Bipartisanship and our Emergencies

Bipartisanship is where the adversarial nature of our political system is put aside and where representatives of the various parties work together for the common good. Bipartisanship is necessary when we are faced with emergencies and is generally found during wartime situations when nations face an external threat. Now we are currently faced with two emergencies – the immediate one of the coronavirus pandemic and the enormous one of global warming. Because the warming is gradual on a human timescale it can be perceived as distant threat and repeatedly challenged in the adversarial system.  This has been the unfortunate outcome so far with the climate emergency.

Scott Hamilton writing on the coronavirus emergency noted “We are again in an era in which we must put the national interest first and draw fulsomely from the bipartisan peace-pipe. Every day and every hour, Australia’s leaders are making life and death decisions. In making those calls, they are shaping our future politics and our future society. In support of those decisions, it’s time for a genuine national cabinet — one based on capability not ideology.”

In the Conversation Michelle Grattan noted that it was not all plain sailing in the current ‘national cabinet’. “Victorian premier Daniel Andrews (Labor) and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) are hardliners…The two premiers have given notice their states are set to move to lockdown (where people would be confined to their homes). Jacinda Ardern has already taken New Zealand there. With the divide crossing partisan lines, Andrews and Berejiklian are working closely together. Scott Morrison is the prime advocate of the gradual approach. Resisting a full lockdown, he argued strongly this week he didn’t want to throw people out of jobs where it was possible to avoid doing so, and that he feared the consequences of the stresses the economic crisis would put on families.”

It is a tragedy of our times that the Rudd-Turnbull attempt at bipartisanship on emissions trading in 2008 did not succeed but was stymied by a ‘fifth column’ led by Abbott and backed by the coal lobby. This was made much worse with the rejection of the Gillard ‘carbon tax’ – imperfect as it was. On climate the division has been – and is now – between the science and knowledge on one hand and power, money and ignorance on the other. Australia went from leading on climate to a pariah amongst nations.

Now is the time to plan a rapid recovery from the coronavirus pandemic that is aimed squarely at the climate emergency. Many of the actions are obvious. Most of them have been repeated ‘ad nauseum’ in this column and a number are labour intensive. If the Chinese can build a thousand bed hospital in days perhaps we can get the Sea Electric factory in Morwell operating in months, not years.