Images: Sydney Morning Herald (left), and The Greens (right).
You may recall that just eight weeks ago Australia found itself with a new Prime Minister, it's first female one at that, in Julia Gillard. She had ousted Kevin Rudd, who although sweeping to power in 2007 on a platform that included doing something about Climate Change, like signing on to Kyoto and setting up a carbon Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), had lost favour with the general public.
On Saturday Australians went to their respective electoral booths to vote for the government to lead them for the next three year term. Only thing is, they couldn't quite decide. Australia now has a 'hung parliament,' the first in 70 years, with neither of the major two political parties managing to garner sufficient votes to form government in their own right.
Bucking the losing meme, the Australian Greens emerged as solid winners, and the nation's third political party, in what their leader Bob Brown called a "greenslide."A "Greenslide"
The Greens won a Senate seat in every state and getting their first Green member into the House of Representatives at a general election. All of which will give them 10 members of Parliament and more significantly the balance of power. Across the country the Greens took roughly 13% of the vote in the Senate, and well over 11% in the House of Representatives.
At a time like this analysis of the Australian political landscape is rampant. But it does seem that environment concerns have played a very significant role in bringing the nation to this point.
A Series of Blunders
As we noted in an earlier post, when Julia Gillard took over the reins as Prime Minister, her predecessor, Kevin Rudd had declared that Climate Change was the "the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time." When he appeared unable to rise to this challenge, the Australian people lost faith. A series of blunders with other high profile government-led environmental programs saw any residual trust frittered away.
These programs were well intentioned and poised to deliver important environmental benefits, like insulating 2.7 million Australian homes to reduce demand on heating and cooling energy, and the energy and water auditing of 360,000 homes, with access to interest free 'Green Loans' for the purchase of energy and water efficient products. However, the government, in reacting to Global Financial Crisis (GFC) rolled these, and other programs, out, not only as environmental initiatives, but as much needed fiscal stimulus for stalling economies. Unfortunately the speed of their delivery left them poorly designed and managed and, in short, the wheels soon fell off.
Thus the Kevin Rudd Labor Government was perceived by many to have screwed up its opportunities to deliver important environmental reforms and actions. As a result Kevin Rudd toppled off his pedestal as Australia's most popular Prime Minister. So much so, his own party felt they'd become unelectable with him at the helm, and duly dumped him in favour of his Vice PM, Julia Gillard.
Not Much Improvement
Not that this improved the situation greatly. For the Gillard Government called a nationall election and tried to appease disgruntled voters with the promise of a Citizens Assembly of 150 randomly chosen Australians to advise the Government on its response to Climate Change. Needless to say, the idea was laughed at from all quarters, further eroding whatever little eco credibility the Government still clung to. Then they announced a Cash for Clunkers program, whereby owners of older, polluting cars would be given $2,000 to upgrade to a newer, more fuel efficient model. A style of program our US readers will be very familiar with. The main issue with this endeavour was that it's funding had been stolen from other existing programs, such as solar photovoltaic installations.
So, voters at Saturday's election were faced with well meaning, but ultimately environmental ineptitude from the incumbent Labor Party, or going with the second major political force, the Liberal National Party coalition, who's leader, Tony Abbott, had famously declared that climate change was "crap," and had indeed replaced his Party's leader, immediately after he, Malcolm Turnbull, had agreed to pass (with amendments) the Government's Emissions Trading Scheme bill. As the Opposition's new leader, Tony Abbott then vetoed any passage of the ETS bill. (Although come election time he did offer to help another one million Australian homes install solar photovoltaics.)
Or Australians could vote for the Greens, who have always maintained that a Carbon Tax is the only way to effectively deal with climate change. And it seems that about 1.26 million Australians chose this alternative option (that became about 2 million votes after preferences from minor parties were directed to the Greens.) It should be noted that the Greens have also been criticised for not voting for the Government's ETS. Whereas Tony Abbott thought it went too far, the Greens had thought it was too weak to effect real progress on climate change.
What this all means for the Australian political landscape is anyone's guess, at this stage. But the Australian Greens now hold the balance of power in the Australian Parliament. Let's hope they use that leverage wisely and responsibly.
And, at least, the Australian Greens seem happy with their leader, Bob Brown. As Natasha Stott Despoja writes in the Sydney Morning Herald. "Bob Brown has seen off four Liberal leaders, five Labor leaders, even five Democrat leaders."
The Australian Greens
More Australian Politics and the Environment
• Australia's Prime Minister May Fall on Climate Change Swordr
• Australia: The Politics of Environment - A Brief Round-Up
• Climate Change to be a Determining Factor in Australia's Election
• A Democracy at Work: Australia Votes on Climate Change
• The World's 5 Most Inspiring Green Leaders
• No One Else Is Reducing Emissions That Much So We Won't Either: Australia's Prime Minister