The Australian parliament is more representative of the Australian population than it has ever been. It has more women, indigenous people and first generation Australians than any before it. And just as importantly it has less climate sceptics, less religious zealots and less bigots. To be sure there are plenty of homophobes, science deniers and conservative Christians determined to impose their beliefs on the rest of the community, but like Scott Morrison’s smirk, the cocky conservatives are hard to spot in the new parliament.
The first sitting fortnight was the shot in the arm Australia’s democracy needed. The Parliament opened with a welcome to country ahead of Prime Minister Albanese historic announcement that there will be a referendum on an indigenous voice to parliament in this term. So changed are Australian politics that Peter Dutton, the man who boycotted Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen generations last week bathed in the smoking ceremony at the parliamentary opening.
The first sitting of Parliament laid bare the devastating impact of the 2022 election on the ranks of the Coalition. While Antony Green’s computer might have struggled on election night to make sense of enormity of the swing away from the Liberals and Nationals, the architecture of parliament performed the role effortlessly. In the House of Representatives Labor dominates more than half the chamber, the Greens have surged from one to 4 four and there were now more Greens and independents in the parliament than there are Liberals from NSW and Victoria combined. Ouch.
In the Senate things are just as unique. For the first time since the 2010 election the Senate has a progressive majority which means that when Labor, the Greens and David Pocock support a Government Bill it will always pass. For now at least Pauline Hanson’s views on government legislation is as irrelevant as Peter Dutton’s. While it has attracted little national attention, it was the voters of Canberra who made this historic alignment possible when they decided that David Pocock better represented their values and priorities than the proudly conservative Zed Seselja. The Liberals now hold zero of the five seats in the federal parliament and their only real guarantee of winning a seat here again is to support an increase in the number of Senate seats from two to four. It’s unlikely that the Queensland conservatives would such a move, but again, their views are irrelevant if the progressives in the parliament vote together.
The passage of Labor’s legislated emission reduction target and the bill to grant the ACT the right to decide for itself whether to legalise voluntary euthanasia or not are powerful symbols of the political power that comes with progressive policies. While Zed Seselja almost certainly would have voted against both bills when they hit the senate, David Pocock will almost certainly will support them both. It is only after people change their votes that the parliament can set about changing the country.
While thankfully talk of the Canberra bubble has burst, the country is yet to begin a conversation about what it means for an entire territory to have no Coalition members in the federal parliament, a stable labor/green minority government in the ACT assembly for 10 years and a local Liberal party that knows it cannot win seats, let alone government, if it tries to wage a war on climate action or corruption busting.
It is true that Canberra’s economy, with its large public sector, is quite different from the rest of Australia, but each year our other capital cities look more and more like Canberra. Not only is the public sector workforce growing rapidly around the country, employment in the private services sector is growing far faster than employment in mining or manufacturing. Once upon a time Canberra stood out as a highly educated service sector city, but today all of Australia’s capital cities resemble what Canberra looked like 20 years ago. Canberra isn’t out of step with the rest of the country, its leading the way.
Its no accident that the ACT was the first territory to commit to, and reach, 100 percent renewable energy. Not only did its highly educated population demand ambitious climate action, there are no coal mines or gas wells in the Canberra. And while there are lots of fossil fuel lobbyists in Canberra, none of them wasted their efforts on the local government.
It is no coincidence that there are no coal mines, and almost no Coalition MPs in Australian capital cities. At the 2022 election so called ‘teal independents’ stole what were once considered to be the Liberal party’s Crown Jewels. So long as the Coalition are intransigent on climate, the teal wave of 2022 is likely to stubbornly solidify as a teal wedge on the crossbench beyond the next election.
Climate change changed the electoral landscape in the 2022 election and it will likely do so again in 2025, and this week the manoeuvring for that next battle began in earnest.
But if the Bill to enshrine the emission reduction target into law was aimed at the Greens it missed entirely. Speaking at the press club this week greens leader Adam Bandt made clear that the only way labor could end the climate wars would be to stop approving new coal mines and new gas wells. While Labor have to date dismissed such calls, Tanya Plibersek this week became the first federal environment minister to ever oppose a new coal mine on environmental grounds when she announced her intention to prevent Clive Palmer from building a new coal mine close to the Great Barrier Reef.
Significantly, Plibersek’s decision doesn’t mention climate change because there is no ‘climate trigger’ in the EPBC Act. But guess what else the greens are demanding from the Albanese Government? Yep, a climate trigger. Just like the one Anthony Albanese once proposed back in 2005.
The climate wars aren’t over. The fossil fuel industry will never rein itself in, only our parliament can do that. But as the rest of Australia’s cities catch up to Canberra’s, so too will Australian politics come to resemble Canberra’s as well. If the Coalition want to keep attacking ‘inner city elites’ and supporting the least popular forms of energy in Australia they will become as irrelevant nationally as they are in the ACT.
Luciana Lawe Davies Media Adviser