Is the Prime Minister digging a very big (and dirty) hole for himself — and for Australia? Last night on Lateline he continued to justify the government’s policy of putting economic benefits ahead of taking substantial action to reduce greenhouse gases. “Whilst believing that the planet is getting warmer,” he argued that strong government action would “do a lot of short and medium term damage to the Australian economy” and would “send industries offshore, send Australian jobs to countries like China and Indonesia.” I think, he said, “we can tackle the problem in a different and equally effective way.”

As the PM fiddles, a growing cast of business leaders is calling for the Government to engage the power of the market in the fight against global warming, and the world’s most influential Australian, Rupert Murdoch, is throwing the weight of his media conglomerate behind the push for governments to act decisively on global warming. We know the Prime Minister is a wide reader, but has he been following the recent views of Murdoch’s most reputable columnists on the subject? Like Irwin Stelzer (“Hit the polluters where it hurts”) and Gerard Baker (“When it comes to climate change, I’ll take a small bet that Pascal was right”) in The Times. As Baker puts it so simply:

If we believe in global warming and do something about it and it turns out we’re right, then we’re, climatologically speaking, redeemed — if not for ever, at least until some other threat to our existence comes along. If we’re wrong about it, what is the ultimate cost? A world with improved energy efficiency and quite a lot of ugly windmills.

John Howard would probably get away with a soporific policy on the environment if he only had the Opposition, the environmental lobby and a handful of business leaders to contend with. But if and when Rupert Murdoch unleashes his battalion of Australian newspapers onto the issue — as he is doing in London — nothing will save the Prime Minister from making an extremely inelegant green U-turn.

Peter Fray

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