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Greenslide: Climate Crisis Spurs Green-Labor Win in Australian Election Over Pro-Coal, Right-Wing PM

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In what is being described as a “greenslide,” voters in Australia topple the prime minister, ending nearly a decade of conservative rule. The main issue? Climate change. Voters elected Anthony Albanese of the center-left Labor Party as their new prime minister on Saturday, ousting the right-wing, pro-coal Scott Morrison, who had served as Australia’s prime minister since 2018. The Labor Party won the most seats in Parliament, and voters overwhelmingly backed candidates pushing for stronger climate action. “We have lived through the most catastrophic climate in Australia since the last election,” says Australian climate scientist and activist Tim Flannery, who describes a wave of climate-fueled fires, floods and drought under the rule of right-wing, pro-coal Morrison. “Climate is the most important issue this last election,” in part “because of the catastrophic impacts we’ve seen in Australia since the previous election just three years ago,” says Flannery.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In a stunning electoral victory in Australia, a Green-Labor coalition has overturned a decade of conservative rule in an election driven largely by concern over the climate emergency. Voters Saturday elected Anthony Albanese of the center-left Labor Party as their new prime minister, defeating the right-wing, pro-coal Scott Morrison, who had served as Australia’s prime minister since 2018. The Labor Party also won the most seats in Parliament. Anthony Albanese addressed supporters Saturday.

PRIME MINISTER-ELECT ANTHONY ALBANESE: And I say to my fellow Australians, thank you for this extraordinary honor. Tonight, the Australian people have voted for change. I am humbled by this victory, and I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve as the 31st prime minister of Australia.

AMY GOODMAN: Australian Prime Minister Albanese was sworn in today and immediately flew to Japan to meet with President Biden and other leaders of the Quad — that’s Australia, Japan, India and the United States. The Australian election has been described as a “greenslide,” with voters largely backing candidates pushing for stronger climate action and against Morrison’s pro-coal policies. Australia has the least ambitious plans to address the climate crisis than any other nation in the Global North, with many climate advocates calling Australia’s policies inadequate. Australia’s economy has overwhelmingly relied on coal and gas, despite urgent calls to phase out fossil fuels and for the world’s richest nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half to prevent the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. The country has been on the frontlines of facing the impacts of the climate catastrophe, with massive wildfires, floods and drought only expected to worsen if no immediate measures are taken.

Response to the election poured in from Oceania, echoing demands for drastic climate action. Fiji’s prime minister congratulated Albanese in a tweet, saying, quote, “Of your many promises to support the Pacific, none is more welcome than your plan to put the climate first — our people’s shared future depends on it.”

For more, we’re joined by Tim Flannery, a leading Australian climate scientist and activist and one of Australia’s leading writers on the climate crisis. Before Australian voters headed to the polls, he wrote a piece for The New Statesman headlined “Will the Australian elections finally spark action on climate change?”

Well, Tim Flannery, it’s being called a “greenslide.” Can you explain what happened?

TIM FLANNERY: Sure, Amy. And could I just say how great it is to be back with you again on this landmark day?

So, what we’ve seen in Australia is a really fundamental shift in, really, the way politics operate in the country. You know, we saw half a dozen of the safest conservative seats in the nation won by Green, independent candidates, most of whom were younger women, professional women with a big concern for climate, social equity and for anti-corruption measures in the Australian parliamentary system. So, that was a fundamental shift. Can you imagine what it would mean in the U.S. if half a dozen of the most kind of safest Republican Senate seats went to people like that? Well, that’s what’s happened in Australia. We’ve also had a real renewed vote for the Greens. Their vote is up much higher than it’s been in recent years. They look like they’ll have four seats in the lower house. They may even hold the balance of power in the new Parliament, although that’s as yet unclear. And, of course, Labor won. And Labor, although it’s had rather, I would say, muted policies in terms of addressing climate change, they are far better than the conservative party that has lost power now.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the teals.

TIM FLANNERY: Well, the teals are the most fascinating phenomenon that I’ve seen in my time in Australian politics. I was involved with the very first teal. Her name is Zali Steggall. She won the seat of the conservative — or, archconservative ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Australia at the previous election, and she has now won with an increased majority. It’s very clear that that seat is not going to go back into conservative hands anytime soon. She is now joined by five other younger women, all professionals, you know, corporates, people in the philanthropic sector and so forth. And they have all beaten conservative members of Parliament, so the equivalent of your Republicans. And this has been — it’s such a fundamental shift. It’s sort of hard to understand how you go from that far-right position to what appears to be a left position.

AMY GOODMAN: And then explain the term “teal.” Blue-green?

TIM FLANNERY: Oh, well, yeah. Sure, yeah. Well, blue is the color of the conservatives in Australia. And if you take blue and mix a bit of green with it, you get teal.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you say “conservatives,” conservatives are Liberal in Australia?

TIM FLANNERY: That’s right. I’m sorry. I mean, it’s terribly confusing.

AMY GOODMAN: And Liberals are conservative.

TIM FLANNERY: Exactly. The Liberal Party is our conservative party, so it’s our equivalent of the Republicans. Their color is blue. But the teals, although they represent fiscal responsibility and so forth, they really care about climate, about accountability within the Parliament and anti-corruption and so forth, and about equity, gender equity. So, teal was the right color for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain Australia’s dependence on coal and the world’s dependence, where Australia stands in terms of coal and gas exports.

TIM FLANNERY: Sure. Well, look, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal by calorific value, because we have very high-calorie coal, and also of gas. So they’re important in terms of the Australian economy, but the economy itself is far broader than that. So, you know, we are looking — we all know that both coal and gas have a limited tenure. There will be big changes globally within the next decade in terms of their use. And what the Labor Party and the teals and the Greens all recognize is that we need to transition our economy from what dependency it currently has on those fossil fuels to new industries. That may be hydrogen. It may be direct export of electricity. It may be minerals processing using clean energy. We don’t know quite yet, but we see there is a real need for that transition.

And that need was simply not recognized by the conservative government. They were saying coal and gas were going to go on forever. People in the coal electrics and the gas electrics, where these things are mined, knew that this just wasn’t true, that, in fact, there was going to be a limit. We have lived through the most catastrophic climate in Australia since the last election, over the last three years, and it’s very clear now to people that change is absolutely essential.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Tim, we met so many years ago in New Mexico, which has had these terrible fires. But if you can talk about what has happened in your country of Australia, for the world to understand the impact of the climate crisis? I mean, climate is not at the top of voters’ concerns. Maybe it’s based on the kinds of questions that are asked in the United States. But to understand the profound impact climate has had on your country.

TIM FLANNERY: Well, look, the polling is showing that climate is the most important issue this last election. And that’s come about in part because of the catastrophic impacts we have seen in Australia since the previous election just three years ago. So, that began just after the election with massive wildfires. Before those wildfires, the largest area burned in Australia by fire was about 2%. During those fires, 21% of the forests burned. Thousands of people lost their homes, many thousands, and only 10% of those peoples have managed to get back into a house since the event; 90% are still trying to build houses or living elsewhere, some of them still camping out. So, a massive impact.

And during those fires, our prime minister at the time decided to go on a holiday to Hawaii rather than face this catastrophic event that saw our Navy rescuing people off our beaches. I mean, if you hadn’t seen it, you would think it was fiction, but it was absolutely true. There was thousands of people trapped by these fires that needed rescue by our armed forces.

That was followed, in quick succession, by some of the most severe floods the nation has ever seen, entire rural cities devastated by unprecedented flooding. And that flooding has gone on and on and on and on, with now three or four major flooding events. It just seems to be relentless.

And for people living in the cities, you might think they had escaped these influences, but we haven’t. During the fires, our major cities were blanketed in toxic smoke, and hundreds of people died. I mean, people at the beach were covered in ash as falling debris fell out of the sky on them. And with the floods, Sydney, which used to be a beautiful, yellowish sandstone city, the sandstone has turned black because of the mold. People’s houses are covered in mildew and mold. People are throwing out whole wardrobes’ worth of clothing. The beaches are unusable because of the runoff from sewerage plants and other polluted sources into the ocean. So, life for Australians has changed. That lovely, sunny country that I remember so well is a distant memory now. And it’s very, very strongly felt by people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tim Flannery, we want to thank you for being with us, leading climate scientist, activist, writer, professor at University of Melbourne, author of numerous books, including The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth and The Climate Cure: Solving the Climate Emergency in the Era of COVID-19.

Next up, this week marks the second anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd. We knew about George Floyd’s death. What about his life? We’ll speak with two Washington Post reporters who co-authored the new book His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Stay with us.

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