When Tamara Smith talks about a ‘gracious U-turn’, Byron readers might be surprised to learn she isn’t referring to drivers waiting patiently on Jonson Street outside the Mercato shopping centre.
The Greens state member for Ballina wants mainstream society to give conservatives on climate change another chance.
Ms Smith made the call on Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week and little wonder if the progressive politician has raised eyebrows – after all, not even former federal coalition leader Malcom Turnbull has been so generous towards those he publicly denounced as ‘climate denialists’ on ABC’s Q and A late last year.
Mr Turnbull wasted no time pretending he held any hope of change on climate denialism within the far-right ranks of his old team-mates and given the likes of federal MP Craig Kelly’s recent performance in a UK TV interview, it’s hard to blame him.
But in a region where voters are wondering what to do next now that burning rainforests are supposedly part of the new norm, water restrictions are only getting tighter and bores and dams are running dry, the state representative voted in for a second term last year has lost interest in fighting.
The path of least resistance: let them ‘save face’
‘I think we’ve gotten ourselves into such a pickle over wedging,’ Ms Smith told Bay FM listeners, ‘it’s all attack and different positions’.
The Greens politician says we all need to allow the prime minister to do a ‘graceful about-turn’.
‘A graceful U-turn, for me, is where we let the Liberals and Nationals change the path they are on and we don’t attack them for doing it,’ she said.
‘So I’m refraining from the huge “I told you so” and all that sort of stuff, I loathe seeing anyone do that.
‘We’ve got to do everything we can so that they can save face because who cares who’s right? We just have to do this,’ she said, referring to a move to a lower carbon-emitting economy.
The member for Ballina says policies for bridging the transition will be her main priority in parliament this year.
Hope through the smoke
But with state politicians arguing just as furiously as their federal counterparts over whether or not to even mention climate change – try comparing commentary from the NSW environment minister to that of the transport minister or deputy premier, for example – it’s hard to see the light of hope though all the bushfire smoke.
As Ms Smith reminded listeners, The Greens NSW tried introducing a climate emergency in the last sitting week of parliament for 2019.
The party had the support of Labor but progressives in the lower house are outnumbered by conservatives and lost the vote.
Ms Smith says environment minister Matt Kean ‘stood up and trashed’ the initiative ‘because of politics’.
By Christmas, Mr Kean had started singing a different tune to the media, telling reporters the bushfires were related to climate change.
‘It’s a vicious cycle and it’s really hard to break out of,’ said Ms Smith.
‘I think that we in The Greens are in a position to be the better person, to be the better party, and to not make fun and say “look we don’t care that you’ve been wrong for a decade or more, we just want you to turn around”’, she said.
Climate change; a ‘mess’ and an ‘opportunity’, says Greens MP
The apparent call for a truce might be less about peace and diplomacy than a need to simply get on with the job of recovery and mitigation.
The Greens member says years of government inaction on climate change have created both ‘a mess and an opportunity’.
‘The chief commissioner of the RFS has come out and said the issue is not anything to do with environmental laws, it’s to do with our summer turning into nine months-long,’ Ms Smith said of the state’s ongoing bushfire crisis.
‘There simply isn’t a gap to do the hazard reduction burning, so we’ve got a lot of mess to do with mitigation now and of course we’ve got this huge opportunity to become a low-carbon economy and a superpower in renewable energy’.
Billions in funding for bushfire survivors… but when?
The Greens last week put out a media release calling for an urgent return to parliament to fast-track recovery funds for NSW bushfire survivors.
The party wanted each NSW household lost due to fire to be eligible for a one-off, non-means-tested payment of $10,000.
The government has instead promised a billion dollars of funding for recovery to complement money promised to the state as part of a $2 billion federal fund.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the money will be used for infrastructure but details on when and exactly how the funds will be spent are yet to emerge.
Ms Smith said The Greens had support in the upper house for an early return to parliament and immediate cash payments to bushfire survivors but wasn’t sure where Labor stood on the idea and a lot of politicians were away on holiday.
‘We think the idea that we wait months, or at least a month, to support those nearly two thousand families that have lost their homes in NSW Is just too long,’ she said
To hear the full interview with Tamara Smith on Bay FM’s Community Newsroom.
* Mia Armitage is a member of Bay FM.