Climate change tactics – an update

Tuesday, 18 August 2009 

Now I’d prefer to amputate three of my fingers than both my legs, but that is not a policy that endorses amputation for a disease that can’t possibly be cured.

Barnaby Joyce 13 August 2009

If Australian politics were confined to the glittering spectrum from the Nationals to the Greens then the government’s climate change tactics would make total sense. Playing political manoeuvres on climate change is killing the coalition. It exposes the major weakness in Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberals, he is in the way of the party’s desperate search to find out what it stands for.

The right-wing press seems to have finally given up trying to pretend the coalition was taking a more sceptical line for astute political reasons, namely positioning for an anti-climate tax backlash when the economy turns sour. No tangible back-lash has emerged. The media’s story now seems to be the climate change wrangles are just a sign of the party’s ‘incoherence’ and lack of leadership. But this is no random process. It has become the primary issue for the right, urged on almost unanimously by their media supporters, to assert their ‘values’ and protect the brand.

What this is about for the coalition can be most clearly seen at its most desperate end, the Nationals, especially Barnaby Joyce, who seems to have been charged by some with the Herculean task of finding the Nationals a new purpose and new base as part of an over-all re-energising of the right. The Nationals, as has been the case for the last thirty years since the basis for their rural representation started to decline, are trying to appeal to anyone as a response to appealing to no one in particular. Joyce on Thursday night was knocking Leigh Sales over in his rush to use climate change scepticism to key into anyone out there who might not like bureaucrats, bankers, brokers etc. etc. who will all supposedly profit from climate change action. The Nationals’ problem is that not even their core base necessarily agrees with such a line, as Tony Windsor’s success in the blue ribbon seat of New England demonstrates. This is especially the case in the southern parts of the country harder hit by drought.

The real problem for Turnbull, of course, is that this search for political identity is not just confined to the Nationals but the Liberals themselves. Yet using climate change to do this has exposed the awful extent of the Liberals’ problems. As polls after polls continue to confirm and the right press are starting to wake up to, the horrible truth is that climate change action is overwhelmingly popular, not the ‘tough decision’ the press have tried to make it. This means that the Liberals asserting their values through this issue is in conflict with their electoral viability and the consequences of that are too horrible to contemplate.

But what else is holding the right back on pushing the sceptic line is not just its electoral unpopularity, but that it would put the coalition in a place it very rarely is, out of line with global political trends, especially now of the US. With no real social base to find in the electorate, and no real political vindication out on the world stage, climate change looks like the issue that should allow the low-taxing, low government spending right to re-make itself, but probably won’t. There seems no other answer than to continue to define itself through the political destruction of Turnbull, rather than his mere toppling. This is something that looks suspiciously to be on the agenda, especially after the response of some senior Liberals to Utegate Round II.

So all this looks nothing but good news for Rudd. But this would assume that the government’s only problem is the coalition. There is, however, the other political game in town, the credibility of the political class as a whole. There has been slipping back on this, as was noticeable in the reaction to the defeat of the ETS bill last week.

The central irony of the climate change agenda as a political issue is that at time when expectations of what government can achieve are at a low, when even the left side of it has acknowledged there are limits to what it can do, it has taken on the task of changing the weather. We have here a gaping credibility gap between a political class that doesn’t even want to take on the responsibility of interest rates anymore, but is planning to undertake the most fundamental change in how the economy is organised since the industrial revolution.

On the domestic stage, the way this comes through is the vulnerability to an anti-political mood as the government faces an electorate that has a widespread demand for something to be done, but in which it has no real social base of support to act. This is what makes the government act more cautiously than opinion polls suggest it would need to. It results in a greater tendency to focus on the Liberals, than any opponents it may face in the electorate. Some have argued that Rudd has now a personal vendetta against Turnbull following the Utegate affair, but the rest of the government, including Gillard and Wong is quite happily following along. The bogus leak of a government’s ‘early election planning meeting’, dutifully reported by Fairfax (did they check whether it was a fake? the giveaway should have been Abbott as a ‘better alternative’! ), was a case in point of the government’s anti-Turnbull strategy.

The result is that the government ended up the week looking to be acting a little too ‘politically’. This reached the point where the government was forced to do what no government should need to, deny it was looking for an early double dissolution. Criticisms of tying the renewable energy bill with the ETS bill was another example of the government being seen to act politically at the cost of those in the renewable energy industry. Given the level of support the government is giving the industry, again this is a position it should not have been in. As a consequence, the government is probably now more in need to get legislation passed and seen to be doing something than it was before.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 18 August 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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7 responses to “Climate change tactics – an update”

  1. RalphC on 18th August 2009 10:50 am

    Nice work, once again. Labor has found themselves in a nice little pickle with climate change. I agree that tying the ETS with the renewable energy target was a bit too cute that now reflects badly on Rudd. What’s the bet that the RET will go through but the ETS will continue to get kicked like a political football. After all, I don’t think Labor really wants to see an ETS – both sides of politics are too much in bed with the big polluters for an ETS to be a serious consideration. Not before the US goes there, anyway.

  2. Paul on 18th August 2009 1:21 pm

    Seems like the Nationals are out of touch…

    The National’s constituents believe one thing, yet the party believes the opposite!

  3. The Piping Shrike on 18th August 2009 7:46 pm

    V interesting. Never let what the core voters actually think get in the way of a party trying to define itself.

  4. Graeme on 19th August 2009 2:09 pm

    Whatever the target of Joyce’s pitch, it’s not a bad metaphor/slogan he’s adopted above. It covers both those who think AGW is a conspiracy, and those who think it’s real but think Australia can’t do anything practically about it (or should move last). Two quite different constituencies.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 19th August 2009 8:49 pm

    I think that’s an interesting point. Joyce could tap into an anti-political sentiment that doesn’t trust what can be seen as the ‘politician’s agenda’ of climate change. In some ways sort of approximate to that of One Nation and for similar reasons.

    But like ON I think it is a difficult premise from which to build a political base. It is especially tricky given the wide resonance for CC action in the Nationals’ traditional support base.

  6. James on 20th August 2009 12:14 pm

    Joyce is trying to appeal to elements of the Nationals’ traditional rural base who believe that daylight saving fades the curtains.

  7. Ricc on 21st August 2009 11:55 am

    Another thing people don’t realise is that the anti CPRS faction’s different shades eg denier, skeptic, mitigator and so on are all mutually exclusive – their alliance tells me that its about power and money interests, not about science.

    To be a denier you have to show the temperature is not changing. It either is or isn’t. If it isn’t, then no amount of compromise or scheme alternatives can be countenanced. Any action is wasteful.

    if you’re a skeptic, then you are acknowledging that warming is happening, just not AGW. You are in fundamental conflict with the denier. You can’t both be right. You can’t be both a skeptic and a denier.

    Even the mitigater (yes there is AGW, too expensive to stop lets just adapt) is in full conflict with the skeptic and the denier. There is either AGW or there isn’t. If there isn’t, then any scheme to mitigate AGW is also completely wasteful.

    So an alliance of skeptics, deniers and mitigaters must have some other agenda than stopping preventatitve action on AGW, because they have no other common interest in the outcome.

    Hence the Liberal National Coalition and its fellow travellers – the thinktankers with their sunspots (essentially deniers, and I’ll include Bolt/Ackerman with 10 years of cooling), skeptics like Michin (because it’s coming from the Left, must be communism in disguise) and the mitigaters (the industrial backers, who want to keep doing what they do even if it warms the planet).

    It’s fundamentally dishonest because they have no common cause than politicking against an elected government and a majority of the Australian people who consistently say they want the sort of action the CPRS represents.

    I wonder if the ALP should actually move some motions in Parliament to flush them out eg first, this house acknowledges global warming is happening (to flush out the deniers) then this house acknowledges this is causes by human activity and so on.

    I would love to see Tories trip up on their own contradictions.

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