Independent MP Zali Steggall calls for Economic Recovery Roundtable

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Independent Warringah MP Zali Steggall joined the The Australia Institute’s (TAI) webinar series this week, The Economics of a Pandemic, to discuss “The Role of Climate Action in Rebuilding After the Pandemic”. During the discussion, which took place as the nation reacts to the Grant King Review and the Federal Government’s pre-arranged agreement with it, Steggall called for a “Roundtable” in order to put the spectrum of perspectives on show for the nation to hear voices in the open.

As things return to normal, we are reminded that normal in 2020 is as divisive as Vegemite; some people love it, and some people are wrong. Australia might’ve pulled together and listened to the scientists when faced with Covid-19, but in the face of climate change the nation is more than happy to remove their masks in order to more clearly yell at each other.

The yelling started up again surrounding Australia’s path forward, its economic recovery. The Morrison Government is masochistically attracted to the idea of a “gas-fired recovery,” and its newly proposed climate change measures in response to a review of its $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund is simultaneously opening the door to carbon capture storage (CCS) and the kind of emissions trading scheme (effectively a carbon tax) that the Coalition came to power to abolish.

Of course, one can hardly blame the Coalition for wanting to call a spade a “below-baseline crediting arrangement.” After all, proposing a carbon tax in the Liberal Party room is akin to Julius Caesar roaming the Senate in an open-backed toga. The proposal of these policies has aroused renewed and hotly contested debate about how Australia should fuel its economic recovery.

Independent MP Zali Steggall, who ousted former Prime Minister, raw onion eater and carbon-tax killer Tony Abbott for his Warringah seat, wants an economic recovery roundtable in which the various perspectives about Australia’s economic recovery can have their say in an open forum.

“It is clear the Morrison Government and Energy Minister Taylor, by commissioning the Grant Review rather than entrusting the Climate Change Authority, is undermining its (CCA’s) authority, there is no doubt about that,” said Steggall.

Steggall admits that gas will play some part in the recovery, but cites AEMO’s Integrated System Plan as placing much less size and substance upon gas as Energy Minister Angus Taylor seems to suggest. Steggall also wanted to bring voices from the private sector to the roundtable, “What do they say?” she asks.

“So I really want to see a Roundtable,” says Steggall, “an open-hearing, so that we can all know what is being considered, and the basis on which certain projects are getting the green light.”

The TAI’s Richie Merzian commented that the idea of a Roundtable was good, but he questioned the private sector’s capacity for honesty. The example Merzian gave to substantiate his scepticism was Grant King himself, and the Business Council, both of who claimed only a few years ago that a 45% emissions reduction target (now policy) was “economy wrecking”. A claim Merzian said enervated Australian ambitions.

Steggall sympathised with Merzian’s scepticism but parried well with a good dose of pragmatism: “I’m an advocate that you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Which is to say, it won’t be a Roundtable of courageous honesty, but it will honestly show the people making our decisions. Moreover, Steggall noted that “the private sector is miles ahead of the Federal Government at the moment in terms of commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.”