Health political scientist, Professor Evelyne de Leeuw is Director of the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation at UNSW School of Population Health. Professor Evelyne De Leeuw is also Director of HUE (Health Urban Environments) Collaboratory, Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Health Promotion International and the Oxford Open journal Infrastructure and Health that will launch next year. She also edits (with Professor Patrick Fafard) the Palgrave Studies in Public Health Policy Research. Here Professor de Leeuw writes how the Australian COP26 drama is one of baffled disappointment and is a symptom of the lack of will to lead. 

As a health political scientist, my most profound response to the Australian COP26 drama is one of baffled disappointment. For a country that regularly claims to punch above its weight, to meeting and beating targets, and to be in front of the queue, the level of unaccountable spin is inexorable.

Australia is a migration country, with a significant proportion of citizens and residents having overseas roots (which in itself raises significant issues, of course, regarding the ignorant continuation of the invasion perpetrated upon the owners of this beautiful land). You would expect that some proportion of these people with a global conscience would actively challenge and shift the government’s views of the world. Shift from a global parochial pariah to an accountable global citizen.

But accountability seems to be the last thing that is on the books for this country. Neither accountability, nor transparent good governance has been spotted anywhere in Canberra for a long time – I would claim since Julia Gillard. I don’t make this up – authoritative news outlets such as The Mandarin have documented how grossly pitiful the behaviors of our political class are.

It’s not just the lack of accountable transparency. This is just a symptom of the absence of the will to govern. To lead. To make a difference in this world, locally and globally. The marketing ‘genius’ Scott Morrison believes that the market will solve all (spruiking the benefits of unfettered capitalism) but this is a demonstrable furphy. The clearest example is that the rest of the world has long embraced carbon accounting and trading as a market mechanism that would contribute to preventing us from drowning and burning in the near future. But Australia embraces sheer stupidity.

That is the next frustration – the malevolent efforts of this government to distrust and ignore the science. Whether it is COVID-19 or climate change, there is a belief that expensive consultancy firms will more easily dance to the tune of ‘Canberra’ than those pesky independent scholars and intellectuals. If all of those millions spent on consultancies and the mirage of the market would have been spent on higher education and a proactive, intelligence-seeking national research strategy, the voices of reason would have been able to make a difference.

And maybe that is my ultimate anger, frustration and disappointment: that the cabal of the coalition runs this country through a belief in some sort of magical realism. A belief that wizardry, out of nowhere, will create technology that will save us all, and not just that, but miraculously just in time! Perhaps I should not be angered, frustrated and disappointed. Maybe I should just join the religious cult that is pervading this government. I would then firmly believe in The Rapture, and just before Planet Earth is first burnt to a cinder and then flooded, I will be taken away to Heaven, Nirvana, or – if Musk delivers – to Mars. Anything better than this Australia.

Read the UNSW School of Population Health response to the Glasgow Climate Summit here