Australia’s perception of the Liberal-National coalition’s approach to climate change could be defined by six words.
“I don’t hold a hose, mate.”
The prime minister said it in 2019 when he faced criticism for going on holiday to Hawaii while Australia experienced its worst bushfire season.
And at this year’s election, Liberal-held inner-city seats face independent challengers pledging to take action against climate change seriously.
The coalition claims to be committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, but will not legislate the target.
At the same time, senior Nationals figure Senator Matt Canavan has declared the target “dead”.
Labor accuses the coalition of tailoring its message to suit the audience, be they voters in the city or the regions.
“Half the Liberal Party, most of the National Party, think climate change is what happens when you go to Hawaii for a holiday. It’s time they got real,” Labor campaign spokesman Jason Clare told reporters in Sydney late last month.
“(Australians) have had a gutful of this. They’re sick of politicians fighting about climate change, they just have to look out the window to know it’s real.”
Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie said the Liberal and National parties were committed to transitioning to net zero by 2050.
But the plan to do so is based on technologies which do not exist.
“To think that (transition) is a linear progression is a mistake,” Senator McKenzie told the National Press Club in April.
“Anyone who understands the development of technologies over time understands that that can be quite an up and down process.
“Right now, we’re investing in the technologies that are going to get us there in the short term and we’ll have more to say over coming decades.”
In the same speech, Senator McKenzie said a re-elected coalition would fund a new coal-fired power station.
Labor is committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 but has a more ambitious medium-term target, committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent over the next eight years.
But the opposition’s target still falls short of what experts say is necessary to combat climate change.
UN Global Compact Network Australia – a division of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative – urged the government to prioritise sustainable development as a matter of urgency.
“We can see it happening – the recent floods, massive bushfires, higher temperatures – are all consequences of climate change,” executive director Kylie Porter told AAP.
“(Australia is) so far behind in progress on climate action … we have a way to go to be on par with other OECD powerhouses.
“This is the perfect time for the government to step up.”
The network provided a detailed budget submission, urging the government to set ambitious intermediate climate targets to support the path to decarbonisation, adopt a carbon tax, and create a national fossil-fuel exit plan.
But while the federal budget released just before the election set aside billions of dollars to deal with the consequences of climate change, experts said it contained nothing to address the cause.
The Greens also criticised the budget over the taxpayer funds to be spent on fossil fuels.
“It’s an insult to every flood victim that the prime minister is spending more than 10 times more on coal, oil and gas as he is on protecting us from climate floods,” leader Adam Bandt said.