'An uncomfortable watch': PM excoriated as Aussie-shaming billboards go global

·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

Australia's prime minister has been the target of a brutal diatribe on a popular CNN news program in the United States over Australia's world-lagging record on climate action

In what's been described by Australians online as "an uncomfortable watch", comedian Dan Illic called Scott Morrison "a guy who always runs away from a national crisis" and slammed his government's close ties with the fossil fuel industry and its corresponding inaction on a much-needed transition to renewable energy sources.

Speaking to one of America's most prominent journalists, Jake Tapper, Mr Illic decried the government's "gas-led recovery" plan in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"A gas pipeline, that was how they were going to solve the Covid-19 problem, and that was when I realised ... maybe our government actually doesn't work for us, maybe they work for someone else."

Australia's lack of climate ambition has received some withering coverage in the US. Source: CNN
Australia's lack of climate ambition has received some withering coverage in the US. Source: CNN

The interview was prompted by a billboard campaign launched by the comedian which included a disparaging digital billboard appearing in Times Square in New York, picturing a burning kangaroo and the line: "Australia - net zero by 2300."

The campaign was brought to the attention of Mr Tapper, and now his more than 3.3 million Twitter followers, by Australian actor Russell Crowe. 

Australia ranks dead last on climate action, according to a UN report in July. The CNN anchor wondered why Australia continues to be such a laggard despite seeing the environmental consequences of inaction at home.

"In recent years, Australia has seen historic droughts, followed by the horrific and devastating fires – it's hard to forget the images of burnt koala bears with no food or water.

"I guess I just find it so surprising given all the tragedy that has happened in Australia, at least partly because of man-made climate change, that your government is so unresponsive," he said.  

"This is what we have to do is this country. We have to drag our leaders to lead us," Mr Illic lamented to CNN.

'Most abject failure in living memory' 

It's not just comedians and Hollywood stars who have derided the Coalition government. Mr Morrison's hesitant approach to climate change was described in the Australian Financial Review on Friday as "the most abject failure of leadership in living memory".

Australia is one of only a few developed economies that has not committed to a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Nor has the Australian government shown any willingness to move on a more aggressive 2030 reduction target – something climate scientists say is even more important.

After initially signalling he wouldn't attend a global climate summit in Glasgow early next month, Mr Morrison reversed position on Friday and announced his planned attendance following weeks of widespread criticism, including inadvertently from the queen

Morrison speaks during a media conference Friday, announcing his decision to attend global summit after saying Australia's quarantine requirements might keep him away. Source: Getty
Morrison speaks during a media conference Friday, announcing his decision to attend global summit after saying Australia's quarantine requirements might keep him away. Source: Getty

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia about the now viral billboard campaign, Mr Illic said: "The idea was to tell the international community that hey, Australians aren't with the Australian government.

"The Australian government does not represent Australians, so please don't blame Australians, blame our ridiculous fossil fuel-funded government."

Nats to decide on government's climate policy

After a decade of infighting, the government's junior Coalition partner, the Nationals, will meet on Sunday to see if they will reach a deal with the Liberal Party on a climate policy to take to the UN climate change summit in the coming weeks.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce – whose close personal relationship with mining magnate Gina Rinehart is well documented – indicated the Nationals would approach a firm net zero target with exceptional caution. 

"If what is asked once more is for the regional areas to fulfil capital city climate policy prerogatives, to feel good about a sacrifice they didn't actually make, then what other option do we have than extreme caution wrapped in cynicism," he said in a Facebook post.

"The government will be finalising its position for me to take to that summit prior to my departure over the next fortnight," Mr Morrison told reporters Friday.

"We are working through those issues with our cabinet and with our colleagues and I look forward to those discussions concluding over the next couple of weeks."

Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is considered the bare minimum action globally.

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