The erosion of public trust in government has been a characteristic of liberal democracies in recent years. How much have the twists and turns in climate change policy over the past decade contributed to this in Australia? As a senior public servant during six prime ministerships, Martin Parkinson had a front-row seat from which to watch the inability of successive governments to tackle climate change. From an emissions trading scheme through to a National Energy Guarantee, this is a story of science and expertise ignored, short-termism, wasted opportunities and international disappointment. Climate change demands both a local and a global response, just as do pandemics, mass migration and ocean pollution. The increasingly urgent question is whether governments are up to the challenge or are prepared to bear the consequences of inaction or indifference. The history of climate change policy in Australia is a sorry story which should leave Australians demanding more courage and commitment from their political leaders.
Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM served in Commonwealth Government leadership positions on all facets of economic, social, foreign, defence and national security policies for almost forty years. As the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet between 2016 and 2019, Martin was Australia’s most senior public servant. He served as secretary to the Treasury between 2011 and 2014, and before that was secretary of Australia’s inaugural Department of Climate Change from 2007. During his tenure, Martin led our key public sector organisations through a period of considerable political uncertainty, serving under five different prime ministers.