Climate Wars: How brutal politics derailed climate policy in Australia

“What climate policy? I mean, it’s basically a mess. It’s incoherent and has been for a decade.”  Former Department Secretary

For more than a decade the climate wars have raged in Australian politics.   Brutal disputes over how and even if climate change should be tackled have claimed one political leader after another and resulted in a seesaw of policies.

“It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, to almost be able to visualise this and to see this happening, and year after year after year go by.”  Former Chief Scientist

In Canberra’s corridors of power, the nation’s most senior public servants have been there through it all.   Usually they keep their thoughts private, rarely making a foray into public debate, even in retirement.   Now several of these former mandarins, who have worked with the highest levels of government, are speaking out. 

“I think the history of this has more to do with personal ambition than anything else,” Former Department Secretary

Former heads of the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of the Treasury along with former Chief Scientists have decided they can no longer stay silent about what they believe has been a colossal failure by politicians of all stripes to comprehensively tackle climate change.

“The level of intellectual input into that argument has been close to zero.”  Former Chief Scientist

They describe cases of flawed decision making and reveal how parties on all sides of the political spectrum have squandered important opportunities in pursuit of their short-term political interests.

“I’ve asked myself this question many, many times. Why do I still feel angry about it? And the reason I feel angry about it is that I feel angry about what Australia has lost.”  Former Department Secretary

Many of them look back upon their time working with government with regret that they could not achieve more.

“We have failed, no doubt about that.  We’ve all failed I think. I mean, I look back on it now and I still feel gutted.”  Former Departmental Secretary

As these senior government policy specialists reflect on the challenge ahead, they are calling on Australia’s leaders to do more.

“It’s about having the strength to lead and it’s about staring down some people who you know are basically wrong, whatever their motivation might be.”  Former Chief Scientist

Climate Wars, reported by Michael Brissenden, goes to air on Monday 18 May at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 19 at 1.00pm and Wednesday 20 at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABCNEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iView and at