ratchet mechanism” that steadily lifts the target.

Some credible observers say the bill provides for this expectation already; the Greens argue the current draft could impede increases to the target. Whatever resolution is found, anyone who has not bothered to learn about the technicalities in dispute will have that decision validated.

Bill can’t be ‘Dutton-proofed’

That is precisely because Mr Bandt’s second line of criticism is based on a fantastical idea about how democracy works and how one law might change that.

The Greens would like an assurance these gains cannot be reversed and that the legislation might be “Dutton proof” lest a future Parliament come under the sway of those who must not be named.

The climate change bill cannot, as the Greens would wish, be ‘Dutton-proofed’.

Democracies cannot be Dutton-proofed. Legislative safeguards can be “ratcheted” into place but it is the nature of things that they might also be undone too.

If Parliaments could stop the nation at a fixed point in time then 1949 to 1966 would have been playing on a continuous loop since soon after John Howard won power.

And that is the whole point about the climate bill – and this first sitting of Parliament.

The government was originally not going to embed these targets in a law at all; they could have been done by a ministerial edict.

But it has since decided, it would seem, for the sake of having a bit of a national moment, to put it to Parliament anyway.

And here is where even a cynic would have to concede the power of political symbolism.

Independent MPs won’t swing a division when the lower house votes.

But if the women who came to the centre of national attention for fighting for a cause (and whose credibility has not yet been sullied by politics) vote for it, where does that leave the Greens?

In need of Dutton-proofing, it might seem.