What Wentworth wants: action on climate change

The people in the deposed prime minster’s seat of Wentworth have sent a strong message to the coalition government by throwing their support behind independent candidate Kerryn Phelps. The high profile candidate who is fully aware of the mood of the electorate with its widespread concern over global warming has already released a six-point plan to tackle climate change. Phelps also backs a move to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, which is welcomed by the Smart Energy Council. 

“There is no doubt that climate change was the number one issue in the Wentworth byelection and that is no surprise because all around the country Australians are crying out for action on climate change,” said Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes.

“We are now barreling toward a long hot summer with widespread drought and more severe bushfires, the outlook is dire.

“Australians will not accept a government that does not accept the science and the reality of climate change, and does nothing to tackle it,” he said.

“The Smart Energy Council looks forward to working closely with new independent member Kerryn Phelps.”

Former Liberal leader John Hewson was vocal in the build up to the Wentworth byelection which he cast as “a referendum on climate change”,

“Is it going to take a drubbing in a byelection to get them to do something on climate?” he asked.

One would have thought so, but the stark reality is that despite the crushing collapse of the Liberal safe seat in the largest swing in history, the coalition’s position on emissions and energy policy priorities remain unchanged. Incredibly, options to prolong the life of coal-fired power plants also still appear to be on the table.

The recalcitrance flies in the face of the wisdom of the masses.

The Australia Institute’s exit poll in Wentworth confirmed climate inaction and coal were key to the collapse of the Liberal vote.

Among the key results: Climate change and replacing coal with renewable energy was the biggest single issue motivating voters in Wentworth: 77% of voters said it influenced their vote, with almost half (46%) saying it had a lot of influence on their vote. A third (32%) named it as the most important issue.

Climate change was the number one issue for Kerryn Phelps voters, with 42% naming climate change as the main reason for their vote, 87% of Phelps voters said climate change influenced how they voted.

Among ex-Liberal voters, climate change was the second-biggest issue (31%) behind Turnbull’s toppling (40%), but 82% of those voters said the issue of climate change had influenced how they voted.

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brought a lump of coal into Parliament, but his government’s climate-wrecking, anti-science stance has gone down like a lead balloon with the voters of Wentworth,” said Ebony Bennett, Deputy Director of The Australia Institute.

“The Wentworth by-election was a referendum on climate change action and it’s now clear that voters are willing to punish the government at the ballot box for their love of coal.

“The surge of support for Kerryn Phelps shows the community campaign to Stop Adani is biting, even in the safest of safe Liberal seats.”

Clearly the message to prime minister was: You’ve Lost Us.

Greenpeace also surveyed Wentworth voters and found more than 40% listed climate change as being the biggest issue for them in the by-election.

This eclipsed immigration (15.3%), the economy (19%) and health and hospitals (8.4%).

Almost two in three voters (64.8%) agreed or strongly agreed with John Hewson’s that: “A major party without a credible climate action plan should forfeit the right to govern.”

“This polling shows clearly that the voters of Wentworth are planning on sending the climate wreckers in Canberra a message that there is huge electoral penalty to pay for abandoning action on climate change,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner Neneh Darwin said.

When asked about the government’s plans to tackle emissions and meet Australia’s Paris commitments, Liberal candidate for Wentworth Dave Sharma stated “I accept the science of climate change. I will be a voice in the party to continue to address climate change.”

With the stampede against his party, he won’t be granted the opportunity.

Kerryn Phelps told voters that Sharma was “the candidate for a party which doesn’t believe in climate change and climate change sceptics have blocked any policy”.

“This is a great moment for democracy,” she declared on the evening of the byelection as votes flowed her way.  “We have tapped in the sentiment, about what affects people and that is not the survival of a political party.

“This [result] should signal a return to decency, humility and integrity.

“It is a victory for people who need a voice.”

Message for ScoMo: Come the federal election, beware more pop-up campaigns. 

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