Rupert Murdoch’s many critics were savage on Monday after his Australian newspapers staged a spectacular backflip and embraced the need for faster action on climate change.
Newspapers that once warned of a $600 billion cost from cutting emissions now claimed a $2 trillion benefit from doing the same thing.
Rupert Murdoch’s company, News Corp Australia, has repositioned on the issue of climate change action.Credit:AP
It was a brazen move to reposition Murdoch’s company, News Corp Australia, on an issue where its strongest voices have warned against action for years. And it came just as Prime Minister Scott Morrison tries to reposition as well.
“Greenwash,” fumed Kevin Rudd. The former Labor prime minister saw the campaign as cover for Morrison and the Liberals to finally adopt a net zero emissions target for 2050. He called it hypocrisy, too, for suddenly celebrating what the papers had railed against when Labor was in charge.
These aren’t the only somersaults ahead of the United Nations summit on climate change in Glasgow next month. The Business Council of Australia just called for a cut to greenhouse gas emissions of at least 45 per cent by 2030 – the same target it said would wreck the economy when Labor suggested it at the 2019 election.
No wonder this ignites fury. Australia lost more than a decade on climate change after the Coalition and the Greens combined to block an emissions trading scheme in the Senate in 2009. The country needed a steady policy on a long-term problem and got deadlocks and turmoil instead.
But this is why the shift at News Corp is so significant. It is not a provocation – it is a vindication. One of the most experienced people in the Australian debate, John Connor of the Carbon Market Institute, calls it a tectonic shift. The sceptics have woken up to reality. Connor does not say it, but he and others have won. They have forced that awakening.
News had to change. So did Morrison. So did the BCA.
First, the financial markets expect governments and companies to act on climate change, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg noted in a speech two weeks ago. Costs can be higher for those who do not act.
Second, consumers also expect action. A Resolve Political Monitor survey last month found 60 per cent of voters support net zero by 2050. Only a foolhardy media company would turn a deaf ear to that sentiment.
A third factor is people in business can see society changing. They know many young people will not work for companies that block action on climate change.
There was no edict at News Corp to tell its strongest voices what to write. Andrew Bolt isn’t changing. In fact, he made a point on Monday of sticking to his guns. The Australian is not part of the campaign, although it endorsed the target of net zero by 2050 in an editorial on Monday.
But the News coverage will be a real force in politics. Morrison can cajole Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce into accepting net zero by 2050 in the knowledge the country’s biggest newspaper publisher will not campaign against the target.
Whether this issue wins votes for Morrison is another matter. Voters with strong views on climate change can see Morrison is a reluctant convert, so they may prefer Labor and the Greens. Morrison may at best neutralise the issue for others.
So the new dynamic is much more than fodder for the media business. It is a political development. It will have a political impact.
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