The Australian Labor Party is in something of a mess, a state exemplified by its defeat in the NSW Upper Hunter by-election. Upper Hunter has been Labor and Country party and National. It all depends on where the boundaries are drawn. Some of it is pastoral, and some of it is mining. Labor picked a miner as its candidate, but its vote plummeted, from 28 per cent to 22 per cent.
Let’s think about this. Labor at 22 per cent, and a fall from 28 per cent? Who got the rest? The National candidate won a bit over 31 per cent, One Nation picked up about 12 per cent, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 12 per cent, the Greens 3 per cent, five Independents nearly 17 per cent, Liberal Democrats, Animal Justice and Sustainable Australia the rest, 3 per cent. By-elections bring out the minor parties and the independents, and by-election results are not good guides to the standing of the major parties. But Labor did its candidate no good turn by coming out against the proposed $600 million gas electricity generator in the Hunter.
Labor won just a little more than one vote in five in the by-election. Hmm. Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor MP for Hunter, says that Labor is losing the support of its core, the blue-collar workers, and the reason is that too much of its policy and strategy is determined by young urban elites. Maybe it is so. I’ve just had a few days in the Southern highlands of New South Wales, and my eye was caught by signs proclaiming ‘no coal mining’ in that area. Given that coal provides about 56 per cent and fossil fuels (including gas and oil) provide around 80 per cent of the electricity generated in the eastern grid, one wonders where these opponents expect to get their power from. Not from new coalmines in the Southern Highlands, that’s for sure.
And that is one of the problems, not just for Labor but for the Coalition as well. Quite a lot of people want to have their cake (abundant and cheap energy) and eat it too (save the planet). As I have argued in earlier essays there is no way that renewable energy sources can supply present day needs for energy and electricity, let alone for the much greater demand that will be the case by 2050. If EVs are the go (I have my doubts) the demand for electricity will be greater still. I read a lot about batteries, but some of those who spruik the great virtue of batteries don’t seem to realise that these entities store power, they don’t create it.
When it comes to the crunch people want jobs and a continuation of their current life style. Yes, saving the planet is important, but Earth doesn’t seem to be in much trouble at the moment. There have been too many predictions — everlasting drought, no snow, heavier floods, more fires — that have been falsified. My guess is that the average Australian is bored with the talk. It is, after all, more than thirty years since James Hansen prophesied doom because of increasing atmospheric CO2.
What is Labor to do? I focus on that party because it has always been the leader in putting forward new policies. These have to be sifted by the Coalition and by the electorate, but the essence of our politics is an urge to make Australia a nation where there are no beggars and no homeless people, where everyone has a job if they want one, and where there is little envy. While the Coalition would agree with those goals it is Labor which actively promotes them. As always, Labor, or Labor leaders, tend to overdo the talk. Kevin Rudd was a great exponent of the visionary message, but the notion of how to implement his goals seemed to escape him. After a while it didn’t matter: we were stuck with the goal, even if we weren’t able to implement it in its entirety. The NBN was a case in point.
The problem now is that the goal of looking after the Australian blue-collar worker is clashing with the global and religious goal of saving the planet. You can’t trade off one against the other. You could invent schemes to move miners out of mining, but too much of our electricity generation depends on coal. And saving the planet can’t be reduced to saving the southern hemisphere, but not the northern hemisphere. It’s all or nothing. Mr Morrison has quite skilfully made polite noises about climate change but has done nothing concrete. Mr Albanese and before him Mr Shorten have been much more aggressive, but as we have seen, it doesn’t seem to cut the mustard with the Australian electorate.
I have some sympathy with Mr Albanese (I seem to be saying that a lot), but I wouldn’t have his job for quids. If we are to have an early Federal election then he is in great trouble. The young and the urban have the numbers and the power, and they will want the global mission front and centre in the election policy. That will be a disaster in the ‘rural and regional’ electorates and could hardly compensate the party in the cities. If that doesn’t happen, and the Federal Executive goes all out for jobs, especially in mining seats, then the young and the passionate climateers will refuse to help, at least that is my view. What then?
Australia is not unique in this domain. The clash between the climate religion and the economic game appears to be common through Europe and the UK. We keep being told by some CAGW sceptics that very soon now there will be a terrible outage. Texas recently had an electricity shutdown for a few days because of unseasonably cold weather. In our country the greater risk is a grid failure caused by excess demand for air-conditioning in sustained very hot weather. As I’ve said before I don’t look forward to such a crisis, but I do think that demonising coal has been an extraordinary lapse of judgment on the part of politicians.
To conclude, I can’t think of any similar situation in our political system, unless it was the split in the ALP in the 1950s that produced the Democratic Labor Party. I can’t see the present internal conflict producing a comparable outcome. But it could happen, especially after a resounding defeat in the next Federal election. If Labor goes down the ‘rational’ path, returning to its traditional base and its traditional reliance on social policies of an ameliorative kind, the Greens might nearly double their vote. If such an infection occurred, it might spill over to the other side of politics, producing a Liberal Party and a Conservative Party.
Now there’s a thought for the future — a real multi-party system in the Antipodes!