In the end, it was hard to distinguish between what shock jock Alan Jones said, and what Australian prime minister Scott Morrison did.
Yes, Jones was offensive, abhorrent and harmful in urging Morrison to “stick a sock down the throat” of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern – who had dared to state the obvious – before launching into one of his usual rants against climate science and climate policies.
But Morrison was little better. He sought to disown the language used by Jones, but as prime minister Morrison owns Australia’s actions. And they are equally offensive. Australia showed that it really doesn’t give a stuff about the fate of the Pacific if it means compromising the interests of its fossil fuel industry.
The communique to be issued from the Pacific Island forum was important to the Pacific Island nations. They are among the most vulnerable to its impacts and they can see the window on doing something about it closing rapidly.
A strong statement from Pacific nations ahead of a special summit convened by UN Antonio Guterres in September, in which he will urge all nations to commit to reaching zero emissions by 2050, was crucial.
Australia, however, insisted that references to an exit from coal be removed and opt-out clauses inserted on the 1.5°C target that is so crucial to the survival of the Pacific nations. The differences were managed by issuing separate communiques, one from the Pacific Island states, another weaker statement from the broader forum that included Australia.
The Pacific leaders are as disappointed with the actions of Morrison and the Australian government as they are disgusted by the words of Jones, who remains the most listened to talk-show host in Australia.
As Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama, tweeted, it’s easy for someone in a studio to use such language, a different matter for people in the Pacific forced to abandon their homes.
Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga summed up the negotiations with Australia this way: “You (Scott Morrison) are concerned about saving your economy in Australia … I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu. That was the tone of the discussion.”
And pointedly, Bainimarama later tweeted a photo of Morrison in Tuvalu in an another powerful observation:
“We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. watered-down language has real consequences.”
Australia is thumbing its nose at climate science. It has shuffled responsibility for climate change action from the disinterested and incompetent environment minister Melissa Price, to an equally calamitous minister for energy and emissions reductions – Angus Taylor – who insists emissions are falling when the government’s own data shows they are rising.
Australia sent a junior minister, Alex Hawke, who has repeatedly mocked climate science to lay the groundwork at Tuvalu, and sent a prime minister who proudly brandished a lump of coal in parliament, who shared a joke about rising sea levels with Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton and who has two former coal lobbyists as part of his inner advisory circle.
Australia has no plan to reach its modest target of a 26-28 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, apart from the controversial use of its “Kyoto surplus” – achieved from having effectively no reduction target at all. There are no long-term targets and no coherent short-term measures.
The country’s media and the governing Coalition is dominated by climate science denialists, and a hatred of experts and modern technologies that extends to renewable energy, batteries and electric vehicles. Maybe Hawke was the most moderate person they could find.
As for Jones, his comments are beneath contempt. As they so often are. As are so many of his colleagues on talk-back radio and in the Murdoch media, particularly the Sky News crazy gang. Clearly, these people are scared – not just of science and experts, but also powerful women who disagree with them.
Remember that Jones suggested that then prime minister Julia Gillard be stuffed in a chaff bag and taken out to sea, and his comments about Ardern are equally abhorrent.
His cohort have also attacked the mental health of teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg. They’ve now taken to former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, who dares to talk our of school. And still, this Coalition government fawns all over them.
It is beyond belief.
Thankfully, though, some people still have a sense of humour.