Today was what you may call a fairly big day in Australian politics.
Yes, today was the day Julia Gillard announced she was going to visit America next month… oh wait, now there was something else… what was it…?
Yep the Government announced that as of next July there will be a price on carbon.
Now many in the media have pointed out we don’t know what that price will be, we don’t know what it will cover, and we don’t know how much will be spent in compensation (not surprising as this figure will be dependent on the price). So you might think, oh well so what, ho hum, get back to me when you’re doing something real. But this is pretty much the next election right here and now. Today was a ‘can’t ever go back from’ moment. If Gillard and Combet can’t get the deal done, that’s it, they’re gone – they will forever be remembered as the did-nothing Government (won’t be true, but on the biggest issue it will be – and they have decided that this is the biggest issue). Get the deal done, but fail to prosecute the case properly, then they may still be gone anyway.
So big bickies to play for.
You may think, oh we’ve been down this road before and Rudd came up short (one vote short). But we’re on a different street now. The language used by Gillard and the Greens in today’s press conference was all economics. No moral challenge – it was about the economy.
It is also a very smart strategy – no announcing the result and saying here it is cop it sweet or you’re a denier – instead a “framework” has been announced – which means within which much lobbying will be done (oh so very much lobbying), but which also establishes the framework as you’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. It puts Abbott on the sidelines shouting, while others – including all of business – are inside doing work.
The mining companies of course have come out and told Gillard not to cave into the Greens, to which I say, oh go cry me a river. Where the hell were you this time last year when Abbott was blocking the incredibly polluting company friendly CPRS?
The mining companies bet big on Abbott wining the election. He didn’t and now the ALP are in Government with the Greens holding the balance of power. Twelve months ago the mining companies had the chance to get a scheme that the Greens hated and with which they would have required them to change bugger all of way they do business. And yet they gave it zero support. Now the Greens are sitting at the table and the same companies say, “Please don’t hurt us”.
Abbott opposes the tax. (Well duh – I mean, why on earth would a Liberal Party leader support a free market option?)
Abbott in response decided to get out the hyperbole stick and give it a bit of a whack:
"I think there will be a people's revolt against this carbon tax and I don't think it will every happen because the Australian public will be so revolted by this breach of faith."
It seems Abbott has been watching Fox News in the US and fancies himself the head of a Tea Party movement.
Australians don’t revolt against anything. Think of the Whitlam dismissal. People maintained their rage for all of a couple days, then overwhelmingly voted for Fraser. Abbott may think his hollering and shaking will get people racing to the barricades, but the fact is the only type who would ever turn up in numbers to any such rally would not be the types he would want. Australia doesn’t have a tea party movement, and if Abbott or Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt want one, it’ll look very One Nationish.
But onto to the fun of Question Time (you know that place of a kindler, gentler polity)
Abbott of course asked about the carbon price – asking quite rightly about Gillard saying prior to the election that there would be no carbon price in a Government she leads, and yet now she is doing just that.
It is going to be the biggest thing she will have to overcome in the first instance – and it is really a symptom of just how bad that election campaign was run. There was no way in hell she should have said such a thing – not only because it was poor policy, but also because it is bad politics to ever say never.
But hey, John Howard got past it with the GST – but he had to wear the “never ever” line for the rest of his career. My guess is he doesn’t give a damn – he got the GST in the end.
Gillard’s response was feisty but restrained:
Ms GILLARD—Let me explain this to the Leader of the Opposition, bluntly, without the Leader of the Opposition’s characteristic spins and slogans—the characteristic use of words that we associate with the Leader of the Opposition, where he seeks to destroy and wreck and spin and mislead. Let’s be really clear about what we need to achieve here. Climate change is real—I believe that. I believe that it is caused by human activity. We need to act on climate change and build a low-pollution economy for the future.
We need to do that because other parts of the world are acting. It is not in our interest to be left behind. We are a confident people. We are a people who have achieved change before and we will achieve it again. In achieving that change, we will make sure that we act fairly and have a fair carbon price.
Nice use of the parochial “We are a confident people” – good leaders always try to make you feel like you’re part of a nation that can do anything (the bad ones though just say it and think that’s all they need do).
The carbon pricing mechanism that I have announced today, arising from the discussions of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, is a carbon price mechanism that would start on 1 July 2012. It is a scheme that would start with a fixed price for a fixed period, effectively like a tax. It would move to a cap and trade emissions trading scheme, following that fixed-price period of three to five years. The carbon price would exclude agriculture, though we would have our farmers able to participate in initiatives like our carbon farming initiative. We will design a carbon price that meets these requirements. In doing so, because we are a Labor government, we will make sure that we act fairly towards Australians and that they are treated fairly as they adjust to carbon pricing.
The compensation is the key – and it is going to be hard to sell because people will always think they’re getting ripped off. But it was a big thing to help with the selling of the GST, and it’s going to be a big thing here.
Now is the right time to act—the right time to modernise our economy into a low-pollution, clean energy economy of the future. What Australians expect from the people that they send to this place is that they will work together for positive change. I actually believe the vast majority of people in this parliament came to this place wanting to be associated with changes that are positive for Australia and will make a difference to our future prosperity and future opportunity. Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition came to this place hoping to make his name on what he can wreck, stop and destroy. We will continue working through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to price carbon. It is the right thing to do by Australian prosperity, by Australian jobs and by a clean energy future. By doing the right thing on climate change, we will keep working to price climate change and treat Australians fairly.
All very nice and well said. But it was with Abbott’s supplementary that things fired up:
Mr ABBOTT—Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the Prime Minister that one member of this House—just one—was elected promising a carbon tax. One hundred and forty-nine members of this House, including every coalition member and every Labor member, was elected ruling out a tax. I ask the Prime Minister: since when does one vote trump 149 votes, unless the real Prime Minister of this country is Senator Bob Brown?
Here we see the second part of Abbott’s attack – that the Government is run by the Greens. It’s bullshit, but it can be effective if done well. In reality the Greens are no more in charge that the Democrats were when they forced Howard to take food out of the GST.
The Prime Minister leapt up as though she was expecting this question (which I think she was, given it was pretty obvious)
Ms GILLARD—Well, heavens above! The member for Wentworth was elected ruling out a carbon price, was he? I do not think so. Have a look behind you. Did you have a look at Lateline last night? You probably should have. Let us have a look at the coalition and its promises to the Australian people. Prime Minister Howard—whom I disagreed with across many long years—came to this place wanting to change Australia and make improvements for the future of Australia. He wanted to be remembered for the things he had created, not the things he had destroyed—unlike the Leader of the Opposition. Prime Minister Howard went to an election promising emissions trading.
Then, of course, there are the members of the frontbench who engaged in negotiations with the government and endorsed carbon pricing every step of the way. The member for Groom was there talking about the importance of carbon pricing. The member for Wentworth, who led the discussions on carbon pricing, was reinforced by people on the coalition back bench, who go to their electorates and try to clothe themselves as people who care about climate change and want to act on carbon pricing. So let us not have any of this hypocrisy. Let us not have any of the hypocrisy that was just on display by the Leader of the Opposition.
This is the problem for Abbott – it wasn’t just the ALP who back in 2009 were aiming for a CPRS, so too were a large majority of his own party. All of them except Turnbull have turned tail on this though, as we saw when she later rose to answer a question from Joe Hockey and Greg Hunt yelled out some abuse. He was warned, and Gillard in a understated and ever so cutting tone said: “There’s a man of conviction, Mister Speaker”
It was a line that obviously hurt because Bronwyn Bishop and Julie Bishop both tried to use it against her, but sorry ladies, when it comes to wit, the prizes for coming second are rather absent.
…I say to the Leader of the Opposition: now is the time for him to put aside the brutal politics he has played with climate change—his weathervane politics of believing climate change is real one moment and not real the next and believing carbon should be priced one moment and not priced the next. Now is the time for the Leader of the Opposition to actually try to do something right for this country. Now is the time for the Leader of the Opposition to put away his slogans, put away his spin and put away his propensity for political destruction and actually work with the rest of the parliament to do the right thing by this country. It is time he looked inside himself and tried to see whether there are any convictions in there about the nation’s future—because I cannot identify one from his behaviour.
So not a lot of love in the chamber.
It didn’t take long for Abbott to move a censure motion against Gillard. This was the opening of Abbott’s speech:
Before the election the Prime Minister said: “I rule out a carbon tax—”on the front page of Australia’s major paper the day before the election. We even had the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister calling the claim that a carbon tax would be introduced post election an ‘absolutely hysterical allegation’. That hysterical allegation has turned out to be cold, hard fact. Cold, hard fact is the betrayal of this government.
But to get the real gist of it, you have to read it as though it is written in full CAPS.
Abbott, as Abbot always does, shouted his speech. The guy has no inside voice. He thinks conviction is equal to volume. He also thinks wit and volume are linked, though sadly this is not the case as he displayed when he embarked on some tortuous Shakespearean reference:
I am sure that this Prime Minister, in her heart of hearts, in those quiet moments of reflection in the still, small hours of the night when she considers what she has said and done, like some latter-day Lady Macbeth would consider the statement ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead’ and say ‘Out, foul spot!’ ‘Out, foul spot!’ But she said it and she will be judged by it.
Lady Macbeth I can get if he is referring to her doing away with Rudd, but somehow I don’t think she is losing any sleep over it. But to think the blood of Duncan in Macbeth is akin to her saying there will be no carbon tax is not exactly a winning analogy. (Especially when the actual quote is “out damned spot”.)
He ended with the core of his argument:
The only explanation for the Prime Minister’s backflip is that the real Prime Minister of this country is in fact Senator Bob Brown. This is a prime minister who now has almost no credibility left. She has never seen a tax she did not like. She has never seen a tax she would not hike. This is a prime minister who has let down the Australian people no more so than today.
It’ll be a point that Alan Jones and Bolt and others will give a big run. I think it can be easily countered (the Democrats-GST example is a good start) –but it does need to be countered.
And so Julia stood to respond:
Ms GILLARD (2.40 pm)—What we have seen on display from the Leader of the Opposition today is why Australians do not trust him to be Prime Minister—a performance of hysteria, a performance of the ultimately hollow man, the man who believes in nothing and does not want to do anything to benefit the nation in the future. People come to this parliament wanting to work hard, wanting to make a difference, wanting to ultimately leave this parliament saying to themselves, ‘I did that; I created that; I built that—that is only in Australia today because I was in the Australian parliament.’
Get used to Gillard as the “can do PM”.
The Leader of the Opposition is the only man I have ever met who came to this parliament saying, ‘I want to leave the parliament with people able to say about me, “I destroyed this, I stopped that, I ended something else.”’ What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to deal with climate change. What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to have the jobs of the future through the NBN. What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to have health reform. What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to properly manage the mining boom and to get a proper return on the mineral wealth in our ground. What he wants to do is destroy the ability of Australians to even move from one bank to another freely—he would rather have them charged unfair exit fees. What he wants to do is destroy all of these things because in his hollowness and in his bitterness he has no positive ideas for the future.
Expect to hear more of the “hollow” line. The ALP has no doubt found some traction with the view that Abbott only stands for saying no. Voters like their leaders to stand for something (even if they disagree with it). It was the fatal flaw of Rudd in the end – no one knew what he stood for. That however, doesn’t mean it is a no-risk strategy – people knew what Keating stood for, and in the end it was his undoing.
…On this side we know why there is all this hysteria today—because the Leader of the Opposition has clutched to his old slogans like a drowning man to a passing piece of wood. …
(As an aside, I would have said “like a drowning man to a snake”)
She then continued the theme of the carbon price as an economic policy:
…Then once you have determined to act you bring to the task your market based principles. How can we best do this? I believe we can best do it through a market based mechanism that will give us the biggest transformation in our economy for the lowest cost.
I believe we should do this fairly by looking after Australians who are impacted by the change. We will do that. I believe we should do this by making sure businesses have certainty. We will do that too. I believe we should do this understanding that we are a confident nation, that we have made big changes before, that we have made big changes even when there have been hysterical campaigns against them and those big changes have led to the prosperity that we have today. The proud record of reform of the Hawke and Keating governments was something that transformed our economy for the future. That is what carbon pricing is about. It is the reform that we need now.
This is the best way to sell this policy. People hear carbon price and they think costs and prices, they don’t actually think climate change, so that is where you have to win the argument – with the economics, not with the science.
Back last year during the election, in frustration I wrote a pretend draft of Gillard’s speech on climate change. In it, I had Gillard saying:
I say this to you knowing that what I am to tell you is the most obvious thing in the world, but which has for too long been avoided by all in Government: avoided out of fear. Ladies and gentlemen, I say to you that if we put a price on carbon the cost of electricity, the cost of energy, in short the daily cost of life will increase.
The prices of all things will rise. This is unavoidable.
Why do I tell you this? I tell you it because the Australian people are not fools and I will not treat you as such. It is supply and demand – the same economic laws which have brought the western world prosperity unparalleled throughout human history. By setting a price on carbon we will be finally allowing the market to work as it should – one that will use the profit motive to find more efficient ways of producing energy that involved carbon such as coal and to find more efficient way of producing energy from renewable resources.
Now I know all of you will be still hearing the sound in your ears of mentioning higher costs of living.
I say to you that you will not be left behind. I said before that we need a carbon-emissions patch; that we cannot go cold turkey. This applies to consumers as well as to producers. I guarantee to the Australian people that every single dollar of revenue raised through placing a price on carbon will be directed back to the Australian people to compensate the impacts of the increases in costs of living.
Now I never actually thought she would say such a thing! And yet here today she pretty much did say it (though said it better):
I also want to be very clear with Australians about what pricing carbon does. It has price impacts. It’s meant to. That’s the whole point. Consequently things that generate a whole lot of carbon pollution will be more expensive than things that generate less carbon pollution. That’s the whole point. To have those price effects to send a price-signal so people innovate, people adapt, people go to low pollution and clean energy alternatives.
Now as a Labor Government when we price carbon we will ensure that the carbon price is fair. That it is a fair system. Every cent raised from pricing carbon will go to assisting households, helping businesses manage the transition and funding climate change programs.
There will be those who will say the ALP didn’t go to the last election promising this. And yes, you’re right, but the thing is I, and many of those on the left side of the ledger, wanted them to go to the last election promising this, so to be honest, I don’t care.
The biggest fight of this political generation starts today. Both Abbott and Gillard love to fight, the problem for Abbott is that for the last 6 months Gillard seemed to have nothing to fight for. She now does. She looked confident at the press conference, and looked like she welcomed the fight in parliament.
On the day she became PM she said to Abbott, “Game on”.
It sure is now.