Paul Kelly (Image: The Australian)

Paul Kelly — the other, other, dud Paul Kelly — is always happy to help out a Liberal mate.

Kelly, “editor-at-large” for The Australian, of course, memorably explained that the role of his paper, the local flagship of a foreign political party known as News Corp, was to support the Coalition in Australia — indeed, it was its “working rule”. Kelly fulfils that pledge today with an effort to provide Scott Morrison with a convincing argument as to why he needs to shift from net zero “preferably” by 2050 to a hard commitment to 2050 like numerous other countries.

Kelly’s pitch for Morrison is that Australia can’t stand in the way of international capital, now running strongly against fossil fuels, with the prime minister’s task “ensuring Australia’s industry is not brought undone by financial power harnessed to green utopianism”. He throws in the EU’s playing field-levelling carbon border adjustment mechanism as well, but doesn’t think that’s a big threat, a view the bloviator-at-large might change if the Americans decide to adopt it as well as part of their trade war with China.

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It’s not a bad pitch — you can picture Morrison, a dog-eared copy of Kelly’s column stapled to his talking points, rising in the joint party room, as much in anger as in sorrow, to shrug and declare that his hand has been forced by evil foreigners and global financial interests and Australia will have to sign up to a more ambitious target — though don’t worry, we’ll leave out agriculture and establish a $10 billion regional adjustment fund for the Nats to rort.

We’ve been here before with the idea of blaming the international financial system — or what Kelly variously describes as “financial power” and “the financial wolves” — over climate change. It’s a line famously pushed by far-right conspiracy theorist Malcolm Roberts, currently stuffed down the back of a chair in the Senate somewhere. Roberts claims “fraudulent global warming” is “driven by the Club of Rome, the World Bank, the UN and international bankers such as Rockefeller and Rothschild’s banking interests”.

Scrubbed clean of its offensive overtones, Kelly’s version is that the world’s central banks, major investors and biggest corporations have accepted “green utopianism” and the tide of money they control is simply too great for a nation the size of Australia to stand in the way of. Some sort of sacrifice to the financial gods is required to placate their irrational obsession — as small as possible to spare us from their wrath.

In spruiking this line, Kelly gives away much about his own fears and desires — and those of the organisation from which he has shouted power to truth for so long. In particular, that capitalism and the market — usually the objects of slavish adoration by Kelly and his confreres — are only good as long as they serve up the outcomes reactionaries want. Once the invisible hand plays you cards you don’t like, it needs to be attacked.

This power is beyond the control of any government or any public. It has no democratic legitimacy. It can make and break companies and redirect the trajectory of nations.

No legitimacy! Ouch! Except such unfettered market power is what Kelly and News Corp have been championing for decades as part of the neoliberal project: governments must get out of the way and allow markets — which are the true democracy, because they reflect the expressed, not merely the stated, will of the people — to achieve the most efficient possible outcomes.

That was great when it meant crushing unions, undermining wages, removing environmental regulation, reducing corporate taxes and allowing large corporations to dictate policy. Not so great now.

Try as he might, though, Kelly can’t break free from News Corp’s climate denialism. “What is the price paid and who pays it?” Kelly demands — echoing a question News Corp journalists were instructed to bark and scream at Bill Shorten during the 2019 election campaign. What Kelly will never ask, because News Corp remains staunchly denialist, is what the cost will be of inaction.

Maybe ask the Germans and the Belgians, Paul. Or the Americans and Canadians. Or thousands of Australians in regional communities that still haven’t been able to rebuild after the summer of 2019-20. They can start giving you an idea of the cost. Or better yet, ask insurance companies that are now refusing to provide insurance in north Queensland. Ask the world’s reinsurance giants, who have to work out how to cover the financial risk posed by catastrophic weather events caused by global warming. They haven’t been captured by “green utopianism”, they’re terrified of losing money.

At least the bloviator understands that 2050 is a furphy, and that action by 2030 is now the international priority. In doing so, he’s already identified exactly why a Morrison embrace of 2050, no matter how much confected fury erupts from Barnaby Joyce, will be way too little and far too late. But Kelly can help with that problem when Morrison comes to it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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