Julia Gillard made a fatal mistake very early on that ultimately cost her the leadership – she didn’t have the guts to take a principled stand on pricing carbon from the start. It was only when the politics forced it upon her via the Greens and Independents, that she told us it was a reform in the great tradition of the Hawke-Keating governments. That it was a reform that shouldn’t be deferred any longer.
Some would like to say the problem was of language, that she should never have conceded that the fixed price period of the carbon trading scheme was a 'tax'. But this ignores her proposed ‘citizen assembly’ and her emphasis on the need for community consensus. Yes, during the 2010 election she said she thought pricing carbon was the right thing to do. But if you really think it’s an important thing to do, you don’t put it to a community assembly to tell you what to do. You lead.
That’s what Paul Keating would have really done.
No, this wasn’t just about some nuance of language. It was plain to even the most politically disengaged that this was a clear change of position. A change driven by political self-interest rather than dedication to principle.
Sure Gillard was tough and brave from there-on. But she never recovered from that failure to lead, to be upfront with the electorate about what needed to be done.
There is simply no way of avoiding the thorns associated with addressing carbon pollution. It claimed Malcolm Turnbull, then Kevin Rudd and now Gillard (with Rudd re-emerging). Politicians are desperate to kick it into the long grass to be dealt with by someone else, because the real solutions confront entrenched and powerful interests.
A small but highly passionate minority of the country may like to believe the institutions representing some of our most talented and knowledgeable scientists across the globe are lying about climate change. They think this concern is a fad, that will fade away.
But you can’t wish away physics.
Some politicians think they can, but it will catch up with them eventually.
Of course there will be times when a number of other issues assume greater importance for the electorate, like when the GFC hit. But most people tend to think of bodies such as the Bureau of Meteorology, the Academy of Sciences, and the CSIRO as worthy of respect. Certainly they carry a lot more credibility in the public’s eye than newspaper editors, politicians or think tank spokespeople. Circumstances will change and people will again start listening to the best advice from our scientists.
So, as it was with Gillard, so it will be with Abbott.
The budget costings for the Coalition’s Direct Action policy simply do not add up. As I explained in a two part special report (here and here), they would be very lucky to get half the carbon abatement they need to reach their 2020 target. Turnbull, who was the climate change minister under the Howard government, knows better than any within the Coalition about the various policy options. His view is that Direct Action either won’t do the job or will represent a huge drain on the public purse.
As I explained yesterday, the latest polling suggests the politics of repealing a carbon price are dangerous for Abbott. The public no longer believes his inflated rhetoric about the sky falling in, simply because it hasn’t. They’d prefer to move on. So would the more sophisticated, non-ideological players in business.
The odds are Abbott will still win the next election. But with Rudd now at the helm of the Labor Party the outcome in the Senate is likely to involve Xenophon or maybe even the Greens holding the balance of power.
A sticky web awaits Abbott.