Transport News

Australia has voted in its first general election since the wildfires of 2019-2020 and the severe floods which took place in March 2022. These natural disasters have been linked to climate change, becoming somewhat of a wake-up call for Australians who have now witnessed the climate crisis with their own eyes. With this memory lingering the election became a referendum on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s environmental stances which have been described as pro-coal.

Australians have spoken and they have decided to end nine years of centre-right Liberal Party rule, completely transforming the make up of parliament which is now less climate-sceptic. The big winners were Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party who placed environmental concerns at the front of their policy platform, successfully tapped into voters’ anger at Morrison’s climate inaction, and will form the new government [1].

What were Scott Morrison’s policies? Since coming to power in 2013 the Liberal Party has, according to journalist Alice Klein, ‘dragged its feet on climate change’. The party is pro-coal therefore indifference towards the climate suited their interests. An indifference epitomised by Morrison’s response to the wildfires when he chose to still go on holiday to Hawaii telling reporters ‘I don’t hold a hose.’

Morrison’s indifference has been exemplified by his sustainable transport policies. Australia’s emissions targets are amongst the lowest in the developed world, targets of just 26-28% below 2005 levels [2]. Electric vehicles, a usually uncontroversial topic, was vilified by Morrison who exploited range anxiety, a concern in a country as vast as Australia to scare voters away from any emission taxes.

Scott Morison (right), pictured with Mathias Cormann (left) has long been a supporter of Australia’s coal industry. Learn more about the Political Economy of Coal: Obstacles to Clean Energy Transitions Edited by Michael Jakob, Jan C. Steckel (2022) by clicking on the image above.

The Liberal Party’s policies for the election were ambiguous on the environmental benefits of sustainable transport instead focusing on job creation: touting the 120,000 jobs supported by government projects. The ten-year investment plan in transport included extending the Sydney Metro and the creation of a Brisbane Metro [3]. While sound proposals it is clear Australians had made up their mind and all trust on climate action is lost.

Anthony Albanese on the other hand seized this open goal against the government to make climate change the central issue of his campaign. Labor’s national platform which set out their policies recognises the importance of sustainable transport, highlighting the significant contribution to greenhouse gasses emission from transport.

Labor promised to develop a transition to low emission transport by developing high-speed rail links along Australia’s east coast. Moreover, infrastructure projects are set to prioritise walking, cycling, and access to public transport. To tackle anxiety around electric cars, Labor pledged to encourage the electrification of transport in Australia [4].

Anthony Albanese policies struck a chord with voters who have grown tired of inaction and now want to see real change. Albanese’s sustainable transport plan is a good example of how Labor plans to lead the overdue green revolution in Australia and regain trust in politician’s ability to act on climate change.

The other big event of the election was the large gains for smaller parties in parliament who ran on a single issue – climate change. The Australian Green Party had its best result yet and parliament also saw many so-called Teal independents elected primarily in former Liberal-safe seats. They were elected on a platform of greater climate action encouraging both main parties to do more for climate change [5].

The Teal independents are not left-leaning environmentalists like the Green Party. Instead, they could be described as moderate conservatives who, apart from issues of the environment, have a lot in common with the Liberal Party especially, on the topics such as the environment. Think of politicians like Nick Clegg from the UK Liberal Democrats; environmentally conscious yet fiscally conservative.

With regards to environmentally conscious transport, the Teal independent MPs largely mirror those who voted for them. The Teal independents performed well in affluent suburbs outside major cities. For example, the newly elected MP Allegra Spender won in the Wentworth constituency just outside Sydney and the seat of former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Australian cities, such as Sydney, have invested heavily in public transport. Read our brief titled Australia: “Western Sydney to run trial of zero emission buses” by clicking the image above.

Spender supports introducing proper emission standards like those in the UK to make the sale of heavy-emitting vehicles harder. Representing a suburb, Spender recognises the appetite for greater access to electric cars as the main green mode of transport for voters. Spender supports investment in physical charging infrastructure on top of all branches of government working closer together to keep up with consumer demand [6].

These victories represent a realignment in Australian politics caused by environmental concerns. This is a realignment where the failures of the government to respond to concerns have cost them dearly. The Liberal’s pro-coal agenda failed to win them support in coal mining Labor seats in areas across New South Wales [7]. Whilst simultaneously costing them traditional moderate Liberal voters in the suburbs who feel their concerns are being ignored [8].

The shifting attitudes can only be a positive for Australia. The Liberal Party, who has dominated Australian post-war politics, are notoriously effective at adapting to the current zeitgeist; making it highly likely they will respond to the loss by supporting greener policies. Thus, leaving Australia with an overwhelming pro-climate change parliament. Naturally such a change of tide can only be good for the future of the environment and future sustainable transport projects in Australia and across the world.

Bibliography:

 

[1] Sky News. 22nd May 2022. Australia elections: Labor leader Anthony Albanese pledges climate policy change after Scott Morrison concedes defeat. Available at:  https://news.sky.com/story/australia-elections-opposition-labor-set-to-win-ousting-scott-morrisons-ruling-conservatives-according-to-projections-12618164 [accessed: 22nd May 2022].

 

[2] A. Klein. 19th May 2022. Australian election 2022: What will the outcome mean for the climate? Available at:  https://www.newscientist.com/article/2320921-australian-election-2022-what-will-the-outcome-mean-for-the-climate/ [accessed: 22nd May 2022].

 

[3] Liberal Party of Australia. Our Plan- Delivering Infrastructure. Available at: https://www.liberal.org.au/our-plan/infrastructure [accessed: 22nd May 2022.

 

[4] Australian Labor Party. 2021. ALP National Platform. Pp. 3-39.

 

[5] J. Evans. 21st May 2022. Who are the independents likely headed to parliament after election night’s ‘teal bath’? Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-21/teal-independents-election-night/101085766 [accessed: 23rd May 2022].

 

[6] A. Spender. Frequently Asked Questions. Available at: https://www.allegraspender.com.au/more_policy_positions [accessed: 24th May 2022].

 

[7] K. Murphy. 22nd May 2022. Australia’s right-wing government weaponised climate change- now it has faced its reckoning. Available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/may/22/australia-rightwing-government-weaponised-climate-change-reckoning-scott-morrison [accessed: 23rd May 2022].

 

[8] The Fifth Estate- our view. 28th April 2022. On the deep differences between Teal and Green. Available at: https://thefifthestate.com.au/business/government/on-the-deep-differences-between-teal-and-green/ [accessed: 23rd May 2022].

 

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