Dutton flounders, Bandt moonlights as real opposition leader


Greens leader Adam Bandt and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Greens leader Adam Bandt and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

There is an old and unwieldy word for what is going on here – co-opetition. Compete when you need, co-operate when you must. Stepping back from the housing dispute, the real story of the Greens is about a new pragmatism that breaks with the past.


The Albanese government is not yet a year old and it has gained support from the Greens to pass industrial relations laws, put price caps on coal and gas, legislate a target to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, set up the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund and turn the “safeguard mechanism” into a more powerful way to cut emissions. Bandt wanted more from Labor on each of these; in the end, he made sure to get an outcome rather than an impasse.

The passage of the safeguard mechanism is being overshadowed by other news – for some, it’s the Indigenous Voice; for others, it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s skiing accident – yet it should not be shrugged off as a minor advance. It is the most significant step forward in federal law to cut emissions since the deal between Labor and the Greens on the Clean Energy Act of 2011. That says a lot about a dozen years of dysfunction.

Albanese has produced an old-fashioned negotiation rather than the alliance Julia Gillard struck as prime minister in a minority government. This is no small feat for anyone who remembers the failure of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009, the repeal of the Clean Energy Act in 2014, the work by conservative Liberals to sabotage the Clean Energy Target in 2017 and the similar destruction of the National Energy Guarantee the next year, along with the coup that installed Scott Morrison as prime minister.


Even the climate protestors outside Parliament House seem relieved. “It’s better than nothing,” a few of them said of the safeguard mechanism on Thursday morning. After all, Bandt negotiated a hard cap on emissions and Energy Minister Chris Bowen was willing to toughen the scheme within the bounds of the Labor policy pledge at the election, so both sides can claim a reasonable result.

Australia, take a bow. The country has just enacted a cut to emissions without a government schism or a leadership spill. If you choose, you can switch off the news from Canberra and go back to wondering whether the actress or the optometrist was uphill on the skifields of Colorado.

The invisible man in all of this is Peter Dutton, who cedes the centre stage to the Greens by saying “no” to most government policies as opposition leader. Dutton shunned the limelight while his Liberal colleagues were fighting the NSW election campaign and the Aston byelection in Victoria. He has asked a few questions in parliament but, for the most part, has been the dog that did not bark in the Sherlock Holmes story: his silence has been proof of a problem. Put simply, the Liberal Party knows its federal leader costs them votes.

This takes the Liberals and Nationals out of the action and turns the Greens into the de facto opposition on some of the biggest decisions in parliament. The Liberals want to raise the spectre of a Labor-Greens alliance, of course, but they are doing it with a vote of no confidence in their own leader.

While Dutton hides, Bandt is vocal every day. It is almost as if the parliament has a new opposition leader.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.


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