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Jul 10, 2014

Palmer out-Abbotts Abbott to complicate carbon price repeal

Clive Palmer's profound inconsistency resembles Tony Abbott's opposition tactics -- and it's making life miserable for the government.

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“If Australia is greatly to reduce its carbon emissions, the price of carbon intensive products should rise… a new tax would be the intelligent sceptic’s way to deal with minimising emissions.” Tony Abbott, 2009 (link since removed)

“I have nothing to move.” Senator Glenn Lazarus, July 10, 2014

One of the problems Labor encountered in its efforts to deal with then-opposition leader Tony Abbott was his refusal to be bound by any sense of consistency or evidential rigour. Abbott adopted whatever position was politically convenient at the time, regardless of whether it accorded with the facts, or whether it accorded with his own position previously — even after his notorious insistence to Kerry O’Brien that the only words of his that he could be held to were those in writing, he’d welsh on written agreements the moment it was no longer convenient to adhere to them.

Now, in Clive Palmer, the Coalition faces someone who makes Abbott look like he has a maniacal obsession with consistency.

The key to understanding Palmer is that he’s always about what’s ahead. What’s in the past is irrelevant. The issue of consistency simply doesn’t arise, because Palmer eternally moves forward, toward the next announcement, the next stunt. Clive only ever stops moving so he can momentarily bask in the media spotlight. Then it’s onward again.

Thus, with PUP-linked Ricky Muir now amenable to voting with the PUP today to end debate on the government’s efforts to repeal the carbon pricing bills, we expected the carbon price to be executed just before lunchtime. Muir and the PUP duly voted for the government’s gag motion at 10am. Except, shortly afterwards, Clive appeared at a media conference. Palmer had earlier flagged that something out of the ordinary might happen — although that warning appears to be unnecessary when it comes to him. There was no Al Gore this time, but former Liberal leader John Hewson (not unfairly, perhaps, Hewson could introduce himself, Gore-like, as “I used to be Australia’s next prime minister”, except no one under 35 would get the joke).

Palmer and Hewson were appearing with the Australia Institute to launch a report on renewable energy. It was there that Palmer waxed lyrical, or as close to lyrical as Clive waxes, about the need to address climate change, and railed at climate sceptics — among which of course he was numbered until a couple of weeks ago. He even flagged strengthening the Renewable Energy Target. Yeah, huh. So far, so Clive. Readers may remember that time we had Abbott debate himself about climate change and what to do about it because he’d held so many different positions on it. If we tried the same thing with Palmer, we’d need 6 point font to get it on the screen.

But, Palmer said, the government had double-crossed PUP about his precondition for passing the carbon tax repeal, the legislative amendment for cost reductions to be passed through to consumers. Palmer had seized on an act of pure smartarsery by Qantas, which yesterday announced it was removing the carbon price surcharge in expectation of repeal, but, erm, wouldn’t actually be reducing fares. Funny that. So PUP wouldn’t be voting for repeal until the amendment matter had been sorted out.

That would have induced panic in the office of Greg Hunt, the man masquerading as the government’s Environment Minister, the sort of panic only the procedural and drafting challenges of a last-minute amendment on the morning of consideration of a bill can cause (I’ve been there, it’s hell). The government suddenly began filibustering in the Senate — having previously accused Labor and the Greens of filibustering — while they tried to turn the PUP senators around. A funny thing to do just while you’re gagging debate.

The panic was unsuccessful: despite a huddle outside the Senate chamber involving Palmer, PUP senators and the Coalition’s senate leader Eric Abetz, the problem couldn’t be resolved in time for the vote the government had brought on itself. “I have nothing to move,” Glenn Lazarus rose to tell the Senate when it came time to vote on his party’s amendments, amid deep confusion over what exactly the Senate was voting on. Eventually, the repeal bill went down at the hands of Labor, the Greens, PUP and Muir.

So, the carbon price will be repealed, but it isn’t yet (and the repeal will involve another trip back to the House of Representatives — remember that celebratory picture from last week – to be finalised).

Palmer’s Abbott-like inconsistency thus produced extraordinary, shambolic scenes as the government tried desperately to keep up with him. But for the moment, they’ll deprive the government of its long-awaited moment when, finally, it will have a legislative win on a key issue — indeed the key issue of an Abbott government, the removal of Labor’s carbon price. And Clive Palmer continues to dominate the political narrative, creating an impression of disorder, on-the-wing policy and a government that can’t regain control of events — not even what the government says is the most important event of its term.

Back in the days of the Gillard government, its minority status was continually used by its media critics to suggest dysfunction, incompetence and illegitimacy. And even the slightest appearance of events deviating from Labor’s carefully laid plans produced headlines about “chaos”. Strange that few such headlines appear now, even as Clive does to Tony exactly what Tony did to Labor, and more so.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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39 comments

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39 thoughts on “Palmer out-Abbotts Abbott to complicate carbon price repeal

  1. PUP amending a bill in the Senate to create an ETS is probably unconstitutional. section 53 of the constitution says the Senate can’t amend a bill to impose a burden on the people. Maybe if Senator Lazarus et al knew that they wouldn’t vote to abolish the current legislated ETS…

  2. Here is a link to the Tony Abbot 2009 quote
    “http://stc.uws.edu.au/CRproj/abbott_A%20REALIST’S%20APPROACH%20TO%20CLIMATE%20CHANGE%20_%20Tony%20Abbott.pdf”

  3. It was there that Palmer waxed lyrical, or as close to lyrical as Clive waxes, about the need to address climate change, and railed at climate sceptics — among which of course he was numbered until a couple of weeks ago.

    [grammatically] …among whom of course he was numbered until a couple of weeks ago.

  4. Thats why the bill has to go back to the House of Reps (I think, happy to be corrected on this).

    As for the criticism, well, the OZ has been getting stuck into Clive lately. Is this the ‘anything but criticise Tony’ thing?

  5. Toady’s “Abbott’s hole” – “intelligent”?

    [If he said not to believe anything he said, why would you believe what he said about trusting what he writes?]

  6. There is a wonderful sense of schadenfreude to enjoy the entire Abbot fiasco – there may be no suitable headlines in the Murdoch press, but you just know there is a huge amount of uncomfortable squirming going in their trenches.
    I know the country is still going to hell in a hand-basket, but at least we can all enjoy a good laugh at Abbot’s expense – what a drongo.

  7. It is chaotic and has been so since the Abbott government got in.
    I was amazed to realise that they, like your portrait of Clive, had not been doing the work while in opposition. They obviously never read the budget papers, understood the programs in their policy areas or kept on top of the evidence in policy areas they were shouting about. The shrinkage of public servants was very clear in the past budget papers. The linkage of support programs monies to the carbon and mining taxes was legislated. The Gonski report as a thoroughly researched opportunity to sort out our failing education system passed them by.
    This negligence continues in government. They are constantly surprised by the consequences of their decisions, for example the GP copayment and the increases in pharmaceutical and pathology fees.
    Julia was a much better negotiator. To successfully negotiate you have to know your subject and your objectives. This is much more complex than shouting someone down. Julia got over 350 pieces of legislation through a parliament without a majority in the LOWER house.
    Good luck Tony and friends.
    Poor Australia!

  8. Mr rAbbott never mind this current setback after-all “shit happens” call a DD. We the Australian electorate are ready for you. Just try it on, and we will give you a political experience that will make your eyes water and the history books in CAPITAL LETTERS

  9. On ya, Clive!!!
    Don’t suppose you could complete your conversion to climate science over the weekend??? That way you could have your senators continue to vote against the abolition of the carbon tax, UNLESS the ETS was introduced to follow immediately.
    You wouldn’t even have to break your promise to remove the carbon tax. Pleeeeeeeeese!

  10. “Clive Palmer’s profound inconsistency resembles Tony Abbott’s opposition tactics — and it’s making life miserable for the government.”

    But awfully amusing for me…

  11. Not so long ago I heard Clive Palmer say that repealing the Carbon Tax was one of PUP’s election policies so he has to be consistent with that. Now that he’s been on his own ‘Road to Damascus’ and converted, he is trying to save the Price on Carbon and not lose face. He has to be seen to be voting down the repeal because he has been unable to extract the “financial savings” to consumers that was promised by the Government for his support. He has, in effect, called Abbott’s bluff on the “job destroying tax on everything”, something Labor was never able to do. This is a win-win for Clive. Sticking the finger up at Abbott, being seen to try an extract the benefits of repeal to the electors, if not, saving the ETS. Great politics.

  12. Daly: I have to agree. The Coalition brand of politics in opposition was pure laziness and slogans. They pulled off their election win because of Labor’s leadership chaos and their media cheer squad. Now in Government, laziness and slogans aren’t doing it for them. I’d love to see a comparison of the amount of legislation passed in the first 10 months of the Gillard minority government vs the first 10 months of the Abbott Government.

  13. Its the conspiracy theorists i feel for. The party of the plutocrats in power surely could find a common agenda with another plutocrat? The illuminati ain’t what it used to be!

  14. Yes, Abbott’s fucked the country, might as well laugh.
    And you can laugh at the increasingly desperate efforts of the media bastards who put him there to cover for him.
    But it also makes one very angry, as per the last paragraph of this piece. Applying the “if this were Gillard” test, it’s hard to even begin to imagine the headlines that’d be being written now.

  15. Abbott in opposition ruthlessly used opportunistic populism against the government to great effect. He can’t complain now an opposition party uses the same tactics!

  16. In regards to the link that I posted above, on closer reading, that seems to be a somewhat edited version of the speech that I read a while back. Though it is possible that I have misremembered or originally misread the content, I’m pretty sure that in the original version, Abbott makes a much more praiseworthy description of Lomborg, than the somewhat cursory mention in the still available version, (that some thoughtful person had copied from Abbott’s website and chosen to preserve in PDF form. Interestingly, there’s a line at the bottom, saying that, “The final version of this speech was revised in the light of discussion with guests at the David Davies memorial dinner”.
    Unfortunately, my attempts to find an original transcript, just led to dead ends, error messages and redirections to the Liberal Party website. While my computer knowledge isn’t great, I do find it slightly strange and alarming, that content which a dishonest politician finds problematic, can be largely disappeared. If anyone with greater computer skills than me, could track down the original transcript, I would be interested in seeing if there is any substantial difference between versions.

  17. What a shock to learn Jacqui Lambie hasn’t warmed to that charm machine, Erica Betz. But judging by the dearth of female MPs on the government benches the LNP heavies obviously need more experience when dealing with that gender.

  18. I continue to be stunned by the thought of a “charm offensive” which might be thought oxymoronic until one considers that, of all people, Senator Erica is chosen exuder – surely the least charming creature on this particular planet, including hagfish, slimemould and necrotic worms.

  19. Why accept this circus. We should go back to the polls. The only problem is that Abbott & Shorten both know that voters are pissed off with both major parties. Get rid of Abbott & go the polls with Turnball as leader. It’s the only way

  20. I can’t se Palmer passing the repeal for a while yet.

    Once he does he loses a major lever and his MO in business is to screw the absolute advantage out of any edge.

    He has more games to play if only to stir Abbott and put that particular coward & bully into a state of abject fear

  21. I wondered why the Corporate sector was so aghast at the amendment proposed by PUP given that it does not (on my reading anyway) appear to directly require businesses, apart from energy retailers, to pass on savings from the repeal. Then I saw the Aha! moment. The amendment will, it seems, require the energy suppliers to have due regard to the energy suppliers’ cost savings that are directly or indirectly attributable to the carbon tax repeal and how those cost savings can be reasonably attributed to the different supplies that the energy suppliers make. In other words, this amendment will reveal how much savings will be passed on to the corporate sector e.g. Woolworths, Qantas, Harvey Norman, but which same corporate sectors are already saying they won’t pass on to customers. All will be laid bare for consumers to see how much or how little cost was involved in the carbon tax.

  22. Well the party is over, the Carbon Tax Bill has been repealed and we all got to see how resolute Clive Palmer isn’t. Or was the fact that the effect of the repeal of this tax saves one of Clive’s companies an $8 million dollar tax bill. Wonderful isn’t it?