To state the blindingly obvious - the Liberal Party does not promote its concern for the environment well. The current spat between Malcolm Turnbull and Geoffrey Cousins over the Minister’s approval of the Tasmanian pulp mill project could have been better handled. Turnbull could have been more conciliatory and listened harder. The Liberal Party does not seem to get the message that Australians are concerned about preserving the quality of the natural environment. The pulp mill is not only a Tasmanian issue – it affects the voting intentions of environmentally-concerned voter perceptions nationally.
By the way, my old mate (and very good economist) Graeme Wells reckons that the mill might impose net costs on Tasmania – a $3.3b drain. I have not read his detailed report but I would be surprised if it did not make a lot of sense.
Moreover, the recent decision by a majority of Coalition MPs on a Senate committee to sign their names to a minority report that denied the reality of anthropogenic climate change was stupid in terms of the feeble-minded science it endorsed. And publishing this report was not sympathetic to the mood of the nation which is very concerned with climate change. It suggests the Coalition’s policies on climate change are half-hearted. I hope that is not true.
Meeting with a bunch of Liberals the other evening I asked a prominent senator why the party was performing so poorly in the polls given the glowing state of the Australian economy - low unemployment, low inflation and high economic growth. His response was that the public had begun to take the good times for granted. A 'spat' had developed between the Liberal Party and its close friends, the 'Australian public'.
My alternative interpretation is that, in some respects, the party is out of touch with community sentiment. On environmental issues and climate change I believe this is so. The environmental pledges that are made often seem to lack conviction – the community has a more refined attitude to environmental issues than many Coalition (and to be fair Labor) parliamentarians.
I believe the Coalition can be returned as the Federal Government later this year but, if it does, its attitude to environmental issues will not have helped it.
The Liberal Party claims it is the only political party in Australia that represents the interests of all Australians. Given the National Party’s focus on rural areas and the dominant role in the Labor Party of unrepresentative trade unions this is probably correct. But there are various ways you can split up the ‘representativeness’ issue. The only way the Coalition can honour its claims to be 'in touch' is to recognises the reality and strength of legitimate environmental concerns in the community.
The days when ‘jobs are all’ have gone - tradeoffs must be entertained. Business is not always right!
Moreover, concerned environmentalists should join the Coalition parties to push a non-socialist environmental agenda. The Greens too should return to having a focus primarily on environment and stop acting like a bunch of lowbrow, adolescent socialists. They should become a genuine environmental pressure group party that goads both major parties to pay more attention to the environment.