The nonsensical notion of CarbonChoices

The ALP must not fall into the trap of believing the carbon tax is like WorkChoices. It's not – and by realising this, the party can avoid making a critical mistake to dump carbon pricing.

If the speculation is true that Labor will consider dumping the carbon price if it loses the next election, the ALP is facing a huge internal stoush. It will not be the decision of a few powerbrokers. The Labor Environment Activist Network (LEAN), a group of Labor members committed to the environment, will join with many good souls in contesting this madness.

Two weeks ago, Rob Burgess reported the comparison being made between the Coalition’s decision to dump WorkChoices and the possible Labor decision to repudiate the carbon price. The argument goes that both are unpopular government policies that, after a whipping at the polls require a mea culpa.

Of course, Labor hasn’t been whipped at the polls as yet, and there will be an almighty effort from Labor members around the country to keep Tony Abbott out of the lodge, but let’s work in hypotheticals for a moment.

To start with there is no comparison between WorkChoices and the carbon price. The notion of CarbonChoices is nonsensical.

WorkChoices was overreach on a massive scale by a tired government drunk on the power that came with the control of both houses. It was championed by long-time ideological IR warriors, led by John Howard.  The control of the Senate which brought WorkChoices to life was an opportunity for these warriors to deliver their calling, the stuff they got into politics to do.

The campaign launched to oppose WorkChoices was real and deep with hundreds and thousands of Australians actively involved. The people of Australia did not want their rights at work undermined.  It was a fundamental clash of ideas and values – which Howard lost.

The decision by the Coalition to dump it was a response to the harsh political reality that they unambiguously lost an election because of WorkChoices.

If Labor dumps the carbon price, this will be for exactly opposite reasons. It will be because of a lack of conviction, a loss of commitment to doing what is right and sticking to core Labor principles and policies. Such a proposal would signal more than a pragmatic back down, it would signal another nail in the coffin of the party’s integrity and will be fought accordingly.

The extent of the campaign against the carbon price was Alan Jones, Angry Anderson and, as Anthony Albanese aptly named them, a “convoy of no consequence” of rusted-on Coalition voters and Tea party wannabes. Opposition to the carbon tax has always been shallow and has now virtually disappeared. The carbon tax never affronted the core values of Australians and it is not the issue on which this election hangs.

The carbon tax and an effective climate change policy must remain the centrepiece of Labor policy, together with quality education, fair workplaces and support for those who need it, including the National Disability Scheme. In the event of electoral defeat, the true believers and those whose faith has already waivered will not reward a party that dumps one of its central policies just because right-wing commentators and the Liberal party says it should. Being a party without the conviction to stand by your beliefs is just as lethal as John Howard’s problem of believing too passionately in policy unacceptable to normal standards of civilised society.

If the reports are true and there are some within the ALP who are pushing to dump the carbon tax and the clean energy strategy, they should think clearly about the tactical brilliance of delivering Tony Abbott a huge political victory and surrendering another 10 per cent of the vote to the Australian Greens.

The development of some lame Aussie version of Britain’s Blue Labour, short on economic insights, long on the idea of revisiting old class politics complete with a nostalgic return to xenophobia and a rejection of all things progressive, including a sober assessment of the environmental challenges facing us  – is the wrong answer to the wrong question. This path is a fundamental failure to deal with the realities of 2013.

A Labor party that aspires to govern as a majority government in the future needs a clear, sophisticated and effective climate change and environmental policy at its heart. Without this it will continue to both bleed votes and have to contemplate another minority government and unholy alliance with the Greens. Surely this is not the preferred strategy of those thinking of dumping the carbon price.

And there are many of us within Labor that see the carbon price as one of Labor’s proudest achievements and will fight for it accordingly.

Felicity Wade is the National Co-Convenor of the Labor Environment Activist Network. 

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