20 October 2021

Questions without notice: Take note of answers

This week has been an interesting one to say the least. On one hand we have had the Coalition, in particular members of the National Party, say that they have a plan to reduce emissions, but on the other hand they still want to support some of the biggest polluters in this country. It is a reasonable statement to make that we as parliamentarians are by no means strangers to conflict, particularly in this place here in the Senate, but today in question time there was a prominent illustration of this, where our passion and our disagreements with each other on what is best for our nation’s future were on full display for all to see.

I have been here for only two years, but from my time previously in another capacity, it is very uncommon for us to see publicly such great levels between members of the government itself—division between the opposition and the government, sure; but public division between ministers and backbenchers and between the Prime Minister and his own Deputy Prime Minister?

That is not a common occurrence. Yet that is what has been on show to the Australian public right in the middle of a global pandemic, right in the middle of our economy’s start to recovery. In fact, division between the two Coalition parties has been on display for quite some time now. Those sitting on the opposite side of the chamber from them have been fortunate to have front-row seats, so to speak, to the great climate stoush between the Liberals and the Nationals, to see firsthand and live in colour the continued fraying of the already delicate Coalition agreement.

What a debacle it has been. The quiet little meetings becoming public press conferences in the hallway, the private sledging spilling out onto our television screens—one could be forgiven for thinking that this stoush was some kind of valiant defence by the junior Coalition partner of a policy position that was at the heart of the concerns of their own constituency. Regrettably, it is not.

What it is, in reality, is the resistance of a few against not just the tide of history but the wishes of their own supporters. Whilst those Nationals opposite would wish to have you believe that they are standing up for the battling farmer in refusing to come to the table on climate policy, in reality this is not what is happening on the ground.

What is happening here is the Nationals are again proving themselves to be an island on this issue—cast adrift, all on their own, with barely a stakeholder to keep them company. Take, for instance, the National Farmers Federation, who themselves have already committed to a net carbon zero by 2050. Take, for instance, the grain growers, who themselves have endorsed the National Farmers Federation’s own plans and are committed to developing a grain specific target for 2030—not 2050, but 2030. Take, for instance, the red meat industry, which I love and support wholeheartedly, who, themselves, have set a target of carbon neutrality by 2030.

So exactly who is it the Nationals are purporting to stand up for, and what exactly is the cost of their resistance? I know that there are many farmers, who I have met, who are lamenting the fact that those opposite are failing to take the issue seriously, failing to accept the challenge and invest in their future prosperity.

Farmers are disproportionately effected by climate change. They will gain directly from reducing emissions and they will be better off through increases in productivity, whatever the global effort does to limit further warming. So, where is the plan from the Nationals? Australia’s farmers want more climate action. They want to be part of the solution. It is no wonder why regional Australians are wary of the Nationals. Refusing to provide our agricultural producers and the regions with the tools they need to prosper in the years to come is not a plan. They are failing in their own leadership.