Gillard’s problem – Part I

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 

Kudelka in The Australian: Same problem, different direction.

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

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15 responses to “Gillard’s problem – Part I”

  1. Dr_Tad on 16th March 2011 6:15 pm

    “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.”

    There’s always invading (er, “no-fly-zoning”) Arab countries to stabilise the Middle East for Western interests.

    Great to have you back, TPS!

  2. The Piping Shrike on 16th March 2011 6:21 pm

    Getting on to that one.

    Crikey! It has been a while. Where has the time gone?

  3. Casablanca on 17th March 2011 2:04 am

    @ paras 6 & 7 “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 [was] 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”.

    What nonsense. The Citizen’s Assembly was a strategy to inform, not an ETS policy. Also, to quote Grog’s Gamut “Anyone who thought Gillard was not in favour of a price on carbon wasn’t paying attention. Here she was in her climate change speech that got pretty wide reporting during the election on 23 July:”

    The PMs speech is available at–julia-gillard,–moving-forward-together-on/ I’m reasonably certain that this is the speech that was overshadowed by the protester to which you refer in your para 8.

    I commented about the Citizen’s Assembly at Grog’s Gamut with the following extracts from the PMs speech where she identifies that lack of consensus was the reason that the CPRS was deferred.

    “I do not mean that government can take no action until every member of the community is fully convinced”.

    “The role of this Citizens’ Assembly will not be to become the final arbiter or judge of consensus…”

    “At the same time the Citizens’ Assembly is at work, I will work with State and Local Governments, business and community groups to maximise information and discussion in the community overall”.

    “.. this transformational change must have as its foundation the genuine political support of the community, a consensus that will drive bipartisanship”.

    While the Citizen’s Assembly did not get up, Gillard has established two other bodies to further the cause of community outreach. The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) and the Climate Change Commission headed by Prof Tim Flannery. The other members of the panel are ANU Climate Change Institute executive director Professor Will Steffen, Australian Science Media Centre CEO Dr Susannah Eliott, former Head, Department of Environment, Roger Beale, and Professor Lesley Hughes, Department of Biology, Macquarie University.

    The paper released by the MPCCC a couple of weeks ago and announced by the PM is at

    It is perpetuating a myth to suggest that the PM was not going to pursue an ETS during this Parliament.

  4. Ralph on 17th March 2011 1:59 pm

    So will Gillard walk away from this version of the carbon tax when it gets too hard? Based on previous form, it can’t be ruled out.

    It’s pretty clear that the ALP doesn’t have their hearts in addressing climate change. It’s just something they have to do to be seen to be doing something about a serious issue, as opposed to being seen as a do-nothing government. They are also left trying to regain some credibility as ‘economic managers’ by bringing the budget back to surplus on schedule. Yet, it’s difficult to see how they’ll even manage the courage to do that.

    As I see it, it’s lose-lose for Gillard and the ALP. Squib the carbon tax and it reaffirms to the electorate that they are weak and don’t stand for anything – hence they’ll probably be voted out. But bring in the carbon tax and they’ll be howled down by the monk – and probably be voted out anyway. At least by trying on the carbon tax, they can say they tried rather than rolling over again.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 17th March 2011 6:33 pm

    In normal circumstances I would say that the tax will end up coming in and everyone wonder what the fuss is about. But the state of the parties is so unstable that either side could make a hash of it.

  6. Riccardo on 17th March 2011 10:58 pm

    It’s hard to believe it’s not even 3 years and 6 months since Rudd won an election convincingly and presumably had a mandate to do what he committed to, including a price on carbon emissions.

    And even the Carriemmareeskinneally government that is in its death throes had 16 years to get to this point – this mob have not even been in a quarter of that.

    I think the unique problem is not western Sydney – there have always been mortgage belt marginals – but that certain ALP figures were rattled by Howard taunting them over the 1996-2001 election results – it must have damaged them in a way they never recovered from. They see them as more important than they really are.

    And I see a narrative about the failure of Australia (to which I subscribe) – the ‘white flight’ of the last of the classic working class Anglo population.

    Whereas the reality is that population have been neutered by the de-industrialisation that is reflected in the end of trade unions and the working class, and is being squeezed by Asian migrants at the ‘top’ and Middle Eastern and African migrants at the ‘bottom’.

    This leaves them no real way to advocate their interests than by threatening to be racist, to a political class who are oversensitive to the issue (from both ends of it).

  7. Michael on 18th March 2011 8:38 am

    I don’t get it. Howard won by promising not to be Keating. The narrative that Rudd won by proming to be Howard doesn’t ring true to me. Howard was thoroughly rejected in 2007 and couldn’t even hang onto his own seat. Why does his agenda still seem to be defining both the parties?

  8. nick on 18th March 2011 8:42 am

    either side could make a hash of it ? Coalition ? we know they’ll oppose it.

    All the other parties will have a say though, so agree yes its hard to say if it will get through and if so how long it will take and it what form it will be.

    If it does get through relatively quickly and in a form similar to rudds ets deal and is not implemented incompetently it will go down much like the gst as much a do about nothing.

    Only time will tell, more ifs than ever though given the current make up of this parliament.

  9. Ralph on 18th March 2011 10:25 am

    Yes, TPS and Nick are right, I think. Given this government’s record, it’s hard to imagine that any carbon tax will be implemented without gross incompetence. If they could actually ‘do stuff’, the carbon tax would come in and after a little while, people would wonder what the fuss was about (just like the GST). But I just have no confidence the current ALP could do that.

    I also wonder whether the ALP thinks in its heart of hearts that it’s a goner at the next election. They seem to be overwhelmed by it all and unable to cope. They’ll probably be glad to lose the next election because I suspect they don’t genuinely feel that they deserve to be in government and will be relieved that they no longer have to perform at a level that’s beyond their abilities. This mob just isn’t up to it. I think they enjoy opposition more – being able to oppose everything by not actually have to deliver anything.

  10. nick on 18th March 2011 10:50 am

    member of the liberal party by any chance ralph?

    That certainly wasn’t what I said nor tps imho.

  11. Michael on 18th March 2011 10:50 am

    “This mob just isn’t up to it. I think they enjoy opposition more – being able to oppose everything by not actually have to deliver anything.”

    I couldn’t have summed up the opposition better under Abbott.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 18th March 2011 5:52 pm

    What I mean is that the instability of both parties would mean internal factors over-ride what would be necessary to win the argument. If the Libs/Labor were doing this properly they would portray Gillard/Abbott as phonies that switch between doing nothing on climate change and then decide the next day they will. But for their own internal needs, they need to portray the other side as Greens/sceptics.

    In itself this tax would be a non-issue as in other countries where it has been implemented without much fuss. But here climate change just brings out the weakness in both sides. in that context, Garnaut’s proposal to expand it even further to broader tax reform is not a ‘master-stroke’ but would be mad.

  13. Riccardo on 25th March 2011 7:54 pm

    Looking forward to your NSW election post, TPS

  14. The Piping Shrike on 26th March 2011 7:44 pm

    So am I.

  15. willo on 31st March 2011 1:15 am

    our coal exports are more of an albatross
    than our internal emissions
    we are fast becoming the greenhouse equivalent
    of a narco-state and what’s more we seem quite
    happy to use the dealers platitude that they’ll only
    buy it elsewhere……

Comments are closed.