Playing with their heads

Wednesday, 23 September 2009 

    Rudd with two recent victims <i>(Kym Smith, Punch)</i>

Rudd enjoys the joke with two recent victims (Kym Smith, Punch)

Rudd’s appointment of Nelson as ambassador was supposed to be bad news for Turnbull, but actually it isn’t that great for the rest of the party either. After all, this was someone who the Liberal party had chosen to lead them until just over a year ago and only then a narrow majority wanted to change. Now he will be working for the Labor Prime Minster he was supposed to be trying to defeat.

Such cross-political appointments were not totally unheard of in the past, of course, although it is hard to think of a former party leader being appointed by his opponent. But this is not just one of the cross-political appointments, like Fischer getting the Vatican post, which Rudd has been using to set out his non-partisan style. This is an appointment where the recent leader of the Liberal party will be going directly in to bat for Labor in a crucial political arena. In fact, just in case Nelson didn’t get the point for whom he would be working, Beazley, at the same press conference, spelt it out in his usual bombastic style:

I thoroughly recognise that I’m there to represent the Australian national interest and represent that through the instructions that come to me from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. I therefore recede from endless expressions of opinion to being in the foreign policy equivalent of what Speaker Lenthall was in the House of Commons: I have neither eyes to see, nor mouth to speak, nor ears to hear except as the Commons directs me. In my case that applies to the Australian Government.

Nelson will be toeing the Labor line not just on climate change, as has been widely noted. If at any time in the future the Liberals want to criticise government policy in the growing fiasco that is Afghanistan, then it might be a little more difficult when their former leader is arguing Labor’s case for it.

It is classic Rudd. Not just making a mockery of what was supposed to be the fault-lines of the Australian political system, but locking the opposition increasingly into the international framework that is setting the domestic debate. And, of course, it is on climate change that the jaws of the vice are really being applied.

Labor’s ‘Double Dissolution’ threat that is supposedly being put to the Liberals doesn’t really exist. As the latest Newspoll showed, while the electorate support climate change action, it doesn’t want an early election about it. But nor does the electorate want it to fail because of Liberal/Labor intransigence. This seemingly contradictory stance comes from the anti-political component of climate change – this is a too important issue to play politics over. It shows the way that the climate change agenda delegitimises the old political system, just as politicians around the globe are looking to it to give them a new sense of purpose. At the end it means Labor must get a deal. Besides, as Costello points out today, not only does Labor have little interest in putting the 2007 Senators up for re-election, it need be in no hurry for an early election at all, Swan’s next Budget will be no more of a ‘horror’ than the others.

Yet while there is something hollow about Labor’s threat it doesn’t mean it won’t cause damage making it. The coalition have chosen an issue to define their values that only make them look more out of touch with the rest of the world. The only thing they are tapping into with climate change opposition is an anti-elite sentiment that seems to be now coming about once a decade from the north and usually hits the coalition through its weakest link, the Nationals. Joyce may think he is on a winner playing this up but anyone with a political memory of more than a few years will recognise this for the anti-establishment danger for the coalition it always is. You can almost see the bumper stickers now, ‘Barnaby for PM!’

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 23 September 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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11 responses to “Playing with their heads”

  1. Cavitation on 23rd September 2009 8:42 am

    The longer term consequences of the conservative side of politics being identified as climate change deniers is going to be important. That Labor flirted with socialism and communism in the middle part of the last century affected their electoral fortunes in a big way. Even tho Labor didn’t embrace communism other than very peripherally, it was tarred with that brush for ever after. Even today after the death of communism, the conservative side of politics still throws the epithets of socialism and communism at Labor governments. But the effect of this is declining. So the linking of opposition to environmentalism with the conservative side of politics is likely to do them great harm in the foreseeable future. While some in the Liberal camp, including Turnbull to his credit, seem aware of this danger, many others do not. Global warming, and other environmental problems, are not going to go away. The 21st century will be defined by societies’ reactions to environmentalism, and if the Liberal party becomes associated with environmentally disastrous policies, then that will rebound badly on them for generations. In the 20th century politics cleaved along fault lines enumerated by economists, but the 21st will be along fault lines defined by climatologists and environmental researchers. If a political party picks the wrong side of this increasingly important issue, its future will be brief. Last century, arguments around capital allocation defined politics, but in this century it’s going to be about resources allocation. The poor are not going to be short of money, but of resources such as electricity, food and water. Political parties need to pick the side of this great divide they want to fight on. Making a mistake about this, will be fatal.

  2. kymbos on 23rd September 2009 9:17 am

    Interesting piece, and first comment except for the second last sentence. When resources are in short supply, their prices will go up, leaving the ‘poor’ short of money as well as resources.

    I guess the question is about how easily the conservatives can jump over to the right side of history once they see no more benefit in their ridiculous denialist position. How long will the electorate punish them?

  3. Persse on 23rd September 2009 9:57 am

    I noticed Beazleys emphasis on his intention to be a loyal foot soldier. I was left wondering who was the message directed at – presumably it was for for Rudd because he wanted to drive home his commitment despite their recent history, however I wondered if it was a message for Nelson not to be wayward on the climate change issue.

  4. fred on 23rd September 2009 3:35 pm

    Why all the fuss over the alleged threat of the DD?
    I may have missed something but I haven’t noticed the ALP tie their fortunes to such in any way at all.
    OK maybe a little judicious stirring of the pot and flashing the warning sign that under certain circumstances a DD just might be considered.
    But really nothing at all, again maybe I’ve missed something, to suggest that they are even vaguely considering the possibility od a DD.
    I presume all and sundry take careful note of Antony Green on such topics.
    Yet the OO and mates, the Libs in general and Malcolm in particular, seem to be terrified of the possibility.
    Apparently Malcolm even warned the BCA a few months ago that there could be dastardly repercussions for all if a DD occurred.
    So why the paranoia?

  5. Ad astra on 23rd September 2009 5:25 pm

    Many in the Coalition do seem apprehensive about a DD, which I agree is nothing more than a tactical threat at present. Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb’s replacement, Ian McFarlane, despite being a climate change denier, said yesterday a DD would be disastrous. So the Labor tactic seems to be working.

    But as you and your respondents point out, the greater threat to the Coalition is being permanently identified with climate change denial and worse still, inaction, and even worse, obstruction to measures to ameliorate the affects of climate change. The people want action – Newspoll says 83% want something to be done, either a DD to achieve legislative action (19%) or modification of the legislation to enable it to pass (64%). These data have been played as ‘most people oppose going to a DD’, but I read these figures as an overwhelming proportion insisting that something be done, one way or another. It would be a brave political party to run contrary to this.

  6. The Piping Shrike on 23rd September 2009 5:50 pm

    Some interesting comments. My thoughts are that while I think environmentalism is changing the political landscape, I can’t see this being an issue that creates a new fault line such as we have seen over economics.

    I can’t see the basic conflict such as we had between labour and capital. I tend to see environmentalism delegitimising political activity, and the sceptic resistance in the Coalition being a rearguard action. But it is one that is tapping into what is for the Coalition a dangerous trend. No wonder the Nats leadership is keeping its distance from what Joyce is doing.

    This is how I would see what is otherwise a highly unusual (and debasing) tactic of the Coalition leadership like MacFarlane and Turnbull warning of annihilation if it went to a DD. They are trying desperately to find a way to frighten the party into line.

  7. thewetmale on 23rd September 2009 6:48 pm

    Hey, i hate to break it too you but i think you’ve been scooped. See, Rudd has like, suddenly started to act like he’s above politics. See here:,25197,26113065-17301,00.html

    Either that or it’s not just the heads of the opposition that Rudd is messing with.

  8. The Piping Shrike on 23rd September 2009 7:38 pm

    Rudd needs a deal.

  9. Graeme on 24th September 2009 9:36 pm

    Can we comment then on why Nelson, in his last few public pronouncements, was playing the Liberal Right line on the ETS etc?

    Commentators first suspected him of just being mischievous with Turnbull.

    But either Rudd has made a blunder and Nelson is a Hawk on climate change, or Rudd wants three-bob-each-way on climate change and really wants to oppose European approaches on climate change. Or, bizarrely, Nelson was just playing to his old supporters before it becomes clear he is Rudd’s man in Europe.

  10. Ricc on 24th September 2009 9:43 pm

    I don’t think Nelson believed what he said – he was just playing to the dominant Howardist faction who are still in denial over their loss. No choice about this if he wanted to be leader. After 11 years, no moderates in the party. Even “Dead Man Walking” Ruddock had gone over to the Dark Side.

  11. janice on 26th September 2009 11:25 am

    The threat of a DD comes more from media commentators than from Rudd and Labor. The Coalition are very afraid of the outcome of a DD with good cause but I would be more than surprised if Rudd took that option. He wants and needs the full three year term to carry out the agends he set himself, and he knows and understands that the electorate do not like early elections.

    According to Antony Green, he does not see a DD before the last three or so months of Rudd’s first term when the electorate would not consider a couple of months early as a grave sin. If Antony is right (and I believe he is) then the Coalition have much to worry about if they continue on this obstructionist path upon which they’ve embarked.

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