Global Warming

Aug 23, 2010

Australia’s second climate change election

When Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election in a landslide, it was heralded as the world’s first climate change election. Three years later, having squandered their mandate, the ALP went to

John Hepburn

John worked as a mechanical engineer making components for the coal, oil and nuclear industries before becoming an environmental activist in the mid 1990's. He co-founded a successful recycling business in Brisbane before moving to Sydney to work with Greenpeace. He has a strong interest in the politics of technology and in social movement strategy, and, like many, is extremely concerned about climate change. He works part-time as a senior campaigner with the Greenpeace Australia Pacific climate change campaign.

When Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election in a landslide, it was heralded as the world’s first climate change election. Three years later, having squandered their mandate, the ALP went to Saturday’s election having tried to bury the issue. With little clear difference between the offerings of the two major parties, and neither pushing their climate change credentials as a strong point of difference, it was little wonder that climate change didn’t feature strongly in the media coverage of the election campaign.

But with the results almost in, it is clear that climate change once again played a major role in the election, but in a very different way than 2007.

In 2007, the Greens got 7.8% of the primary vote, a disappointing increase of only 0.6% from the previous election. Public concern over climate change was channelled into a vote for Labor – which was promising strong action and a clear alternative to Coalition inaction. But in 2010, with both major parties failing on the issue, the Greens were the only party promising strong and credible action on climate and their vote jumped 3.6% to 11.4%. Of the 5.4% swing against Labor, nearly 70% of it went to the Greens.

The result is a hung Parliament for the first time since 1940 and the clear emergence of the Greens as a third political force in Australia.

It shows that climate change is an issue that can’t be ignored. It can’t be dismissed with a talk-fest, a grab bag of half baked ideas, or pork barrels. Concern over global warming has entered the bedrock of the Australian body politic and politicians ignore it at their peril.

The big question is how the ALP will respond to the climate crisis if they manage to form a minority Government (as appears to be the most likely option)? They were punished for backflipping on the issue and the strong Green vote (not to mention opinion poll after opinion poll) indicates that the public want action.

While the role that climate change played in the electoral success of the independents is open to conjecture, it is interesting to note that all but Bob Katter have been strong and vocal advocates for action on climate change. Tony Windsor has been a strident critic of the coal industry and in 2008 sponsored the “Climate Protection Bill” in the Parliament, calling for 30% cuts by 2020. Rob Oakeshott has made it clear that climate change is a priority issue for him, and Andrew Wilkie ran as a Greens candidate in NSW and is a strong supporter of climate action.

With independents pushing for action, and the shift to a new Senate in July next year, the ALP would do well to move quickly to make the difficult decisions early in the next term of Government.

They will almost certainly need to abandon the citizens assembly after the near total ridicule it received. It was the wrong idea, on the wrong issue at the wrong time and reflected a serious misreading of the public mood.  Maybe the “New” Julia could announce the “New” climate policy, and jettison the hackneyed rubbish that she ran with during the election campaign?

We are, after all, rapidly running out of time to stop runaway global warming that, according to the latest summary by the Australian Academy of Science, has the potential to increase average global temperatures by up to 7 degrees within our children’s lifetime.  Maybe that’s why so many people steadfastly refuse to allow policians to ignore it?

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31 thoughts on “Australia’s second climate change election

  1. Kelli

    Perhaps a society should first be judged by how it coexists with its ecosystems and second by how it treats its people. We are the first industrialised civilisation to inhabit the earth and research tells us that virtually all of the earth’s ecosystems have been significantly transformed by humans. The threat of climate change requires a global, national and local response. 90% of carbon emissions from Australia’s electricity sector are created from coal run power stations, so the federal government spending $1billion dollars on renewable energies over the next 10 years in an attempt to help Australia commit to a low pollution economy is welcomed. But further action is required. Australia could and should implement carbon pricing. This would facilitate new technologies by increasing competitiveness, raising revenue and helping the environment. Our government has been meandering around the subject now for almost four years. Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy have implemented carbon-based taxes (or equivalents) so why cant Australia? Are we as per usual waiting on America? The recently established climate change committee is allegedly assessing options for a carbon tax. Gillard recently said that they are looking at market based mechanisms to provide costing on carbon and made no comment as to how long it will be before the committee makes a decision let alone takes action. It seriously feels as though we are no closer than we were a few years ago. Our politicians talk like they want change but the policy is slow following. From a political perspective delaying policy and in effect ignoring climate change will eventually damage the driver of politics, that which is economic growth.

  2. Quizzical

    Had to go beyond refresh to history delete – got the posts balancing but still trouble logging in with firefox. Can cope!

  3. kdkd

    I’m seeing the 28 posts with IE, Firefox and Safari. Possibly you need to manually refresh the page in Mozilla for some reason.

  4. Quizzical

    kdkd (or any one else feeling helpful)


    I am intrigued as I use two browsers – Mozilla as the main, IE as the backup.

    For several days I have been noting a discrepancy with what they are showing for this erstwhile blog.

    As at this moment I am showing the kdkd response 1148 4/9 above as post 27 and when I look at BLOGS – Rooted – Australia’s second climate change election via IE I see 27 posts as the number there but if I look via Mozilla I only see 25 posts.

    Can someone else with two browsers advise if they see a discrepancy also?

  5. kdkd

    Quizzical #29

    Yes that was interesting, thanks.

  6. Quizzical


    An interesting paper – the comments about the priorities of the rural electorates versus those of the city are worth thought.

  7. Quizzical

    The fundamental question is that the economy continue to operate and that is why we must go past the Greens “Through the Looking Glass” theories to hard economic data.

    Given Tony got it wrong by AUD $10.6B in a party with governing experience and a track record of economic management, that leaves the Greens needing to demonstrate maturity and credibility in your next decade or two – by trotting out a financial plan for how Australia will maintain equilibrium.

    Otherwise, no matter how much he gyres and gimbles with theory, Adam may become known in economic credibility as “that frumious bandtersnatch”.

  8. kdkd

    Quizzical #23:

    [ I’ll reserve any judgement on whether JFPE is on target or not – until I see the Greens macro-costings on the economy under their alternative strategies. ]

    See, that’s more like it, no overreach. I’m in it for the long game for the greens, I wouldn’t like to see them make government for a decade or two, but as a useful guide for the other parties to improve their environmental credentials, or suffocate on the rising tide of the realisation that we do not have infinite resources if they don’t, then I see no alternatives.

  9. Quizzical

    Voters also seemed to like Kevin Rudd in 2007 – but his policies and performance changed their minds, nay?

    What voters like is somewhat fickle and these days seemingly based on what bathers are worn rather than policies.

    I’ll reserve any judgement on whether JFPE is on target or not – until I see the Greens macro-costings on the economy under their alternative strategies.

  10. kdkd

    JFPE #21. Thanks for the wonderful examples of hysterical overreach. Better go take a chill pill 🙂

    Here are some examples of the hysteria, condensed for the benefit of posterity:

    [ irrational, ill advised and completely impossible to put into practice without the total collapse of our economy and standard of living. ]

    [ lunatic party will destroy everything that has made Australia great]

    [ They don’t have any workable policies? The Greens are illogical, irrational and completely insane! ]

    [ if the Greens vote doesn’t stop then this country is facing complete ruin. ]

    [ It’s madness! ]

    Voters seem to like the Tasmanian Green/Labor coalition. Looks like you’re going to have to get used to supressing your psychosis 😉

  11. Johnfromplanetearth

    Anti- green overreach? That is exactly what the Greens want to do? Bob Brown’s lunatic party will destroy everything that has made Australia great, do you really want that?
    They don’t have any workable policies? The Greens are illogical, irrational and completely insane! Where does he think all the money will come from? Whose going to pay for it all?
    It’s madness!

  12. kdkd

    More anti-green overreach from jfpe. Assuming that they greens keep level headed, and use St Bob of Brown’s political nouse to stay that way, this overreach is going to backfire for those excessively attached to the status quo in an even bigger way than it already has 🙂

  13. Johnfromplanetearth

    All it really means is the Greens have marketed themselves as a ‘brand’. We all know that they have no workable policies, they are irrational, ill advised and completely impossible to put into practice without the total collapse of our economy and standard of living.
    People vote Green because they think this makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside and that they are doing their bit for the enviroment. If any Greens policies get put into practice then that will all change dramatically, increased personal taxes, higher electricity bills, insane mining taxes, company taxes, more foreign aid, illegal asylum seekers let loose after 14 days, no coal exports (it’s only worth $55 billion to our economy) no uranium mining. Yep, we’ll be living the high life under the Greens.
    The reality is if the Greens vote doesn’t stop then this country is facing complete ruin. A Green vote is a vote for insanity and only insane, ignorant fools vote Green. Mental illness is a big problem in Australia.

  14. kdkd


    I must say I was being deliberately obtuse, to a degree. I think you mean that correlation is not causation. With your previous comment regarding an association between the populaiton of cars and mobile phones, you’re right, there is no direct causal relationship, but assuming the phenomenon is not entirely acausal there’s some more fundamental technological force fueling the association.

    I also agree that the greens were right to reject the ETS as it was a ‘worse than nothing’ solution.

    Australian building standards are piss weak. My house is only “designed” well by a lucky accident of orientation. The sooner aggressive passively efficient building standards are brought in the better. But the way that business has bought the political process the amount of intertia to overcome is huge. I’m hoping the much increased green vote represents a series of own goals for them.

    I just get the impression that you’re seeing hypocrisy where I see a conflict caused by our current profligate energy usage. I’m not innocent here myself. Although I’ve contained my aircraft time to average under 5 hours per year for the last decade, this year I’ll end up racking up about 40 hours of plane time – while I’m not happy about this, and I’ll do my best to avoid air travel next year, the opportunity cost to me as an individual has been too great – and I’m someone who thinks about this stuff (I also racked up 20 hours of time on fast rail, which would otherwise have been short haul flights). With appropriate cultural change, superfast broadband then this perceived cultural need to travel could be reduced.

  15. Quizzical


    I didn’t write “causal causal” to my knowledge; but this is probably the wrong spot to enter a debate on your interpretations or the ins and outs of inferential statistics.

    But I do remember from my media training the sage advice that when someone proceeds ad hominem rather than debate the evidence, it is because their evidence won’t stand in the spotlight.

    The SMH link is NOT actual cites? What I suggested was “I found this of interest re the ETS” – and I did because what the SMH article said was:
    ‘He helped defeat Australia’s only realistic attempt at an ETS, he said, because Rudd’s proposed compensation for carbon emitters, “the biggest polluters,” was too much.’

    That’s not a cite? Further, that’s not allowing economic bias to block an ETS?

    Now, into my archives and some more thoughts on the environmentally conscious MCC. It seems sometimes the pendulum swings a tad away from greenness where self-interest comes first?

    Despite greens concerns over the impact of avtur contrails in the high atmosphere, the MCC set new records for travel

    But, to the rescue – the greens councillor:

    Finally, you stated above “You actually find that per capita energy usage in well designed city centres is actually quite low.”

    Here is a direct quote from none other than Mick Pearce – the architect of the CH2 building that you cited as indicative of green thinking at a high level in the MCC:
    “We have to move very quickly. We’ve got about 10 years or something before we get catastrophic climate change. 40% of total energy consumed is consumed by operating buildings – 40%!”

    I apologise for trotting out more of what you consider “illogical twaddle”. (Defined as that which does not fit your beliefs so must be ignored – a bias well researched by psychologists and possibly implicit in some of the climate change debate).

    However, we again agree on one issue. The leadership problem in the developed world is a key crisis as the emphasis is on shareholder returns and short-term actions (to get pollies re-elected). No-one has a social conscience across the totality.

    Unless you have something new to offer in support of your philosophies, can we let this circular argument die a natural death until we cross swords on some later thread. (And well done on your home environmentalism as I respect someone who practices what he/she preaches).

  16. kdkd


    nope, your language referring to being interested in causal causal versus causal relationships, or whatever it is makes no sense.

    Certainly the 200 odd trees that I’ve planted in my suburban nirvana (with good public transport links) provide important ecosystem services in keeping the place cooler in summer, as well as habitat for a variety of animals, plants and fungi, so trees do have a role in the urban environment.

    You realise the smh link you provided is more ideological propaganda, and not actual “cites”? Personally I feel the leadership vacuum in most of the developed world is a big problem. It’s especially bad in the New World where institutions are generally developed to be for the benefit of industry rather than the genereal population, and where mass experience of severe resource limitations have been very limited.

  17. Quizzical


    You make it difficult to argue if you don’t comprehend the difference in causal and casual statistical associations.

    Plenty of rhetoric, few cites. Are you suggesting Melbourne is a “well designed city centre”? I think rather you are talking of some green nirvana elsewhere. Melbourne is actually a hodge podge of leftovers from settlement through to ugly skyscrapers so unnecessarily high they even affect the runway operations at Essendon for organisations like the Flying Doctor.

    Trees – well I thought trees were somewhat helpful and cherished for reducing climate change. When I last looked the Melb City Council “had no power to protect trees on private property regardless of their historical value.” A wonderful green 10 story building but a MCC lacking the basic controls other councils institute to secure nature.

    Victoria is the State of abysmal public transport that even missed the chance to run a light rail to the airport up the middle of the freeway to reduce energy use and pollution. The State that is reducing the water controls, with the dams not even half full, to win votes for the election.

    But, in terms of renewables, on the positive side Victoria has wind farms springing up like daisies in the lawn, 2-3MW per turbine. Of course, someone has to pay for the turbines in the long run, effective life of 30 years, and around $1M a turbine sited from memory. Money doesn’t grow on trees!

    Then there’s nuclear – clean energy apart from the waste being left to future generations.

    I found this of interest re the ETS–red-all-over-20100818-12f89.html

    I find plenty of hypothesis in much of what I am reading but little to convince me that the plan for action has been costed across the full range of implications.

    We are not going to agree; perhaps I can agree with you that only time will tell. In fact, climate change is like the deity people may or may not follow – we won’t find the truth in our lifetime.

    In your favour is that if the swing to the Greens continues as you hope – it might even catch up with we quizzical ones who live away from the capital cities and the Greens might then jump past one lower house member elected by voters from the concrete jungle.

  18. kdkd

    Quizzical #11

    You’re really trying to claim that your argument is coherent when you come out with something like this: “anti linking casuality to causality”.

    There was more illogical twaddle in your previous post: “[Melbourne] is a capital city area where energy use and lack of trees is the norm”. You actually find that per capita energy usage in well designed city centres is actually quite low. I’m not sure why you would have these high population density areas located in forests either – your point about trees is rather obscure.

    Only time will tell what the increased green vote means. It’s either a long term trend towards more environmentally focused politics, particularly due to the major parties pathetic attempts on climate change, or a mere protest vote that will evaporate in a couple of electoral cycles. I think it’s the former – I see substantial differences between the greens and the democrats in this area, but it could be the altter.

    One thing I can assure you is that attitudes like “Yes, let’s bring in carbon tax and dump buring brown coal, Dr Feelgood, in a nation that generates less than 2% of the problem” are misreading the problem and the solution. Australia is certainly busy squandering any early mover/leadership advantage that it would be well placed to obtain in the renewable energy market. Were you aware that in 2009 and 2010 global investment in renewables exceeded global investment in fossil fuels. No, neither were our political leaders, because they’re too busy being fluffed by the fossil fuel lobby in Canberra!

  19. Quizzical


    I’m not anti-green; I’m anti-rhetoric and and anti linking casuality to causality.

    Are you seriously suggesting a council needs a 10 storey monolith in the heart of the city? I deal with councils in other matters, don’t start me on their ratepayer funded monopoly excesses.

    As I do in aviation, I require to base my assessments on facts, data, and evidence. Possibly not helped as I weather the coldest winter here for over 10 years.

    “followed by a bunch of illogical twaddle” – ah yes, the classic greens supporters way of discounting data and evidence. One suspects your favourite rock group is “Blind Faith”.

    Yes, let’s bring in carbon tax and dump buring brown coal, Dr Feelgood, in a nation that generates less than 2% of the problem. Then we can continue the transfer of jobs and manufacturing offshore to countries like China who will make hand on heart emission promises with no intention of compliance. That will solve the climate change problem, and our economic woes, won’t it?

    I said “from hypothesis to accountability” – let’s see how the Greens go when that happens.

  20. kdkd

    Quizzical #11

    The problem with you anti-greenies is that you overstate your case so badly you overshoot the mark, and nobody takes you seriously.

    Specifically I’m referring to “Build a monolith and disguise it as a green machine …” followed by a bunch of illogical twaddle

  21. Quizzical


    How true. A monumental tribute to the 540 staff needed to maintain the excesses of that council.

    Build a monolith and disguise it as a green machine. A ten storey delight with retail on the ground floor to bring more people and pollution to town, and the necessary u/g car park to encourage more vehicle emissions.

    Melbourne city ratepayers must be delighted to have funded this holy temple, still it is a green exception in an electorate comprising “heavy and light engineering, extensive manufacturing, commercial and retail activities (including Melbourne markets and central business district), dockyards, clothing and footwear industries, warehousing and distributing of whitegoods, building and other general goods.” It ain’t easy being green in that climate – although John So certainly seemed to run though the greenbacks during his tenure!!

    Just to clarify my comment yesterday about the lift in the Green’s vote, it comes down to the difference in casual and causal relationships. As an example the number of mobile telephones and the number of cars are both increasing but to draw any causative relationship conclusion is incorrect. In the same vein, unless I see more definitive data, I remain convinced that the Green’s vote was not necessarily an extra 3.6% endorsement of their policies. My thinking is perhaps flavoured by the 1.7% increase in the informal vote also.

    The future will be interesting. With the potential power of the small group who will hold the balance – they will go from hypothesis to accountability. For some reason that reminds me of a former rock singer moved into actions versus lyrics – was it “batts are burning” .

  22. kdkd

    Quizzical #9

    Don’t forget that Melbourne is the home of Council House 2 which suggests that there is some kind of green culture at the highest levels in that city.

  23. Quizzical

    I have some difficulty with the conclusion “the Greens were the only party promising strong and credible action on climate and their vote jumped 3.6% to 11.4%.”

    This election saw both major parties conduct the most negative campaign in memory and with no free giveways to sweeten the bitterness.

    It is a line ball whether the vote for the Greens was a vote for action on climate change or instead a vote NOT FOR the other two parties. Strongly also created by the Greens bridesmaid campaign that your vote would ultimately get to your normal party via the preference system. How else but voting against the big two did the Sex Party pick up any votes?

    Taking Bandt as a Greens example his seat is a capital city area where energy use and lack of trees is the norm. It is great to see the locals aware of their contribution to the problem and putting on a hair shirt by voting Green to feel better – but I’ll feel warmer when I note a substantial swing to Greens in the rural sector that depends on the earth for survival.

    What worries me even more is the bureaucracy festering in Canberra re climate change. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. We may need a carbon tax to fund their excesses and usual bureaucratic inefficiency as they consume resources at an ever increasing pace.

  24. Eponymous

    Damnit, I knew there was something else I wanted to add.

    While BobKat is opposed to a carbon price and AGW in general, he is in favour of a move to clean tech in energy. His line about ‘energy security’ and the food security issue of protecting farmland may lead to support of policies designed to address AGW. His goal of an energy corridor to Mt Isa will have some nice flow on effects, even if the reason for his support is different to mine.

  25. Eponymous

    I agree that Labor squandered a pretty clear mandate; they would argue that the GFC didn’t help. I would argue that they squandered the GFC as an opportunity to drive some change. Finally. So, they deserved the punishment they got and a Green senate hopefully means some proper legislation might get fired at this problem.

  26. EngineeringReality

    Bring on a carbon tax.

    As I am paying for 100% renewable electricity my power bills won’t go up because of the extra costs of a price on carbon – only those who still want to be supplied via burning coal will cop a price rise.

  27. GlenTurner1

    Ah Tom, even a carbon tax doesn’t require the government to increase it’s total revenue from taxation. You simply lower other taxes. I’m sure Tony Abbott could sell that if he wishes to.

    Interesting problem for the business lobby groups should a government’s carbon revenue be used to lower company taxation. In a previous era Graham Richardson would be hammering the wedge into place right now.

    The real bugger is that a lot of the low-cost, high-effectiveness measures for reducing CO2 were given a bad name by their incompetent administration during the Rudd government (eg, house insulation). Which leads any future “direct action” strategy looking only at the higher cost measures.

  28. Bellistner

    The parties know that if they bring in a Carbon Tax (or Trading system), they’ll be hit with a campaign from the Big Polluters. Labor has already lost one PM, and the Libs know they need their support (see Abbotts meeting with the AMA after the RSPT was announced).

    What both parties need to realise is that these businesses don’t vote.

  29. Tom Jones

    It Tony Abbott gets in as PM this consensus will be hard to translate into any kind of action because of his big play on no new taxes. It will be almost impossible for him to bring in any kind of scheme which will address the issues. Labor also had a problem in that its last policy was to pay the polluters from taxpayer dollars. It looks like the events in Pakistan, China and Russia over the last few weeks may be just the beginning of catastrophes resulting from climate change while we have elections about ears.

  30. colin handley

    There is already 72% community consensus on need for action on climate change, Even Abbott recognised it as 80% in his “climate change is crap” speech !!!!

    Please wont a leader with guts just bring in a modest carbon tax with predictable increase so business can firm their plans?

    I can think of no other issue where we have a 70% consensus, so just do it,
    no matter how many community forums it is unlikely to be greater %

    India has a $1 /ton carbon tax on coal. Nz has a Carbon reduction scheme brought in with minimum of fuss.
    Not once in the campaign did i here anybody mention these facts . The press were to busy with trivia in a policy free election,

  31. Flower

    A resounding result for the Greens in Saturday’s election and hopefully a win for environmental justice. However, Mother Nature’s hot flushes may not be abated any time soon if ‘Climate Crap’ Abbott’s party wins the seat of Hasluck in WA.

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