Former Liberal leadership contender Julie Bishop popped up on Today this morning. She had a blunt message for bushfire-ravaged Australia.
Former Liberal leadership contender Julie Bishop popped up on Today this morning. She had a blunt message for bushfire-ravaged Australia.

‘Show leadership’: Julie Bishop’s blunt message on climate

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop has called for Australia to respond to the bushfire crisis by "showing leadership" on climate change.

Ms Bishop, who left politics at the election last year, was on Channel 9's Today show this morning, where she reconnected with old sparring partner Karl Stefanovic.

He asked her how she felt her "former boss", Prime Minister Scott Morrison, had handled the bushfire situation.

"I think Scott Morrison is doing the best he can," Ms Bishop replied.

"He would admit and concede he's got several things wrong. And I think he's already said sorry for a couple of those things. How does he right the belief and perception that he has a disconnect with the people on this?" Stefanovic asked.

Ms Bishop said Mr Morrison's announcement of a national bushfire recovery agency was a "very welcome" step.

"It has to be a national effort. And I think people are feeling a range of emotions and they are angry, they are frustrated, they are fearful. And they are also fearing what lies ahead," she said.

"So all of our leaders need to show the compassion and care to address the needs that people have, and people need to be reassured that their leaders are listening and that every arm of government is co-operating and working together."

Julie Bishop was interviewed on Today this morning. Picture: Nine
Julie Bishop was interviewed on Today this morning. Picture: Nine

The conversation eventually turned to climate change policy, and whether Australia needed to do more.

Despite the scale of the bushfire crisis, Mr Morrison has signalled he will not change his government's approach to the issue, repeating his assertion that Australia will already "meet and beat" its emission reduction targets under the Kyoto and Paris agreements.

"My friends in the bush will be going 'Carlos, please, leave climate change out.' But I do think that as a former national leader you have an opinion on what more we can be doing," Stefanovic said.

"Australia is a highly developed country. We should be showing leadership on the issue of climate change," said Ms Bishop.

"I attended a number of international conferences, and countries do look to Australia for direction, for guidance, for leadership. And I believe we should be showing leadership on the issue of climate change.

"At the international conferences, Australia should be putting forward a cogent, coherent case for an energy policy. We don't have a national energy policy in this country and a national approach to climate change, so we are part of a global effort.

"If a country like Australia fails to show leadership, we can hardly blame other nations for not likewise showing leadership in this area."

Far from leading the rest of the world on climate change, Australia has been accused of dragging its feet.

At a United Nations summit in Spain last month, the government drew criticism for arguing it should be allowed to count carry-over credits towards its Paris target.

In other words, it wants to use "surplus" tonnes of emissions reduction from the Kyoto period (up to 2020) to help meet its commitments in the Paris period (2021-2030).

That argument helped stall the talks, which ended without a deal.

But the government argues nothing it does unilaterally will affect the climate. Global action is required. Picture: Warren Frey/AAP
But the government argues nothing it does unilaterally will affect the climate. Global action is required. Picture: Warren Frey/AAP

Mr Morrison has acknowledged the unusually long and severe bushfire season we're currently enduring is linked to climate change. But he says no such link can be drawn between the fires and Australia's specific climate policies.

"To suggest that with just 1.3 per cent of global emissions that Australia doing something differently, more or less, would have changed the fire outcome this season, I don't think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all. If anything Australia is an over-achiever on global commitments," the Prime Minister said late last year. It's an argument he has repeated many times throughout the summer.

He has a point. Without action from the world's largest emitters - most notably, the United States and China - Australia's capacity to influence global emissions is limited.

At a press conference in Canberra yesterday, Mr Morrison was asked whether his government would use its diplomatic influence to pressure those countries to do more. The answer appeared to be no.

"I mean, can you use your relationship with Donald Trump, for example, as fruitless as it may be, to pressure him to re-join Paris, given your own country is now at the forefront of the effects of climate change?" a reporter asked.

"I should stress that there is no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change globally, and its effect on global weather patterns, and that includes how it impacts Australia. Because I have to correct the record here," Mr Morrison replied.

"I have seen a number of people suggest that somehow the government does not make this connection. The government I lead has always made that connection and that has never been in dispute."

He went on to say any given country's approach to international climate change treaties was a matter "for sovereign governments to determine".

"We will continue to engage in those forums, as we recently have, but most importantly we will continue to carry our share of that burden," he said.

So, the short version is that Ms Morrison is content to see Australia do its own part. Ms Bishop, on the other hand, would have us take more of a leading role, pushing other nations to increase their commitments.

Mr Morrison did not commit to pressure other nations to act further on climate change. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
Mr Morrison did not commit to pressure other nations to act further on climate change. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

Given Australia is currently feeling the brunt of climate change, with swathes of the country burning, it's worth asking whether more voters will come around to Ms Bishop's way of thinking, and demand more active leadership.

Polling consistently shows people are worried about climate change and want emissions to be reduced. It has done for years. But when you throw the potential economic cost of action into the mix, things become more muddled.

Tony Abbott won government in 2013 by campaigning, first and foremost, on repealing Julia Gillard's carbon tax.

And climate change was, of course, one of the biggest issues in last year's election campaign.

Bill Shorten offered voters more ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy targets, but was hounded by his inability to clearly answer what those policies would cost the economy.

Mr Morrison campaigned against Labor's targets, which he labelled "economy-wrecking". He went on to win the election.

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The internal politics within the Coalition add another wrinkle. Mr Morrison is only in the top job because his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was removed - and the catalyst was Mr Turnbull's favoured energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee.

Most of the MPs who agitated over the NEG are still there.

Many of them have views aligned with another former prime minister, Mr Abbott, who raised more than a few eyebrows when he claimed the world was "in the grip of a climate cult" on Israeli radio last month.

"The climate cult is going to produce policy outcomes that will cause people to wake up to themselves," he said.

"The last thing we should do is drive our industries offshore and be putting pressure on household budgets and risk third world style blackouts, all in the name of climate change. We have got to be sensible and balanced and proportionate about these things."

Some Liberal and National MPs go even further. Senator Gerard Rennick, for example, has claimed the Bureau of Meteorology is rewriting climate records to fit its "global warming agenda".

If he were to propose more drastic action on climate change, Mr Morrison would need to get the changes through the Liberal Party room, where people like Mr Rennick wield influence.

The key to greater action may be found in places like Cobargo, where the Prime Minister got such a hostile reception last week.

Mr Morrison copped severe criticism from locals when he visited Cobargo last week.
Mr Morrison copped severe criticism from locals when he visited Cobargo last week.

Furious locals, some of whom had lost their homes, shouted at Mr Morrison and refused to shake his hand. Their chief complaint was insufficient funding for the Rural Fire Service.

Cobargo is in the marginal electorate of Eden-Monaro - one of the key seats that decide elections. Should it, and other communities like it, turn against the government's attitude on climate change, Mr Morrison could come under real pressure to do more.

For now though, the Prime Minister has given no indication he will change his approach.

 

This firefighter refused to shake his hand.
This firefighter refused to shake his hand.

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