Scott Morrison has seized on the coronavirus as a welcome distraction from the bushfire crisis and the calls for action on climate change.

Morrison no doubt hoped that this would re-establish him as a strong leader able to “keep us safe”.

But closing the border to anyone travelling from China, except Australian citizens or permanent residents, has only further fed racism. Using the detention centre on Christmas Island to quarantine Australian citizens was simply a stunt to appear tough on borders.

Morrison may have adjusted his language over climate change, and stored his lump of coal out of sight. But despite the unprecedented horror summer of bushfire destruction and extreme heat, he continues his push to expand fossil fuel use.

Instead of accepting the urgency of stepping up emissions reduction, Morrison declared that “mitigation and adaptation” to the threat of fires through hazard reduction, building dams and disaster planning was “climate action”. But this is just dealing with the symptoms, not the fundamental cause.

Instead of expanding renewables he wants more use of gas, announcing a deal bribing NSW to increase supply.

He declared there is “no credible energy transition plan” for Australia without increased use of gas as a “transition fuel”. Yet gas is still a fossil fuel that produces carbon emissions. Morrison backed this up with the straight out lie that alternatives would not be, “commercially scalable and available for at least a decade”.

Yet South Australia’s Tesla battery system, the biggest in the world, has been so successful it is set to expand in capacity by 50 per cent.

Power company AGL is building another one of similar size in Queensland next to a new solar power plant, and another four large battery systems in NSW. All of them will store energy from renewable sources like wind and solar to dispatch power when needed.

Despite the official change of rhetoric, climate denial inside the Coalition is just as active as ever.

The Nationals celebrated the announcement of a $4 million feasibility study into building a new coal-fired power station in Collinsville in Queensland, with Barnaby Joyce predicting it would find in its favour.

New Resources Minister and Nationals MP Keith Pitt declared he would spearhead a push to expand coal, gas and uranium mining with the aim to “add billions of dollars to the Australian economy”.

Barnaby’s push to return to the leadership of the Nationals may have failed. But he isn’t about to let up on his regular rants against renewable energy, demanding more action to support coal.

Public investment

Morrison hopes to deflect the growing desire for action on climate change and to pretend that his government is doing what it can. He can’t be allowed to get away with this.

Most people now want climate action. But there is huge confusion about what kind of action is needed. Focus group research for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in late January found that, despite growing concern, people, “were not able to identify what specifically should be done”.

Labor’s inability to put forward any climate policy is not helping. Deputy leader Richard Marles would not even give an opinion on whether he supported new coal-fired power stations, washing his hands by saying it was “a matter for the market”.

But relying on the market will get us nowhere. Even allowing existing coal power stations to keep running until they need replacement will means decades more pollution. New Greens leader Adam Bandt’s push for a Green New Deal has helped open a discussion about how climate action can lead to better jobs and services.

But the only way to transition to 100 per cent renewables in ten years is through a government-funded plan of mass investment in publicly-owned energy.

This is just the start of the transition needed across public transport, manufacturing and land use. And it is only government action that can secure guaranteed alternative jobs for workers as this happens.

The last year has seen the emergence of an exciting new climate movement. Nationwide days of protest in response to the fires this year have seen thousands march again.

Winning the kind of action we need requires a mass movement able to challenge capitalism and the fossil fuel companies blocking action. The power to do this comes from workers’ strike action.

Morrison’s attack on the unions through the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which Jacqui Lambie has indicated she could support when it returns to the Senate, will strengthen the laws against effective strike action further. That’s why climate activists and unionists everywhere should back the union stopwork in Sydney on 1 May for workers’ rights and climate action.

School Strike for Climate has also announced the next major Climate Strike for 15 May.

Students, workers and unionists everywhere need to go all out to build a month of Mayhem for climate action.

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