Josh Frydenberg and George Christensen (Images: AAP)

The hypocrites award moves from business to politics today with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in close competition with his boss, the PM.

You’d think the treasurer had enough to do putting the final touches to the crucial Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) due to drop tomorrow, but obviously not. He has found time for a bit of political hypocrisy on the side.

There’s no other way to explain the news this morning that he is supporting a proposed inquiry into banks and finance companies that are pulling back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change concerns.

He’s been uncharacteristically quick to give his powerful backing to the controversial inquiry — instituted by climate-denying backbencher George Christensen — given the government’s prior form in this area.

For how many years did Frydenberg and his colleagues oppose a royal commission into the disgraceful and financially damaging behaviour of big banks and financial institutions? For nearly a decade after the first Senate inquiry called for one. But when then-Labor leader Bill Shorten formally proposed it in 2016 there was a dire warning from then-treasurer Scott Morrison.

“I think it is a reckless distraction,” he said, adding it was just “reckless political games” and a “populist whinge”.

But now it’s apparently alright to back Christensen’s ideological witch-hunt. And Frydenberg has even approved dragging in overworked financial regulators like APRA and ASIC to appear at the inquiry.

My how quick they are to abandon their free-market principles to grill the same privately owned firms over their corporate decisions — presumably to intimidate them into politically motivated decisions that only accord with government ideology.

Never mind that everyone from the ratings agencies to the Reserve Bank to world financial institutions are demanding climate change be considered as part of credit control.

Speaking of world financial institutions — obviously we are meant to forget that the government is jetting former finance minister Mathias Cormann around the globe lobbying for the top job at the OECD where he is burnishing his previously little known climate change credentials.

Cormann was quoted this week as promising that if he was named OECD secretary-general, he would “use every lever available through the organisation to help lead and drive ambitious and effective action on climate change as a top priority”.

How that sits with Gormless George’s inquiry is a mystery.

The government’s hypocrisy is even more stark when you see the Frydenberg story appearing on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald today under another one with the headline “Australia uses coal ban to hit China on emissions”.

It notes the Morrison government will use China’s indefinite ban on Australian coal to accuse Beijing of skirting its climate change commitments.

Yes, you read that correctly. Yesterday Morrison warned that if China sources coal from other countries those imports “have 50% higher emissions” than Australian coal.

“As a result, that would be a bad outcome for the environment,” he said, presumably with a straight face.

Australian lecturing anyone on emissions is actually beyond hypocrisy. We’re now getting into parody. Although to be fair the PM is obviously desperately grabbing at anything as the whole China trade mess spirals out of control.

The fact that alternative customers for Australia’s superior coal exports are already scaling back demand — and only more so in the future — means the China coal crisis could be a salient opportunity to plan ahead.

But not of course for the Don Quixotes in the Coalition who want to use government power to intimidate private companies to deny the inevitable as well.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW