Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Gillard’s bravura performance on Q&A on Monday was a reminder that when Labor changed leaders last year, they not only destroyed what had been their best weapon against the Liberals for years, they damaged another. Gillard’s difficulties are less due to her own performance (although some decisions have not been too sharp) but the situation she finds herself in, exacerbated by the way she took over.
You only have to look at the carbon tax to see how difficult that position is. While it wasn’t immediately obvious from the Prime Minister on Monday night, it certainly was when Bill Shorten tried to explain the same line on the same program two weeks ago.
Shorten’s performance on Q&A was reassuring. In the dying months of the Rudd government, this blogger had a sneaking suspicion that Shorten was being deliberately lame defending the government’s policies as part of his master-plan to undermine Rudd. From the way he defended the Gillard government’s agenda, we now know he’s the same whoever is leading – unless he’s undermining Gillard as well, so he can … no, let’s just leave it at lame.
Shorten’s argument seemed to be that the government didn’t want a carbon tax, but now that they don’t have a majority, they have to go along with what is necessary to form a government – and besides, tackling climate change is really important.
Leaving aside that breaking a promise in order just to form government is precisely what some people are objecting to, what exactly is being said here? Labor thinks a carbon tax is part of the fight against climate change but not enough to promise it at the election. Is Labor for action against climate change or not?
It seems to have been forgotten just why Gillard was so confidently saying there would be no carbon tax at the last election. As others have pointed out, an ETS was always going to start off with a fixed carbon price/tax of some form until the trading mechanism had been established. The reason why Gillard was so adamant there wasn’t going to be a carbon tax in this term was because it wasn’t clear there going to be an ETS in the first term either.
What we were going to have instead was a Citizen’s Assembly. The whole approach of Labor’s campaign was to tone down the climate change issue, deferring it off to consultation and preferring not to talk about it.
Bizarrely, Gillard referred on Q&A to the climate change protest during her campaign as an indication how much the media was not paying attention to Labor’s campaign. But the whole point of the protest was against the way Labor was toning the issue down. Gillard was being slightly disingenuous when she said that everyone always knew that she wanted an ETS. The whole thrust of the campaign, at least up until the Citizen’s Assembly was exposed as a flop, was to communicate her lack of enthusiasm compared to her predecessor.
The stance by the government in the August campaign was in line with the stance when Gillard took power in June, and when her and Swan argued for dropping the ETS in April. Climate change action was part of the “silliness” like a Big Australia and a punitive mining tax that Gillard and her backers claimed were a sign that Labor had lost its way or, more as they saw it, lost western Sydney.
This is why the real issue is not that Gillard didn’t mean it when she said there wouldn’t be a carbon tax, but that she doesn’t mean it now when she says there will. This is why her personal standing took a hit for the same reason that Rudd took a hit when he did the opposite, for political expediency both were advocating the opposite of what they had they previously portrayed themselves as standing for.
That Gillard defined herself as wanting to tone down climate change action and talk instead about “real” issues, rather than secretly wanting to up the ante, is not a point the right want to pursue, given their need to make a phoney cultural war and people’s revolt against the “inner city elites”. They have their own problems. Someone on Bill Shorten’s panel who would have been in a position to make that point, Turnbull, didn’t – being more concerned to tell us how wonderful and principled he is, rather than how principled the government was once not.
Just as Abbott is now for action on climate change, when he had previously said it was crap, but what he and Howard were then at one time for – after they had been against it, Gillard is now for what she had been against, and what Rudd had also been against, but what he had once called the “greatest moral challenge of our time”. On climate change action the political class is like a drunk stumbling along a street bouncing off every lamp post and hoping no one will notice. Howard may have changed his mind on the GST, but at least you knew when he finally went for it, that he actually wanted it.
From being the issue that had once given the government its sense of purpose, climate change has now become the issue that exposes the lack of it. The ultimate reason for this does not lie with the actions of Gillard, Rudd, Abbott or Turnbull. It is on climate change the car crashes are coming because it is the issue that sums up the global problem they now have to grapple with.
Climate change was supposed to be the global agenda that replaced the War on Terror, but it’s not, because the country that was supposed to realign to drive it through, the US, cannot. This leads to the second sign of the difficulties the government is now in – the increasingly extraordinary relationship between the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 16 March 2011.Filed under State of the parties