Is the 2022 federal election result a watershed moment in Australian politics? The turning point when the existential threat posed by climate change has finally risen to great enough prominence in the minds of enough Australians that we will no longer tolerate excuses, filibuster and inaction?
The electoral success of so many so-called ‘teal’ (mostly educated, professional women) and Greens candidates is an unequivocal demonstration that the Australian people demand genuine action to tackle climate change, respect for women and diversity, and integrity in politics, issues (amongst others) that the outgoing government increasingly bulldozed with an alarming lack of empathy.
It is a clear indication that conservatives can no longer afford to be dismissive of climate change as a ‘fringe’ or extreme leftist issue at either a national or local level. To genuinely represent their community, members of parliament must listen to and act on the concerns of the community, not vested or corporate interests. Voters want governing to be about the wellbeing of people and planet, not just economic number-crunching.
The Liberal–National Coalition may have lost up to 15 seats, but significantly only half of those went to Labor whose primary vote also declined since the previous election, an indication that voters are fed up with highly partisan “climate wars” and want more ambitious action on climate than either Liberal or Labor have proposed. The newly elected Greens and ‘teal’ independents will have a critical role in pushing the new –somewhat more receptive– government to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, rapidly wean the economy off coal and gas, and implement a proactive plan to transition fossil-fuel industries, workers and communities to a clean energy future. A Labor federal government may be more inclined to heed the example of renewable energy and electric transport leadership demonstrated by the Labor-Greens government here in the ACT. However, Federal Labor is still entrenched in its view that gas has a transition role to play in reaching zero net emissions. To walk the walk on climate change, and not just talk the talk, they will need to revisit their support for new coal and gas projects across the country, and be more definitive about stopping fossil fuel exports.
There will be plenty of scrutiny on national policies in coming months. But what does this election outcome mean for the ACT?
During the campaign, the Conservation Council highlighted the plight of critically-endangered native grasslands threatened by Defence Housing Australia’s proposed housing development at Lawson. When the proponent is a federal authority, and environmental and planning approvals will be sought from other other federal agencies, the Labor Party has it within its power to stop the environmental destruction from going ahead. While changes to the EPBC Act (Federal environment laws) have been mooted by the incoming Government, including the introduction of an environmental regulator, it’s unclear that these changes would be in time to protect the grasslands, but it would be a damning legacy for the ALP if this project was signed off in its first year of power. Surely, with cooperation between the ACT and Federal government likely to be at an all time high, another solution can be found, and other sites for Defence housing could be explored?
For those who have worked for many years to protect our precious natural world and drive a meaningful response to the climate crisis that we are now facing, it is heartening that so many Australians finally voted for real action. There is a huge task ahead of us as a nation, to make the systemic and structural changes we will need to ensure that carbon emissions drop, that nature is valued and prioritised, and to ensure that we are resilient in the face of the environmental challenges coming at us. Let’s get busy!