Monday, February 8, 2010

On the QT: A Tale of Two Speeches

Today in the House of Representatives two speeches were given by the current and former leaders of the opposition. One was forceful, well reasoned, cutting, intelligent and persuasive. The other was given by Tony Abbott.

Prior to today’s QT Malcolm Turnbull rose to speak in favour of the Government’s emission trading bill. It was an act which displayed complete conviction – something Tony Abbott wouldn’t know how to do were he given step by step directions written in bold, a flashlight, and had a Sherpa on hand to guide him the way. Turnbull had argued for the ETS last year, he agreed to the deal with the Government, he got the Shadow Cabinet to agree to it, and then the right wing nutters in the party reneged on the deal and rolled Turnbull. A lesser man would have said, oh well, I’ll vote with the party now. Instead Turnbull came out and gave one of the best speeches on the issue given thus far. Here’s some snippets:turnbull ETS

Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues then truly catastrophic consequences will ensue, from rising sea levels to reduced water availability to more heatwaves and fires. In December, just a few weeks ago, we had confirmation from three leading scientific organisations—the UK Met Office and, in the United States, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—that the past decade, the years from 2000 to 2009, was the hottest since record-keeping began, even hotter than the decade before which was the second hottest decade on record and the decade before that which was the third hottest on record.

Well so much for dodgy science…

This transition from a high-emission economy to a low-emission one cannot be achieved without major changes to the way we generate and use energy and in the way we manage our landscape. This requires substantial new investment especially in electricity generation, which has increased by 45 per cent since 1990 and represents now a little more than half of our total emissions. Decisions to build new power stations and replace old ones will involve tens of billions of dollars over the next few decades and a critical element in making those decisions is being able to form a view about the direction of carbon pricing. Given that the cheapest fuels are generally the dirtiest, in the absence of a clear carbon price signal new capacity is likely to be coal rather than gas or rather than renewables.

Plainly stated, in the absence of a clear carbon price signal, either no new investments will be made or investments will be made in new carbon intensive infrastructure because they are more profitable in a world where there is no price on carbon emissions.

You get that? We need a price on carbon or no one will realistically do anything to use less – arguing otherwise is to ignore the reality of supply and demand.

An ETS works by setting a limit, or a cap, on the amount of carbon dioxide and its equivalents which the total covered industry sectors can emit. These industries are required to acquire permits to emit CO2 within that overall cap. Note: the government does not set the price of carbon; it sets the cap on emissions and the rules of the scheme, and then it is up to the market, the laws of supply and demand, to set the price. It does not give quotas to particular industries or firms. The cap is across the economy and is set at a level of emissions which will over the relevant period enable us to meet our target. These permits can be purchased from the government or from other permit holders, or can be offset by purchasing a carbon credit from someone, like a farmer, who is taking action which reduces atmospheric carbon.

There it is media – an explanation of what the ETS; please stop calling it complex just because it doesn't fit nicely into a 15 word sentence. And a note as well a simple thing is not necessarily better than something complex. Otherwise you would be saying that the Model T Ford is a better car than the latest cars being driven around today. Some things are complex because the world is complex.

The scheme will raise a substantial amount of revenue over the period to 2020, but it is not designed—nor should it be—to raise additional net revenue for the government, as taxes do, since the funds raised by the sale of permits will be returned to compensate lower income households and assist businesses, especially those which are emissions intensive and trade exposed and cannot readily pass on the increase in energy costs. The white paper estimates the CPRS will result in a one-off increase in the CPI of 1.1 per cent, compared to the 2.8 per cent one-off increase in the CPI caused by the introduction of the GST. Most households will be compensated for this increase in costs either in whole or in part.

And that my friends puts Abbott’s Great Big Tax bull in its place: it’s not a tax, and it is actually less of an impact on prices than was the GST.

Because more emissions-intensive industries and generators need to buy more permits than less intensive ones, lower emission activities, whether they are cleaner fuels or energy efficient buildings, are made more competitive. A brown coal fired power station, for example, pumps out four times as much CO2 as an efficient gas fired one. Gas is expensive and clean; brown coal is cheap and dirty. If there is no cost charged for emitting carbon, there is simply no incentive to move to the cleaner fuel.

To argue otherwise is like arguing people buy Home Brand products because they don’t like the gaudy packaging on the name brand items.

All of us in this House know that industries and businesses, attended by an army of lobbyists, are particularly persuasive and all too effective at getting their sticky fingers into the taxpayers’ pocket. Having the government pick projects for subsidy is a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale, and there will always be a temptation for projects to be selected for their political appeal. In short, having the government pay for emissions abatement, as opposed to the polluting industries themselves, is a slippery slope which can only result in higher taxes and more costly and less effective abatement of emissions.

This is code for – Abbott, your scheme is utter bollocks.

It was a wonderful speech and it showed that on this issue at least Turnbull has conviction. Compare it with Tony Abbott. Last year he put out a book which stated his principles and beliefs for the country and the Liberal Party going forward. Yesterday Barrie Cassidy on Insiders asked Abbott why he was attacking the Government for its response to the intergenerational report. Abbott has been saying the the Government was forcing elderly to work longer:battle

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay on the intergenerational report and it seems to support the Government's intention to raise the pension age to 67, in Battlelines you wrote that Australians should not expect to receive at 65 or even 67 the aged pension.  If not 67, then when?

TONY ABBOTT: Well what you can say as a middle ranking frontbencher and what you can embrace as party policy are two different things. And it is not Liberal Party policy...

BARRIE CASSIDY: Battlelines doesn't go back that far.

TONY ABBOTT: Quite possibly never will be to take the step you have in mind.

Yes, here’s a man who last year wrote a book saying what he thinks should be done. He is now leader of a party and can argue that it should become that party’s policy. Does he? No, he now dismisses the book as mere ideas of a middle ranking frontbencher.

So he has dismissed his line of “Climate change is crap” as just some “loose talk”, and now he is distancing him from words he thought long and hard about and had published in a book (a book he was doing signings for over the break). Yes he’s a conviction politician alright – a conviction to say whatever the hell he thinks he needs to say to win election.

I wonder if what he said this morning when he was at a dry-cleaning shop was said with conviction. He was pictured standing at a commercial iron and he came out with this:

What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are gonna go up every year.

Well done Tony, now if you can just come up with a way to get those housewives to also fill their husband’s pipe and get his slippers we’ll be nicely back into 1950 where you want to be.


Question Time was also a bit of a hark back to former times …. to that glory time of the Liberal Party under Brendan Nelson. Back then he was fond of asking questions about families who drove Taragos, had six kids in the back – one with a wheelchair – while they lined up for cheap petrol before going home to dine on their dinner of processed sausages or chops. Today it was questions about the impact of the ETS on “a correctional officer and his wife who works as a widwife and their 3 kids”, or there was the Maritime worker who has a stay at home mum for a wife and 2 dependant children “one aged between 6 and 12 years”  (I guess he’s working so hard he doesn't even know the age of his kid). That Kevin Andrews – the father of Work Choices would ask about a maritime worker shows quite possibly the greatest amount of gall heretofore seen in an Australian parliament.

Yes Abbott cares about your wages. He truly does. He thinks everyone is poor. Here’s him yesterday on Insiders:

And a school teacher, a single teacher on $80,000 a year, hardly rich, he or she is going to be $545 a year worse off on the Government's own figures after compensation.

I have to tell you Tony, single people on $80k a year are living the dream. They are Mr and Ms Disposable Income. They are Joe Blu-Ray and Jill I-Phone. They are Harvey Norman’s most dearest friend. If they’re not rich, they’re certainly not struggling. I have to say I’ve lived pretty comfortably in my time, and I have never been close to being on $80k with no dependents. But then Abbott thinks differently from me. Here he was on private health:

TONY ABBOTT: Medicare goes to everyone - rich and poor alike. Why shouldn't everyone have the same opportunity to access private health insurance?

This is a guy who doesn’t understand the difference between public and private health. He thinks private health really means publically funded health. In fact it is pretty obvious in his heart of hearts he wishes only poor people had access to Medicare and public funded health, and the rest paid for private health – after all that was how it was back in the 1950s when those housewives were at their ironing boards.

The questions in QT did get onto the topic of health, and Abbott tried to skewer Rudd on his promise to go to a referendum to take over the hospitals. It’s a nice line of questioning but the major problem for Abbott is that it was he in charge of Health for the last 4 years of the Howard Government. I think we can say without too much fear of contradiction that he was the worst Health Minister this country has had since the Fraser Years. He was so bad that Health was a huge winner for the ALP in 2007. Anyone think it would have been a winner if Abbott had actually done a good job?

The best response to Abbott was actually that by Nicola Roxon in answer to a Dorothy Dixer, especially when she pointed out that Peter Dutton the notional Shadow Minister for Health never asks about GP Super clinics, presumably because one has just opened in his own electorate.

In between this there also some nice repartee by Lindsay Tanner. He was having his usual fun ripping into Barnaby Joyce (I know, fish in a barrel and all that), when Bronnie came up and called him a poor man’s Peter Costello. She would have won the day, except Tanner quickly responded: “coming from the poor women’s Wilson Tuckey that’s a ripper”.

The last question of the day by Abbott asked Rudd about him saying on 20 August 2008 that “No working families in this country will be worse off as a consequence of the industrial relations laws that we have advanced here in this parliament”. Abbott wanted to know how this squared with what Rudd said in a recent radio interview where he said the Government was unable to give such a guarantee and nor did it, and wasn’t this a case of Rudd misleading parliament.

It was nice question, except he totally ballsed it up. The problem was Rudd said that line not on 20 August but on 20 March 2008 and it was in response to a question on the transitional IR Laws being put in place at the time and NOT the Fair Work Australia Bill (which didn't get put before parliament until many months later). Whoops close Tony, just completely wrong.

Of course Abbott doesn't worry about such niceties as the truth, and so he moved a censure motion against Rudd. Given that Rudd had shown Abbott's previous question was complete hooey, the censure motion became about broken promises.

It was a speech that brought out all the worst aspects of Abbott’s oratory. It was shrill and full of gesticulations and self congratulatory laughter at his own jokes. He even tried to keep talking about misleading the Parliament – quoting Gough Whitlam (!) – most likely because he couldn’t move totally away from his prepared speech despite the evidence that had shown him to be wrong. It was so bad he even referred to “core promises”. That Abbott would bring up the infamous phrase of Howard to explain away broken election promises beggars belief.

It was like watching a bad amateur actor trying to pull off a performance of King Lear – just a lot of screeching and moaning. Compared to Turnbull’s eloquence 2 hours prior it was a shocking comparison that made one weep for the weak moderates of the Liberal Party who let themselves be rolled by the mad right wing.

Rudd’s response was pretty effective (much better than his answers during QT), but what his answer really highlighted was that the ALP during the election will have a lot of material to work with – from the things done by this Government to the many, many, many things said by Tony Abbott that contradict the many, many, many previous things said by Tony Abbott.

Many in the media are trying to make big news about the recent poll movements. But as Mark Davis in the SMH points out:

No incumbent government has enjoyed such a strong lead in two-party preferred terms in the polls at the same point in the electoral cycle in the last two decades. Nine months before the 1996 and 2007 elections, the incumbent government of the day was well behind in two party preferred terms and went on to lose on election day.

By contrast, at the equivalent points before the 1987, 1990 and 1993 elections, the incumbent government was also well behind in two-party preferred terms. Yet in all three cases, the incumbents went on to run down and overtake the Opposition to win on election day. There was a different pattern in the the 1998, 2001 and 2004 electoral cycles. Here the race was neck and neck in two-party preferred terms as the jockeys turned into the final stretch, yet still the incumbent government went on to win.

There is a huge advantage in incumbency, and it’s an advantage this Government hasn’t yet fully drawn on. They lead the polls now quite comfortably; just wait till the real election season kicks in.


Thomas King said...

Thanks for the excellent piece, it was humourous and insightful.


Lord Andrew of Goulding said...

The Liberals' poll standing has only improved because parliament wasn't sitting - it shouldn't take long before their wheels start coming off.

Except for Tony Abbott - and he was long-shielded from the public by the Howard government because he was so malodorous - the Liberals' front bench is pretty mediocre.

Further, if Barnaby Joyce gets demoted, it's likely that the Nats will spit the dummy.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone see the gender divide in the recent Nielson poll for Fairfax?

Male 40%
Female 44%

Male 42%
Female 39%

... and all this even before the 'ironing hausfrau' comment!

Just watch to see if that Femme gap enlarges significantly.

Anonymous said...

what do you mean Tony wants to be back in the 1950's? Hell no, he wants everybody to work, and for peanuts. The 50's were the heyday, where a family could live quite comfortably on a single income. Now the so called liberalisation of women was forced upon them by stagnating wages and ever increasing costs of living. Seriously, why do we go to work? For money, not for love. And if wages were as good now as they were back then, relative, then no one would choose to live in a double income household.