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Setting Kevin Rudd’s Environmental Record Straight

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd wrote an angry letter to Jacobin last week, defending his work on climate change. Greens MP Adam Bandt begs to differ.

Adam Bandt is co–deputy leader of the Australian Greens and a member of Parliament for Melbourne.

Kevin Rudd’s latest effort for relevance is a mystifying act of historical revisionism. Writing to Jacobin, the former prime minister has attempted to defend his record on climate change, blaming the Greens for his climate failure.

I have a simple message for Mr Rudd: declaring climate change the “greatest moral challenge of all time” and yet failing to act is as great a sin as denial.

The Greens reached out to Rudd’s Labor Party to improve legislation and remove booby traps that would give giant polluters the chance to get off scot-free. But, as has been extensively reported, Labor decided they didn’t want to work with us because negotiating with, then driving a wedge into, the Liberal Party was a bigger priority for them. So we voted against legislation that would have locked Australia in to dangerous levels of global heating.

Perhaps Rudd is jealous that Julia Gillard accomplished what he could not, bringing together Greens, Labor, and independents to make polluters pay for some of the costs of their pollution. As they crab walk back toward coal, today’s Labor has enlisted Rudd in their latest assault on truth, airbrushing Gillard’s cooperative carbon price out of the picture. With the Greens in a power-sharing agreement with Gillard’s Labor, we introduced world-leading climate legislation. For the only time in Australia’s modern history, pollution started going down.

Perhaps the ultimate in cant, though, is Labor bemoaning the Rudd scheme defeat but no longer even supporting a pollution tax, despite it being more politically palatable now than ever. If it were reintroduced now, even Labor wouldn’t vote for Rudd’s scheme.

Moving On

If we’re going to get serious about tackling the climate emergency, we can’t keep wasting our time rehashing the policy debates of a decade ago. Instead, we need to confront the reality of the crises we face and take the urgent action required to tackle them.

Right now, across the world, we’re facing an inequality crisis and a climate crisis. Our community bears the brunt of an increasingly unfair system, a system that cuts taxes for the extremely wealthy while leaving others in desperate poverty — a system where some of us are working harder and longer, while others are shockingly underemployed in insecure work. At the same time, we have a climate and ecological crisis that leaves us with a decade to phase out thermal coal and get everything, from our factories and homes to our buses and cars, running on clean, cheap electricity.

These crises are not only threatening our way of life but our lives themselves.

We need to build a society where we care for each other and leave no one behind as we stop the seas from rising and our country from burning.

A price on pollution is still necessary but no longer sufficient. We need government intervention on the scale of the Apollo program. We need a Green New Deal for Australia, a transformative plan to get us out of the overlapping crises of climate emergency and economic inequality.

With a Green New Deal, we can break free from the false dichotomy that we must choose between tackling the climate crisis and delivering better outcomes for workers.

A Green New Deal also recognies historical dispossession and provides justice for First Nations people — which means treaty, voice, and truth-telling — and a leading role for them in this transition.

Taking the urgent action we need to transform our society is an opportunity for equality and justice. This is our chance to shift Australia to a clean, renewable economy while building a more caring and equal society.

Kevin Rudd can keep defending his failure — and sidelining Gillard’s achievements — all he likes. In the meantime, the Greens will keep building power across the community to create a Green New Deal for good jobs, real justice, and the climate action we so desperately need.