Honestly, Neil, I get set more tests than the average VCE student.

J Gillard on 3AW

It would be exquisite irony to say that by compromising on climate change action, Labor lost its majority and so found itself in a position where it had to do something about it anyway.

Exquisite, but not quite true. In reality Rudd would have had problems with climate change action whether he had dropped it or not, because the international momentum for it had faded after Copenhagen. This is what he was reacting to when he started to listening to the tactical wisdom of the party brokers, whose brilliant idea on approaching a brick wall was to put the foot on the accelerator and see what happens.

The government, or more specifically Rudd, had a political problem with the ETS, despite its popularity at the time, for three reasons.

First, it was the issue that crystallised the central dilemma of the Rudd government that was already coming to the surface: here was a Prime Minister almost wholly reliant on an international agenda just at the time when the main driver of any international agenda, the US, was losing its way. The acceleration of the political decline of the US since Obama took office is now so bad that, as we see in the Middle East, it has shifted from trying to recover what was lost under Bush to now just holding on to what influence they’ve got left. Rudd went jetting off in search of a program almost as soon as he got in and tried moralising on the GFC and GW, but to do either needed international leadership that never came.

The second reason that caused problems was that the Liberals used the issue to deal with what at the time was a pressing problem and led to Abbott taking the leadership, the need to address the ‘brand’. Climate change scepticisms became the issue that allowed the Liberals to remember what they were for and, dressed up in a phoney populism, to pretend such ‘conservative values’ had any electoral relevance.

This in itself shouldn’t have caused Rudd any problems. Indeed, it had the potential to badly backfire and end up doing even more brand damage, especially in the hands of the erudite Barnaby Joyce.

However, what saved the Liberals and finished off Rudd was the third factor. Rudd’s loss of authority gave the party leaders the opportunity to undermine Rudd and take back power. The leaking against Rudd during the first half of 2010, including the decision to dump the ETS, are the leaks we are not supposed to remember as history is re-written by the semi-victors that took over. Panic over Abbott and the impact he was supposed to making on the Great Big New Tax (in addition to other issues such as asylum seekers) became used to undermine Rudd’s popularity and so his case for over-riding the factions.

The damage to political authority has been done but is now embedded throughout the current government leadership. Just how far was shown yesterday with the uncomfortable experience of listening to an elected head of government being ticked off by some journalist for daring to be 10 minutes late. Nevertheless, despite the talkback journos trying to make a big deal of it, Gillard ’s breaking of an election promise probably won’t do as much damage as the political expediency that made her promise it in the first place.

Nor does Gillard face the other two problems that Rudd did. The Liberals have rediscovered their poise and less need the risky course of climate change scepticism, or Abbott’s phoney populism, as a way of defining themselves. Abbott’s upping the tempo is probably more to save himself than anyone else and indeed there is slight feeling that his colleagues are somewhat sitting back and waiting to see what happens.

Neither might Gillard be under as much threat for now as some claim. As we saw in the recollections of Cassidy and Howes, neither popularity nor political principles are that much of an issue for supporting the leader. The main thing is that Labor brokers are indulged and Gillard seems willing to do that – for now. The media are making this into a major drama, but it may not be, at least in the way they say. Abbott may not have the impact he did last time, but nor will Gillard find it will give her authority. To do that, she’ll have to take on, somehow, the ones who put her where she is. If she does, no doubt they will use any issue at hand. They are flexible like that.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Saturday, 26 February 2011.

Filed under Political figures, Tactics

Tags: , , , , ,


9 responses to “The climate change moment has passed – an update”

  1. Mike on 26th February 2011 7:53 pm

    This is a great blog mate. Gives the events of the last year a coherent and convincing narrative.

  2. Speckled Jim on 27th February 2011 2:16 pm

    Spot on mate.

  3. Riccardo on 27th February 2011 6:18 pm

    The odds are ‘Shorten’ing but ask yourself Combet or Shorten? Rees or Iemma? Same disease.

  4. DM on 28th February 2011 12:27 am

    Labor can not afford another leadership change without throwing away all of its credibility. It’s highly ironic that the putsch against Rudd has resulted with the new leader pursuing the same policies because of which Rudd was apparently ousted. The irony of this will reach its zenith when Gillard under pressure from the Greens proposes a return to the RSPT (under a different name of course). Regardless of Combet and Shorten’s leadership qualities it needs to be recognised that we live in an age where political leadership is increasingly viewed with stark cynicism; just look at what happened to Obamamania, Palinmania and indeed the fate of Julia Gillard and Labor under her leadership. Seeing leadership change as a successful resolution of government woes now would be immensely naive!

  5. The Piping Shrike on 28th February 2011 5:30 pm

    My take is that Gillard is not under as much threat as some claim. It assumes that Labor replaced Rudd because of poor polling which Cassidy and Howes explained was not the case.

    It really depends on the tussle between the party leadership and the power brokers , and Gillard has been careful so far. For that reason I don’t see the carbon tax as big a deal for Gillard’s prospects as the media claim.

    I think Abbott is less likely to make the next election than Gillard.

  6. Michael on 28th February 2011 10:28 pm

    I sure as hell hope you are right. If Abbott gets traction with his “peoples revolt” over a 6 cent rise in the price of petrol after a 15 year boom then this bogan’s paradise truly has no hope.

  7. johnr on 2nd March 2011 1:16 pm

    I agree – I think that Julia Gillard would be in more trouble – if she hadn’t made the carbon ‘tax’ announcement.

    She and the ALP will campaign better if they are seeing as fighting for something.

  8. Charles on 5th March 2011 12:05 pm

    If climate change is real then as the changes bite it will once again be a big issue, a very big issue. From an election point of view how we feel today is not the issue, it’s how we all feel about it in two years time.

    Given it’s tack record I suspect betting on science is a pretty safe bet.

  9. willo on 7th March 2011 1:38 pm

    The RSPT should get a revisit on the grounds of the misleading campaign run by the Miners and bolstered by
    Abbott and the coalition. If twiggy Forrest is guilty of misleading the market over Chinalco and the finance arrangements then surely Rio, BHP and the Lib/Nats are culpable in relation to the Billions fleeced off the national
    account ,not to mention the removal of a prime minister with their now clearly false assertions.

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