First meeting today, with our PM. She was spotted coming into Parliament at 7.30 – a hard worker! Last night there was a meeting with the mining industry, in which, apparently, she aquitted herself well, negotiating towards what by any standards is a togh sell – a carbon tax.
Present at the meeting were myself, Thea Ormerod (president of ARRCC), Bishop George Browning, Rabbi Jeffery Kamins, and Jill Finane, of the Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (Catholic).
We presented our key issues, while congratulating the PM on her courage in pursuing a difficult issue. We emphasized that climate change is a fundamentally spiritual issue, based on our
interconnectedness with nature, and cannot be reduced to economics.
Jill has worked extensively in the Pacific islands, and has see how the lowest-lying islands are already impacted by rising sea levels. The people there contribute almost nothing to carbon emissions, but are suffering the severist consequences. As people, they have a lot of confusion about what is happening, wondering how they have angered the spirits, or alternatively being confident that they will not be flooded, as the Bible promises there will be no more floods.
Australia is the local power in the region, and islanders look to us for help. The PM mentioned the work that we have done, acknowledging our responsibilities, including fast-tracking finance for climate change amelioration. Jill emphasized that the people are not asking for much, but what they are receiving is just not enough. The PM encouraged us to lobby for use of some of the carbon tax for use in adaptation in developing countries. She said that there have been several pointed questions raised in Parliament by the opposition on this issue.
We said that we looked to the PM and the government for leadership, and that climate change cannot be something that is used for political point scoring. The PM responded that it was difficult to avoid conflict, as the media and opposition loves to present an argument. She said this is contested space, and will become more so. She emphasized that government is working on a number of levels.
We appreciated that the Govt’s policy is informed by science, and requested that the carbon tax be structured to avoid the kinds of exemptions that have hobbled similar taxes in Europe.
The PM spoke of the strong, ambitious program that has been introduced by the Conservative Govt in England, as referenced by Ross Garnaut. She said this had been made possible by the process that involves an independent commission to ensure the implemantation of policy. She said that rather than focussing primarly on the quantity of carbon targets, we need to put in place the mechanism that makes carbon reduction possible. If we miss this narrow window, we will fail to achieve any carbon reductions.
The discussion was friendly and supportive. I felt that the PM was very genuine in her concern and committment towards making a real difference. She struck me as more of a ‘substance’ rather than ‘form’ person. She is, of course, heavily restricted by political realities, and she respected our position, that we aimed to serve as a moral voice that speaks the truth, even when this may be uncomfortable. We finished by offering our help to communicate the urgency of the climate change situation to our constituencies.