As senior Liberals jostle for position ahead of next Wednesday’s coalition meeting, it is important to remember what this row on climate change is about. It is certainly not about the Liberal party positioning itself to capture disenchantment from the government’s agenda. When Kevin Andrews says that the party needs to reflect public concern about the economic impact of climate change action, unless the Liberals are intending to become the political wing of the Latrobe power workers and the AWU (there is a vacancy), there is no polling evidence to show that such concern exists.

The only thing the sceptics can point to was polling done weeks ago in the early stages of the petrol hoo-hah, before the climate change agenda took off, that showed people didn’t want to pay more for petrol. When the question was linked to climate change then polling turned around into support. The earlier polling doesn’t mean that support for climate change action is soft, it just means that people don’t think OPEC is a worthy cause to give money to. In terms of electoral gains, the sceptic position makes no sense, in fact it is highly damaging.

Nor is this really about climate change. The Liberals are right, Rudd’s climate change program is really Howard’s with a few months knocked off. When Howard adopted the Shergold Report last year it didn’t cause major ructions in the Cabinet (except perhaps from some who wanted to go further), because despite adopting it, Howard not only kept himself on the sceptic side of Labor but also carried on with a myriad of other symbols (like Workchoices) to remind the Liberals what they were about.

Now those symbols have gone, one by one, as Rudd exposed them for the meaningless political symbols they had become. Having had to stand by while Nelson made a tactical retreat, the old leadership are concerned that it has gone too far and that the wastelands of their state parties await. Climate change is the touch paper of such a debate about Liberal values because 1) it ties in with a shifting but still equivocal US position with which the Liberals must be closely aligned 2) it allows them to temporarily regain some relevance at least with those businesses lobbying the government over compensation and 3) there would seem to be on the surface some electoral sense, as it reinforces a line that the Liberals still cannot believe has lost its meaning, their economic credentials.

There are potential political problems with Rudd’s climate change agenda but it is on the opposite side of the fence to where the Liberals are. It more lies in anti-politics cynicism that the government will be all talk and no action. Something that is already pervasive in the growing frustrations about the most tangible part of this political agenda, the rescue of the River Murray.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 24 July 2008.

Filed under Tactics

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