Bill Shorten has declared Labor will run its own race on climate change, and will “listen” but not replicate Julia Gillard’s joint policy process with the Greens in any minority government scenario after the election.
In an interview with Guardian Australia on the campaign trail this week, the Labor leader rebuffed a recent overture from the Greens leader Richard Di Natale to revive the process that applied in the 43rd parliament where the parties worked together to produce the clean energy package.
“Richard would say that wouldn’t he? So, who cares? Richard is looking for relevance at the moment,” Shorten said. “I don’t blame him for doing that, it’s legitimate, but I’m going to lead a Labor government”.
Asked what he would do if the Greens made a joint policy process the price of supporting a Labor government in the next parliament, Shorten said: “Well [Di Natale] has to face progressive voters.
“The Greens cost us action on climate change in 2009. I didn’t come down in the last shower. Just because Richard Di Natale proposes a sequence of events doesn’t not make those events inevitable.
“I’m not going to negotiate before an election what happens after an election, but what I am saying is – we use the word mandate a lot in politics. It gets thrown around. In my case, though, I think people can genuinely accept we have been upfront with the people, we’ve got our mandate, they will be my negotiating instructions.
“The Greens really stuffed up climate change in the 43rd parliament by their terms. I’m not going to sign up to a deal that damages our chances to deliver [enduring action] on climate change.”
In 2010, Gillard set up a multi-party committee to develop the climate change policy comprised of herself, the deputy prime minister Wayne Swan, the climate change minister Greg Combet, Bob Brown, Christine Milne and Adam Bandt of the Greens and the lower house crossbencher Tony Windsor.
A week ago, in an interview with Guardian Australia, Di Natale said: “I would hope Shorten would show the maturity that Julia Gillard demonstrated and bring people to the table to negotiate constructively.”
Di Natale made it clear he wanted to negotiate with Shorten to strengthen a policy the Greens regard as insufficiently ambitious, but he also wanted to be clear that the Greens are prepared to vote down a policy “if it’s going to lock in failure”.
Shorten said he would behave constructively post-election in the event of a victory, but referencing the Gillard process explicitly, he said: “There will not be signings at the table with a sprig of wattle for everyone.
“Let’s see what happens when we get elected but I’m not going to have this argument that somehow, we are going to go into coalition with the Greens.
“That doesn’t mean I won’t listen, or I won’t talk to the Greens, I’ll talk to all parties in the Senate and I’ll talk to the opposition if we get elected. I’m a very pragmatic personality and my record is getting things done.”
Labor’s climate change policy has been a feature of the opening weeks of the campaign, with the Morrison government trying to land blows on the package in a facsimile of Tony Abbott’s “carbon tax” offensive in 2013, even though Liberals in metropolitan contests are facing a backlash from voters concerned the Coalition has been destructive on climate action.
As well as the government attack, Labor’s policy has been criticised by the Greens as not ambitious enough, and Shorten has faced a difficult balancing act on the hustings in Queensland this week about the controversial Adani coal project, with several marginal seats up for grabs, and significant local concern about jobs.
Asked whether Labor would persist with a detailed policy to drive emissions reduction if it loses the election on 18 May, given the electoral pain of the past decade and the toxic politics around the issue, Shorten said he was “not contemplating failure”.
He said the coming election needed to break the policy deadlock for the good of the country. “Whether we shift post-election is up to the caucus of the day. But we cannot give up on the climate change arguments.
“We’ve got to break through this paralysis. We are selling out our future and future generations if we give in to the knuckle draggers on the right.
“The problem is this government is not serious about climate change, and whenever anyone comes up with any ideas to do something about it they will always find an excuse to do nothing.