The following is a transcript of a secretly recorded conversation between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt in the Prime Minister’s office.
Abbott: Come in, Greg.
Hunt: Good to see you again, Tony.
Abbott: Yes – sorry I haven’t been available much. I’ve been busy talking to the important ministers.
Abbott: Greg, you know I’m not exactly a tech-head. I’m more of a big-picture thinker. But now we’ve ditched the witch, we’re axing the tax, we’re stopping the boats, we’re ending the waste and debt, we’re building the roads of the 21st century, we’re creating a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead, we’re cutting red and green tape, and we’re improving the environment, I think it’s time to start thinking about some of the smaller details – just in case journalists start asking us hard questions for a change. So, you’re the Environment Minister. I have a technical question for you: what exactly is a “fossil fuel”?
Hunt (blankly): What is it?
Abbott: Yes, what is a fossil fuel? What does it do?
Hunt: Actually I would have to look that up.
Hunt pulls out a smartphone.
Abbott: We all learned when we were five years old that carbon dioxide is breathed out by humans and breathed in by trees. So we designed a practical policy to increase the amount of carbon being absorbed through better soils and planting trees. But some of the environment groups are saying we should be cutting emissions from fossil fuels as well. So I’m sort of wondering, what’s the point if there are no trees involved?
Hunt: Ah… according to Wikipedia, they’re carbon-based fuels that are mined and burned for energy and produce CO2 emissions.
Abbott: So a bit like land clearing then.
Hunt: I guess. But this carbon has been buried deep underground for millions of years.
Abbott: That’s not possible! The world is less than ten thousand years old – my most trusted advisor said so in his book!
Hunt: Wikipedia can’t be wrong.
Abbott: So where are all these fossil thingies?
Hunt: Well, there’s a lot of them in Australia. Apparently we make a bit of money out of them. As in, mining companies make billions of dollars; we get royalties, and donations.
Abbott: I knew those guys must be goodies, they keep the lights on.
Hunt: Wait, it says here that 90% of CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels and only 10% from land use change!
Abbott: What, you mean a Green Army and better soils won’t solve climate change?
Hunt: We didn’t say it would solve climate change, we said it was a real, direct, practical measure that would improve the environment without hurting the economy.
Abbott: So, are you saying we’re trying to save emissions in the wrong place?
Hunt: Worse. It says here that carbon stored in soils won’t stay there permanently, but fossil fuel emissions stay in the air for thousands of years.
Abbott: But I’ve planted 1,000 trees! I thought I was an environmental hero! Greener than the Greens!
Hunt: I hate to break it to you, but you’re not the suppository of all wisdom. While we’ve been focusing on the Green Army and better soils, the amount of fossil fuels coming out of the ground has been going up and up and up!
Abbott: But hang on, aren’t we also going to reduce emissions through smarter technology?
Hunt: Actually, our fund is designed to reward businesses for efficiency gains they’re already making, so we probably won’t be doing anything extra. Growth in production means total emissions will just keep going up. And as soon as we’ve spent our allocated budget we’ll just give up anyway.
Abbott: Still, it could be worse. Australia only emits a few hundred million tonnes of carbon dioxide, only about 1% of global emissions. That’s a drop in the ocean! We can’t make any difference to the global climate!
Hunt: Wait! According to Wikipedia, most of Australia’s fossil fuels are exported and burned overseas. That means our contribution to climate change extends far beyond our borders.
Abbott (alarmed): But we can’t stop exporting fossil fuels! Australia is making billions of dollars from that! We get royalties! We get donations!
Hunt: I know.
Abbott: Hang on. You knew all this already, didn’t you?
Hunt: Yes. That’s why we wanted you to think we were taking action on climate change, not merely faking climate action.
Abbott: Who’s “we?”
Hunt: All our mates in the fossil fuel industry. You know how our “consultation” process really works – they scratch our backs and we scratch theirs.
Abbott: Well, at least I have one minister who knows what he’s talking about.
Hunt: Thanks – what day is it again?