Modern Australian

Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Two issues are currently presenting the Morrison government with fast-moving targets.

One is the fallout from the coronavirus, where the picture has been altering on a near-daily basis. The other is very different - the now rapidly changing politics of the very long-running climate debate.

In such circumstances, “messaging” becomes critical, and Scott Morrison, a meister of that art, is hard at work.

As COVID-19 spread in Europe and elsewhere this week, the federal government on Thursday jumped ahead of the World Health Organisation, and activated its emergency plan in anticipation of a pandemic.

Announcing the move, Morrison declared: “The key message that I really want to get across to Australians today is: because of the actions we’ve taken on the coronavirus we’ve got ahead. We intend to stay ahead. And together we will get through this”.

Read more: Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance

This feeds into the government’s wider narrative of “keeping Australians safe”, and having “plans”.

The virus’s local health impacts are at this stage only potential, but the economic ones are already being felt. The unknown is how high the ultimate cost to the economy will be. Treasury is looking at some relief measures, although Morrison underscores they would be “modest” and “targeted”.

Morrison’s news conference earlier in the week, featuring Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as well as Health Minister Greg Hunt, had a purpose beyond reassuring the public the government was covering all bases on the virus.

It set up a narrative to say, if this means the economy falls in a hole and the budget’s “back in black” storyline morphs into a fairytale, it’s not our fault.

That might be true. As the government prepared its pre-election budget, no one could have anticipated the virus (or the extent of likely bushfires). But if you boast too loudly, if the Liberal party markets “back in black” mugs, there’s further to fall if you can’t deliver.

Nevertheless, just as the government should have been restrained with its self-applause, so critics should be wary now. Morrison and Frydenberg are trying to take out insurance against a deficit, but they’ll be pursuing every hollow log and accounting trick to avoid that. Those “back in black” mugs will become a collector’s item if the budget’s in the red, but they might end up just another bit of kitsch.

The challenge Morrison faces in his messaging on climate is more complex. Last election, while climate was an issue, Labor’s policy was vulnerable.

The present picture is different. The fires have elevated the climate debate. And where Labor’s policy previously could be painted as isolated or extreme, now the Coalition looks the odd one out.

This is clear on the 2050 target of zero net emissions, to which Anthony Albanese has committed (while putting off a decision on the medium term target). With all states and territories, the Business Council of Australia, and Britain’s Conservative PM Boris Johnson signing up to mid-century carbon neutrality, it’s hard to run the argument it’s some kooky idea.

Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate Mick Tsikas/AAP Of course this didn’t stop the Coalition piling onto Albanese. But for all the bluster, Morrison knows the usual crude attacks are unlikely to suit him beyond the short term. There is a lot of government manoeuvring going on to readjust its climate rhetoric, as well as keep options open. Talking about the bushfires, Morrison now routinely acknowledges the impact of the changing climate – without accepting a cause-and-effect argument. This is different from some of those in the Coalition who claim these fires were like all the others in our history. On energy, while stressing the need for dispatchable power, Energy minister Angus Taylor is talking up, with greater enthusiasm than previously, Australia’s progress on renewables. In relation to the controversial question of using carry over credits to get to Australia’s 2030 Paris target, the government is privately becoming confident they won’t be needed. In relation to net zero, those around Morrison point out he’s not dissing the target itself, but the absence of a “plan” to get there. He told the Coalition party room this week: “I won’t commit to anything I don’t know the cost of, if I don’t know the impact on jobs. It’s not about being for or against a target.” On one school of thought, Morrison could be keeping open the possibility of supporting the 2050 target if that later looks the best political course. He will be under strong pressure to do so in the run up to the Glasgow climate conference late in the year. Indeed, just the weight of business and public opinion will be formidable. An Essential poll published this week showed 75% of Australians supported “a zero-carbon pollution target for 2050 if it were adopted by the federal government”. Read more: Albanese pledges Labor government would have 2050 carbon-neutral target Morrison may be ensuring his messaging leaves him wriggle room, but there would be an obvious massive problem if he did decide he’d be better off to endorse the target. He might be the ultimate pragmatist but it’s another matter with the Nationals. Michael McCormack’s precarious leadership means the hardliners in the Nationals (Matt Canavan, Barnaby Joyce) can drive that party’s position. McCormack can’t afford to deviate. He said bluntly this month, “Net zero emissions by 2050 equals net zero jobs growth by 2050”. If Morrison tried to sign up to the 2050 target he would risk triggering an explosion in the Nationals. On the other hand, if McCormack were replaced by his deputy David Littleproud, such a policy move might be possible. In partisan terms, the downside for Morrison of adopting the 2050 target would be to knock out a line of attack on Albanese. But that attack threatens to become a lot less effective once we get past the knee-jerk reaction we’ve seen this week. It can’t be predicted where Morrison might end up on the 2050 target. Perhaps he doesn’t know himself. Possibly he could nuance the message – recast it as a “goal”, for instance. In the shorter term, watch out for the messaging when the government turns its attention to electric cars. It will be a lot more positive than in the election campaign, when Labor’s commitment to them was, apparently, a threat to the Aussie weekend. Different circumstances, different message.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more https://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-morrison-looks-to-his-messaging-on-coronavirus-and-climate-132614

NEWS

From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old 'normal' is gone forever. So what's next?

The world faces profound disruption. For Australians who lived through the most horrific fire season on record, there has been no time to recover. The next crisis is now upon...

cleaning the house (while fitting in a workout)

Jan Kopřiva/UnsplashThe washing, drying, ironing, airing, pushing baby in his pram – these can all take on a different aspect if done with figure consciousness … Stretch to the ceiling...

a lesson from game theory the coronavirus contrarians ignore

ShutterstockIt has been said we are “at war” with the COVID-19 coronavirus. I’m not drawn to martial metaphors, but that’s not wrong.Another way to put it is that we, as...

why sexual offence trials often result in acquittal, even with credible witnesses

ShutterstockA distinctive feature of the prosecution of Cardinal George Pell is that the former choirboy who accused him of sexual abuse (known in the High Court as Complainant “A”) was...

Pandemic policing needs to be done with the public's trust, not confusion

The law on what we can and can’t do during the coronavirus outbreak is changing on an almost hourly basis. Some of what is written now might be overtaken by...

As use of digital platforms surges, we'll need stronger global efforts to protect human rights online

ShutterstockAs millions of people are moving work and social interactions online to protect themselves from COVID-19, existing online safety measures may not be enough to deal with a surge in...

Without international students, Australia's universities will downsize – and some might collapse altogether

ShutterstockThe loss of international students due to COVID-19 restrictions, and predicted second semester declines, will see universities lose between A$3 and 4.5 billion, according to Universities Australia. The higher education...

Does JK Rowling's breathing technique cure the coronavirus? No, it could help spread it

Harry Potter author JK Rowling says a breathing technique has helped her coronavirus-like respiratory symptoms, a claim that has been widely reported and shared on social media.Her tweet includes a...

Should everyone be wearing face masks? It's complicated

ShutterstockShould members of the public be wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s a controversial question, with different countries and authorities giving different advice. We have reviewed the results...

The coronavirus ban on elective surgeries might show us many people can avoid going under the knife

ShutterstockAs part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all elective surgeries across Australia have been temporarily cancelled. Elective surgery is non-urgent surgery people choose (elect) to have: things...

video games are boosting well-being during the coronavirus lockdown

ShutterstockThe same week social distancing measures were announced in Australia (March 16 – March 22), sales of game consoles leaped 285.6%. Prior to this, sales were declining month on month...

what should I do during the coronavirus pandemic?

ShutterstockThe new respiratory coronavirus COVID-19 is particularly worrying for the 2.7 million Australians who already suffer from asthma. That’s roughly one in nine people.Viral respiratory infections, in particular those that...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

DIFFERENT TIPS FOR YOUR SITTING ROOMGet Through Lockdown with Retail Therapy: Buying Your First Designer Bag OnlineBright Ways to Cut The Costs of Business Travel Why polished concrete floors are warmer and more comfortable than you thinkAustralia limits alcohol use during coronavirus pandemicHoneymoon Planning: 6 Tips for Creating the Trip of Your LifetimeEffective and Time-Saving Fitness Tips Every Working Mom NeedsSafety First: Tips & Tricks for Your First Road Trip8 Essential Woodworking Tools You Need in Your ArsenalThe Future of Gambling Sponsorship in Australia5 Common First Aid CoursesSafety Tips for Operating Your Wood HeaterANZ Access Advantage card reviewBeyond Beauty - 5 Ways Cosmetic Procedures Can Improve More Than Just Your AppearanceHow to Make Extra Cash From Your Assets