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Julia Gillard says her government's carbon price proves climate policy isn't 'all too hard'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 05/08/2020 Paul Karp
a woman wearing glasses: Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Julia Gillard has warned against a feeling of “received helplessness” that policies to reduce greenhouse gases are “all too hard”, citing the carbon price legislated by her government as proof climate policy “can get done”.

Gillard, the former Australian prime minister and current Beyond Blue chair, made the comments on Wednesday in an Australia Institute webinar about the mental health impact of Covid-19 and the need to “build back better” with more early intervention on the other side of the pandemic.

Gillard said the Covid-19 pandemic had an “upside” in the lesson that expertise and government “matter” but warned of increasing nationalism and the risk a vaccine to coronavirus will not be fairly shared.

The webinar was two weeks short of the 10th anniversary of Gillard’s 2010 election victory, after which the Labor government introduced an emissions trading scheme with an interim carbon price, which was falsely labelled a carbon tax by Tony Abbott and repealed after Coalition victory at the 2013 election.

a person wearing glasses: The former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard says her government’s carbon price proved ‘that it is possible to put in place a scheme in Australia that does reduce our carbon emissions’. © Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images The former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard says her government’s carbon price proved ‘that it is possible to put in place a scheme in Australia that does reduce our carbon emissions’.

On Wednesday, the Australia Institute released research that if Australia’s carbon price had stayed in place, Australia’s emissions would be 25m tonnes lower in 2020 and 72m tonnes lower for the period 2015 to 2020.

Responding to the findings, Gillard said it confirmed that Australia would be “in a different and better place if that scheme had endured” because the repeal had caused emissions to go back up again.

“What I hope is remembered from that period and taken forward into the future … is that it is possible to put in place a scheme in Australia that does reduce our carbon emissions,” she said.

“The received history is ‘oh we’ve been fighting forever, nothing gets done, it’s all too hard’. I would like us to unpack to the next level: it can get done, it was done.

“If it was done once we can do it again in the future … I do want to push back against received helplessness that it’s all too hard.”

The shadow agriculture minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, has been arguing within Labor that it should adopt the Coalition’s 2030 emissions target, a proposal rejected by the shadow climate minister, Mark Butler. The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has agreed Labor will need to set a medium-term target before the next election.

Gillard noted the Covid-19 recession had a disproportionate impact on women and young people arguing that policy responses will have to be informed by and match that these cohorts were impacted differently to others.

Gillard expressed concern about school leavers and university graduates, who risk being a “generation that miss out on that first all-important workplace opportunity”.

On the treatment of female leaders since she left office, Gillard said there were clear lessons for media to ensure their coverage is not gendered and appealed to social media companies to do more to crack down on threats of rape, abuse and death, particularly to female politicians.

Gillard predicted the coming generation of feminists was “going to be a powerful breakthrough generation”.

Gillard said Covid-19 had caused not just a health crisis but contributed to a “mental health crisis”. She cited more than 500,000 Australians calling Beyond Blue’s coronavirus support line and almost 1 million contacting Beyond Blue online, and a “significant number” of survey respondents reporting they were lonely three or more times a week.

Gillard said there were a “range of problems” with Australia’s response to mental health, including a “maldistributed workforce” with most supports in big cities not regional areas and the “duplication, gaps and holes” of the federal system.

She advocated increased use of early intervention and preventative measures, so people do not need to attend GPs for mental health support, and called for telehealth and “low intensity” services to continue beyond the pandemic.

Gillard said the “spirit of bipartisanship” and “agility” demonstrated in the national cabinet could now be applied to “build back better” and achieve mental health reform.

Gillard argued there was an “upside” to the pandemic – which she described as a “lesson right around the world that government does matter” and that expertise matters.

“We’ve been in an era in the climate discussion, with climate change skepticism – but not just climate – there has been a reaction against expertise,” she said.

“Yet here we are, and we’re hanging off every word from the chief medical officer and infectious disease specialists … expertise matters.”

But Gillard warned of negative trends including the potential of the pandemic to “feed nationalism”, a “retreat behind country walls” and less global engagement.

“We might see a scramble in who gets vaccines when they are available rather than fair global distribution, entrenching nationalism in a counterproductive way.”

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