By day four of the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, Australia had won its third Fossil Award; the award given by the international Climate Action Network to the country which has done the most to block progress at the climate change negotiations on that day.
At the same time 60 000+ people attended rallies across the nation in support for more action on climate change. In fact, 160 towns and regional centres hosted the rallies organised by Getup. It takes a major sporting event to draw such crowds in Australia! My wife and I attended our local rally in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. I was struck with how the issue of climate change was important for not just “greenies”, but for people from all walks of life. Climate change is real and has become a mainstream issue – for scientists, teachers, firefighters and paramedics, to name a few at our rally. So why does the Abbott government insist on scrapping initiatives to combat climate change? The government claim to have a mandate, but do they?
— GetUp! (@GetUp) November 17, 2013
What is a mandate?
After the 1998 election the Howard government claimed they had a mandate to introduce the GST. This debate prompted the Parliamentary Library to produce a research paper on mandates in 1999. It found that a “mandate is a political idea” and are not legally enforceable. Mandates are “political whacking sticks, used to advantage one political position over another”.
“This is an absolutely vital piece of legislation. It is at the heart of the Government’s mandate. The people got to vote on the carbon tax at the election and in the days to come this Parliament will get to vote on the carbon tax and I trust that ‘Electricity’ Bill Shorten will have a light bulb moment and will appreciate that the people’s verdict must be respected,” Tony Abbott 12th November 2013.
So in other words they mean nothing.
Australians want action
During the 2013 Australian federal election the ABC ran Vote Compass. This was a voluntary survey developed by political scientists. It took a snap shot in time of issues surrounding Australian politics and revealed some surprising results.
Overall, over 60% of Australians that took part in the survey wanted “more” or “much more” to be done by the federal government to tackle climate change. In fact, no matter how you break the figures down – age, sex, education – the majority of Australians wanted more action. The figures change slightly, with younger people, women and the more highly educated wanting much more action, but overall Australians want to do something about climate change. The exception was when grouped by respondent’s ideology, where around 50% of those on the political right wanted less action on climate change – note that 50% want the same or more action!
So should “the people’s verdict” be respected? Well if Tony Abbott wishes to show some signs of respect to the people, then perhaps he should review the Coalition’s policy on climate change.