A new meme is being pushed by people close to Labor to help force through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Just as the failure of the Republic referendum knocked that issue off the agenda for a decade or more, the story goes, so if the CPRS fails in the Senate will we have lost our chance to do introduce an ETS for ten years?
While this might be a superficially attractive comparison, it is as far from reality as Minister Wong’s statements about economic transformation are from the reality of the scheme her Government has designed.
Certainly, there are some similarities between the republic and climate change. In both cases, we see a strong public desire for radical change that is not reflected in the Government. In both cases we see a serious lack of bipartisanship. In both cases, we see a Government whose heart is not in it put forward a minimalist option that disappoints and disempowers the people.
But there is one fundamental difference which makes a mockery of the whole attempt to draw a parallel. Urgency.
There is only one reason why the Republic was on the agenda in the 1990s, after a century-long campaign — because Paul Keating and a few other determined individuals put it there. While there is and was broad public support for a move to a republic, the fact that we did not make the change last decade and may not in the next decade is a great pity, but it is no tragedy. John Howard’s undermining of the referendum took the wind out of the sails of the republic push in a way that is deeply unfortunate, but nothing disastrous will happen if the push does not increase again rapidly. No-one will die for lack of an Australian republic.
Climate change, on the other hand, is on the agenda because it is a scientifically demonstrated threat that is increasingly impossible to ignore or sideline. If we do not act fast, we invite social, economic and environmental catastrophe on a scale most of us find hard to imagine.
If the current proposal falls over, as it should unless significantly improved, we have no choice but to try again in the very near future. Public pressure will only grow stronger as the threat becomes ever clearer and as the globe begins to act.
The strongest parallel between the republic and the climate is that in both cases the Australian people are being presented with a dodgy, “take it or leave it” option that they are unwilling to accept. In neither case should they be forced to accept it because it is the only option at the moment. In both cases, accepting the minimalist approach effectively shuts off the option of making the radical change that is necessary.
Let’s reject the minimalist approach in this case as we did with the Republic and tell the Government to come back with a better option. This one is unacceptable.
Tim Hollo is a blogger at Rooted and media adviser to Greens Deputy Leader Christine Milne. These thoughts represent his views, not necessarily those of the Greens.