The re-election campaign begins

Wednesday, 27 May 2009 

To get a grip on the politics of climate change, let’s again clear up a basic confusion in the media. In terms of political tactics, the economic downturn does not make the government’s climate change agenda less urgent, it makes it more so. The government is entering the downturn without a counter-crisis strategy other than to try and delay its effects. Fortunately, the Liberals don’t have one either, other than moaning about the deficit, but without any ability to pose an alternative. Now that the government has stopped being coy about the deficit and worrying about whether people are spending the cash-hand outs in the right way, and is now simply presenting the economic strategy as the plain old pork-barrelling it really is, that pretty well deals with the coalition (especially the Nats).

Dealing with the coalition is easy. But giving the government a sense of purpose is a little harder, especially as the economic crisis threatens to reveal how little control it has. So preventing drift and finding a principle over which the government can draw a political line in the sand has become even more important and climate change still remains the ideal issue to do it.

For the media, which is incapable of seeing Australian politics beyond the argy-bargy between Labor and the coalition, it would make sense for Labor to constantly water down its climate change agenda. The coalition, for which the climate change issue is central to its desperate search for values, will always move to the right and so end up further away from the electorate. For Turnbull, whose survival relies on being electorally popular and placating the party’s right, it makes the impossible even more so.

But while dealing with the coalition, watering down the agenda does leave the government looking as though it stands for nothing, which is behind the media’s claims of spin. Being seen to take a more aggressive stance on climate change would be much more politically helpful in giving the government a sense of purpose. There is a strong consensus for action here in the electorate (while still allowing the government to appear ‘tough’) and it ties into the international political agenda, including now the US. The long time scale for action allows the government to rise above a political framework few have respect for, plus far-off targets means it will not be too burdened by the need to show results (except in the Murray Darling which continues to be a political problem).

There is no way that, ostensibly, the next election will be fought on climate change. It will probably be about the economy. But since neither side has anything really to say on it, the deciding factor will be which party will look credible enough and authoritative enough to appear able to respond to whatever comes up. For Labor, climate change should do the trick.

The media may regard Labor’s new found determination to push through its ETS bill as a train wreck waiting to happen but actually the position is more favourable than it looks. The coalition couldn’t even organise a coherent press conference. Turnbull’s delay tactic, while helping as an internal compromise, is pretty easily dealt with by Labor as Wong did it last night: no one seriously believes that Turnbull would get agreement in the party room even if his conditions were met.

Even the Greens may be less of a problem going forward. They have certainly done some damage in undermining Labor’s credibility over the last few months. But if Labor can show it is still in tune with the international agenda at Copenhagen, then it will knock the political substance out of the Green stance and make their intransigence as meaningful as the coalition’s. Neither the coalition nor the Greens will want to be blamed for not having an ETS in place heading into the next election. In short, if Labor can look credible enough on climate change, whatever the next election will be fought on, that should be enough to win it.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 27 May 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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3 responses to “The re-election campaign begins”

  1. Luckydave on 27th May 2009 11:27 am


  2. Just Me on 27th May 2009 2:08 pm

    There is no way that, ostensibly, the next election will be fought on climate change.

    Not sure about that. Depends heavily on what happens at the Copenhagen meeting. If there is broad international agreement to a plan that matches or exceeds Labor’s targets, then Labor will be in the driving seat for the next election on climate change, and will repeatedly bash the Coalition over the head with climate change policy at every opportunity during the campaign (due to get under way any week now, I suspect).

    Labor also do not have a long track record of denying or delaying on CC in the same way that the Coalition does, so they have a lot more room to move with changing circumstances. And a healthy majority of the voters are on the same side as Labor on this issue, something that is not likely to change anytime soon, as it is not one of those issues that people will easily change their mind on once they have made a decision.

    If the Coalition do not substantially moderate their attitude and policy toward CC before the next election, then I would expect it to be one of the lead campaign issues from Labor, as it will be one of the main points of product differentiation they will have. This desperately necessary change within the Coalition is unlikely to take place before they undergo a much needed generational transition away from the Howard era personnel, and move onto the next chapter in their history. As it currently stands, they do not know whether they are coming or going.

  3. Paul on 2nd June 2009 12:58 pm


    I think that there will be a DD election before Copenhagen.

    Consider the state elections next year: SA, Tas & Vic

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