When the federal ALP created a cabinet portfolio for climate change in addition to the existing environment portfolio, environmentalists cheered. Wider support and expectation of government action on the critical challenge of our time seemed to be not completely unfounded.
Fast forward 18 months and witness the paradox.
Rather than according the global environmental crisis an imperative need for action, Penny Wong’s portfolio has become a political ‘too hard’ basket. Rather than reflecting an understanding of the ecological apocalypse we have set in motion, the separation of climate change from environment mirrors a 19th Century degree of ignorance that still manifests strongly in both major political parties.
Somehow, climate change and environment are not two issues demanding high priority – instead, they are two topics to be firmly, artificially and bureaucratically separated from each other and treated as somehow micro-manageable.
And just as they are somehow able to exist in isolation from one another, they are also not connected to the global economy, global finance markets, the national economy or Australia’s future.
Which is odd, considering that the Australian Government claims to be future-focused, with tens of billions of future dollars freshly set aside for a suite of massive infrastructure projects: projects almost entirely based in old world cement and enabling massive future consumption of coal and fossil fuels.
But at least the probability of a piddling 5 per cent carbon target now has given way to the possibility of a fiddling 25 per cent target in the future. The government still proclaims this as world-leading, even though the German environment minister has his country aiming for a 40 per cent reduction since last year.
And the German government is a fragile coalition of parties with different agendas, held together by ongoing agreement, yet it has managed to push forward with the most progressive environmental laws and policies in Europe.
The Australian Government, a single party elected by a large margin with a strong popular mandate and enjoying broad voter support, has caved in to the poorly disguised self-interests of conservative media, heavily polluting industries due for heavy unconditional compensation despite the recommendations of Professor Ross Garnaut, and the hollow whining of I-told-you-so politicians like Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Costello.
Sometimes the only change you can believe in is jingling in your pocket.