How the Greens failed climate change

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“In their unwillingness to compromise, the Greens destroyed Australia’s best chance to establish an emissions trading scheme and to seek later improvements,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

AT least it is clear where the coalition government stands on climate change. If only the same were true for the Greens. 

Michael Moore.

While the coalition buries its head in the sand, the track record of the Greens is one of failure. Failure not in what they believe, but in what they deliver.

The clearest attempt for action on climate change was when Malcolm Turnbull worked with the Rudd government and Greens to implement a price on carbon. The whole parliament was attempting to address Rudd’s “greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”. It seemed politicians were prepared to put the interests of the community above partisan politics.

Then came Tony (“Sherman tank”) Abbott, crushing non-partisanship in his way. And the Greens, under the leadership of Christine Milne, supported him. Australia has been in a state of climate inertia ever since. It is ironic that in October the Greens spokesperson on Climate, Adam Bandt, tweeted: “When Greens, ALP and indeps worked together before, we got a carbon price and started cutting pollution”.

Even in Britain, the climate issue seems to have been nonpartisan with politicians understanding the importance of taking appropriate action. In that country, emissions trading regulations came into action on January 1, 2013. Not so in Australia. Not since the rise of Abbott.

As climate shadow minister Mark Butler pointed out in his book on climate change, the three major parties in the UK agreed on an approach before the 2015 election. They agreed “to accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient, low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation”. 

As Butler pointed out, the impact would be that the last coal-fired power station will be closed in the UK in 2025 at the latest.

Similarly, Labor’s Penny Wong and the Coalition’s Ian Macfarlane were able to reach a compromise in 2009 on a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Unfortunately, it was enough to facilitate the coup of the hard right and Tony Abbott. Unfortunately, the hard left of the Greens also gained ascendancy so that their party joined forces to obliterate the scheme.

There has been no going back. The coalition continues to prioritise the interests of the fossil-fuel industry. At the time, the Greens did not accept the old adage of “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. In their unwillingness to compromise they destroyed Australia’s best chance to establish an emissions trading scheme and to seek later improvements.

Arguments put by the Greens at the time included: “The emissions trading scheme is weak and badly designed”. They also argued: “There comes a point when action becomes so weak that it is useless”. An analogy they presented to “prescribing and locking in the wrong treatment to a seriously ill patient can hasten death rather than prevent it” simply made no sense.

They went further arguing “it would actually point Australia in the wrong direction” suggesting “it would undermine global action with its weak target, a target which, once set, would be impossible to lift without paying more billions in compensation”.

Even more stridently: “It is not just a failure, but it locks in failure”. The irony is that the Greens locked in failure on climate action by siding with the Abbott-led coalition in a pincer movement of the hard right and the hard left of their respective parties.

The evidence of catastrophic impacts of climate change are more obvious every day. It is no wonder that the next generation is up in arms to protect the world they will inherit. The young can see it, and they are seriously concerned! When will we see the same concern from our political leaders?

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.


  1. A former MLA should be well aware that this is a very simplistic analysis. Any mature debate should be focussed on a share solution instead of blaming, labelling or political point-scoring. The issue is way more important than that. It is time we expected better from our current, past and future elected representatives.

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