Net Zero Will Be The New Zero-COVID

Written by:
16 June 2022
Net Zero Will Be The New Zero-COVID - Featured image
Originally Appeared In

The energy crisis should prompt Peter Dutton to ditch the 2050 emission target that, like eliminating the virus, no one will ever admit to supporting in a few years time.

Eventually, net zero will be akin to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Just as one day no one will ever admit to having supported lockdowns, people will say “net zero? What was that?”

And achieving net zero will be as forlorn a task as reaching zero-COVID in a few years’ time.

In Australia this time two years ago, it was almost impossible to find anyone against the policy of shutting schools, closing businesses and locking people in their homes to eliminate COVID-19. Or to put it more precisely, there was practically no public discussion about the merits of lockdowns and their short and long-term consequences.

Both major political parties supported lockdowns, as did the expert and professional class and the mainstream media. To speak against lockdowns was to be accused of having a reckless disregard for human life – or worse.

We now know how lockdowns worked (or didn’t). On Wednesday, 32,000 new cases of COVID-19 recorded. The point about the response to COVID-19, which would come close to the greatest public policy failure in this country since World War II, is that there was no public debate about it – and those who espoused it did so with an almost religious zeal.

As a matter of first principles, a policy that’s not allowed to be debated and treated as an article of faith should set the alarm bells ringing for anyone concerned about good policymaking.

So it is with net zero and the country’s energy crisis.

The “policy certainty” that business has demanded on energy and the entreaties of the media to end “the climate wars” has produced the policy debacle the country is suffering. Too much agreement can be a bad thing. If everyone agrees with each other, no one ends up asking any questions. Management consultants hate groupthink – unless it’s about net zero.

The Liberals’ allegiance to net zero was only ever a political frolic of Scott Morrison and a handful of left-leaning Liberal MPs who lost their seats anyway.

The very first definition of groupthink on Google is a nice shorthand description of how energy policy is decided in Australia. It is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. (The natural affinity of business to taxpayer subsidies also plays a not insignificant role.)

To get rid of Australia’s groupthink on net zero, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton should announce the Coalition is dropping its commitment to the policy. Until the Liberals do so, they’re not going to be able to hold the Labor government to account for what’s going to take place in the years ahead. For as long as they support net zero, the Liberals will have nothing useful to say on energy policy.

The Liberals’ allegiance to net zero was only ever a political frolic of Scott Morrison and a handful of left-leaning Liberal MPs who lost their seats anyway.

As Liberal leader, Scott Morrison succeeded in demolishing not just one of his party’s political brands, but two of them. The first Liberal brand he demolished was of course his party’s reputation for responsible economic management. Many of the fiscal measures taken during the COVID-19 crisis were necessary, but not to have a plan for the recovery of the budget was almost unforgivable.

The second Liberal brand, now being recognised because it no longer exists either, is that of the Liberals as the party that would keep the lights on. As much as the Liberals are attacked as climate change “sceptics”, it was always safe to assume they would be more clear-headed and sensible about energy policy than the green utopians of the Labor Party. The Liberals’ commitment to net zero destroys that assumption.

On the United Nations Human Development Index, Australia enjoys the world’s eighth-highest standard of living (equal with the Netherlands). Yet somehow, the country has got to the stage where governments are telling Australians on the east coast not to use electricity.

The claim that what’s occurring is a result of war, unusual weather and plain mismanagement doesn’t bear scrutiny. Such events will always happen and they’ve happened before, but they’ve never required Australians to stop and think whether they should turn on the electricity to boil water.

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