(Image: Mitchell Squire)

While the media was obsessing about personalities within the National Party and sifting through Barnaby Joyce’s word vomit for evidence of a position on net zero by 2050, things were happening in the real world.

On Friday, in a meeting that attracted virtually no coverage from the mainstream media, state and territory ministers, led by Victoria, NSW and the ACT, smashed up Angus Taylor’s plans to impose a tax on every household to support the Coalition’s coal-fired power donors. All Taylor got was a face-saving commitment to “progress further design work on a mechanism that specifically values capacity in the NEM”, based on principles that include states being able to “meet their energy and emissions reduction objectives”.

As Giles Parkinson at RenewEconomy — the team doing the hard work of energy journalism that the mainstream media doesn’t seem interested in — noted, another anti-renewables mechanism backed by Taylor, a congestion management model, was also sent off into the never-never.

The states and territories are already far ahead of the Commonwealth on climate action and the transition to net zero — a fact that seems to escape the Canberra press gallery obsessed with which National said what about Scott Morrison’s grand distraction of net zero.

That distraction is cover for the Morrison government’s ongoing efforts to look after its fossil fuel donors. Taylor’s “CoalKeeper” tax was a key mechanism for that. Taylor will keep trying it on and, if the states block it, will look for other mechanisms to support fossil fuels. The government is already supporting the carbon capture and storage scam, approving coal mine expansions and spending $15 billion on subsidising coal exports via the inland rail.

Meanwhile the Democrats in the United States are investigating a carbon tax, with direct payments to households as part of the mix — and they wouldn’t need to bring Republicans on board, because it would be a budget matter. A domestic carbon tax would inevitably see the Americans impose one on imports as well — thus ensuring that both the US and the EU establish carbon tariffs.

Australia has no leverage left with the Europeans on anything, after we killed the Naval Group subs deal in exchange for an 18 month study of which nuclear submarine the Brits or the Yanks could offload on us. Nor are the Europeans likely to look upon us too kindly if we seek to hinder commitments to stronger climate action in Glasgow.

Glasgow is now the framing device for the 2050 distraction, with the focus of the mainstream media on what deal Morrison can cut with the Nationals to get them over the line in time for the conference, if any. It fits perfectly within the way most of the press gallery likes to report politics — with an emphasis on personalities, and analysis confined to who wins and who loses from each encounter.

What would the coverage look like if it focused on policy substance and the actual drivers of the parties involved?

It would start with noting the extent of fossil fuel donations to the federal Liberal Party (over $2.4 million since 2010), the WA Liberals ($440,000), the Queensland LNP ($1.4 million) and the federal Nationals ($560,000), the role played by former fossil fuel industry executives in senior positions within the government, and the role played by senior former politicians, staffers and public servants in fossil fuel companies, and their capacity to shape policy. It would note the kind of board positions and executive roles within fossil fuel companies, and the bodies that lobby for them, that will be available for current politicians in the future.

It would note the comparatively smaller, but still important, influence on the government of exporting industries, such as farming and manufacturing, which would be subject to carbon tariffs on Australian exports. It would consider what leverage Australia would be able to exert on key governments against international decisions to impose carbon tariffs. And it would explain that in two of the biggest areas of emissions in Australia, energy and agriculture, it is state and territory governments that have primary regulatory control, not the federal government.

And it would note the array of Commonwealth measures intended to support the fossil fuel industry despite whatever words its political leaders might utter, and that net zero by 2050 for one of the world’s most carbon-intensive economies will be far too little to encourage other, bigger emitters to adopt a more rapid transition, given rapid cuts by 2030 are what are required.

That would require some diligent research, though not that much, and a reluctance to be distracted by personalities or fake targets. Most of all, it would require a different understanding of how power works in Australia, and the soft corruption that enables vested interests to purchase decisions and dictate policies. It’s a kind of journalism that, seemingly, most of our media is incapable of.