What is Abbott's renewables plan?

Tony Abbott appears likely to win the next election, but currently his clean energy policies are largely outside of the public eye. This must be changed through a grass roots call for him to outline a genuine commitment to renewable energy.

Last week Daniel Palmer told us "Why Abbott could lose the 'unloseable election" and, this week, Newspoll recorded a 5 per cent recovery in Labor's vote.

Is the tide turning against Tony Abbott? No, that's unlikely.

Daniel's article last week extensively discussed federal and state elections and various issues. Let me focus on just a couple of things about elections and Tony Abbott's views on renewable energy.

This week's 5 per cent jump in Labor's vote is undoubtedly proof again that voters will focus on circuses (read Olympics) when government scandals are pushed off the front page of their newspaper.

Secondly, as a rule, governments lose elections, Oppositions don't win them. Elections are always there for the government to win or lose unless the political cycle is plainly evident.

In the case of the Gillard government, Labor has been in office for five years and six by the time of the next election. They have been in trouble for several years.

Voters put Labor into office in 2007 and they were in strife within two years, so much so that Labor factions sacked their own prime minister. Voters then withdrew their support in 2010 but the Independents shored Labor up to keep them in office.

Voters are now looking to finish the job and Labor is clearly in for a hiding unless there is a major change in dynamics on either or both sides before the election.

A change seems unlikely, as the Coalition has decided to adopt Labor's traditional campaigning tactics and discipline ie "just keep punching" and Labor seems totally incapable of cutting through with any message at all despite the merits of some of their policies.

Overwhelmingly Labor is being punished for the NSW disease (ie letting factional heavies change the prime minister), for introducing a new tax and for Labor's inability to stop asylum seekers on wooden boats dying at sea or invading our shores.

Despite Daniel suggesting "It is impossible to forecast a federal election more than twelve months out," most elections in Australia are generally predictable.

In western democracies, voters don't like the two party system but they do rely on it. Voters tolerate one government for a while then simply give "the other mob" a go. Voters rarely know much about "the other mob" but they believe the rigour of two party politics will usually deliver a new government better than the old one. For each party, in turn, the tide comes in and the tide goes out and the flow is helped or hindered by major issues – but they must be major.

In the 1993 case of John Hewson, Labor was in decline but proposing a new tax (GST) from Opposition was always going to be very difficult if not impossible, especially up against a ruthless campaigner like Paul Keating. In the end, Labor swam against the tide and hung on.

When John Howard went to the 1998 election, despite being a new government, the tide was against him but he also chose the risky approach of proposing a new tax (again the GST). He used it to set the political agenda and use the full resources of government to sell it – against the tide. He went within a whisker of losing the election.

The Labor government is now going to its third election with a new tax in place and one the (current) prime minister said she wouldn't introduce! Labor hopes voter anger over the carbon tax will wane after a year – and they might be right. But Labor shows no sign of getting its act in order on other issues.

Labor may change leaders again and there is also every possibility asylum seekers on leaky wooden boats will remain a concern all the way to the election.

For all these reasons, if Tony Abbott maintains his discipline, then he probably will be Australia's next prime minister and his views on renewable energy are critical to any of us who believe action must be taken to quickly move towards low carbon economies.

Absolutely vital is the need to get Tony Abbott's renewable energy views in black and white and indeed in straightforward, simple commitments.

We do need Tony Abbott as a contributor on this website and we need his views on renewable energy to be in words of one syllable from his own hand. Abbott has already made it plain on many occasions that the commitments he honours must be specifically stated as such by him. So we need his views on renewable energy to be public commitments writ in stone and simple language.

Being an optimist, I googled "Liberal Party Policy Renewable Energy" to end up in the relevant sections of the Liberal Party website, but was disheartened with the lack of content and commitment. I then googled "Tony Abbott Renewable Energy" and found no shortage of media comment but no commitments writ in stone by the man. Clearly, we have a problem.

Let me turn to ‘Climate Spectator’.

As you say, it is for "Anyone who is interested in climate change as an environmental, social and business issue, but particularly the industry leaders, business folk, policymakers, and investors who will make the anticipated shift to a low carbon economy a reality."

I just wish Climate Spectator also reached out to the public because no-one else is connecting with them.

And "industry leaders, business folk, policymakers and investors" really need someone to reconnect the change message with the public.

All those years ago, when Al Gore crusaded around the planet selling the need for change, the message was a simple, non-technical call to arms. A lot of people didn't like the way he sold his message but it worked.

That good old salesmanship is needed again. And no avalanche of technical reports, acronyms, rigorous reviews or terrier like blog debate is going to suffice to get public sentiment back on board the need for change.

At least we all (including Tony Abbott) know the public support renewable energy. They support Earth Hour. They love solar. It's commonsense sense to them. But carbon intensive vested interests and their hold on politicians (and on state governments still owning coal gobbling electricity assets) will always be a worthy opponent.

We need to get back to basics and draw the public into the need for change. We need to get them involved in the easiest bit and that's a grass roots call for Tony Abbott to be enthusiastic and straightforward about genuine commitment to renewable energy.

It can be done.

Peter Debnam is a former leader of the NSW Liberal Party and has served as the NSW shadow minister for energy.

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