“The world may be grappling with the problem of how to safely bury nuclear waste, but the PM has been getting in plenty of practice burying the nuclear issue during the break,” Crikey’s climate change correspondent Ian McHugh wrote yesterday (Item 11).

“The final report of the uranium mining, processing and nuclear energy review was handed down on that most auspicious of big news days, 28 December. The timing is interesting. Up until this point the PM’s been happy to discuss the issue quite openly. That’s served a few purposes – to paint the government as taking some form of action on the climate change issue, to promote infighting among political opponents, and to placate the big diggers in the resources sector. So having gone on record as being avowedly pro-nuclear… why let it sink in the news story Bermuda triangle of the Christmas to New Year gap?”

The answer’s easy – but the horsemen of the eco-apocalypse just can’t see it.

At the same time as the Switkowski report was released, the PM sat down with his pal Piers Akerman for  “The Sunday Telegraph’s annual end-of-year interview at Kirribilli House”. It’s all very cosy – but just because they loathe Piers and the PM’s neo-Malthusian miserablists of the environmental movement shouldn’t ignore their little chats.

“Energy and climate head PM’s new poll manifesto,” the headline read.

“[H]is focus is firmly on his fifth election, and the long-term challenges facing Australia,” Piers wrote. “Seasoned veteran that he is, Howard’s approach to politics remains extraordinarily enthusiastic — and uncompromising…he is focused on what he terms ‘the greatest long-term challenges’: energy and climate change.”

Think about the implications of these comments from the PM: “Australia has to get a proper solution…One that is balanced; one that doesn’t panic us into short-term solutions that will cost our economy dearly; and one that recognises in a measured way that we have to control all our emissions.”

Note that “panic”.

Environmentalists have form – the horror stories of the Club of Rome that told us by the 1980s mass starvation would stalk the western world and we would exhaust supplies of basic minerals. They were lies. Politicians like the PM can ask what is different about their claims now.

But he can do more than that. The PM has been accused of capitalising on fear in the past. On this issue, he can do just that – and also appeal to faith in the human spirit.

He can point to the role carbon based industries play in underpinning our lifestyle – and appeal to our faith in the ability of human endeavour to make them cleaner and cheaper. That strikes more of a chord with voters than moaning “We’ll all be rooned” – and makes nuclear power an entirely marginal issue. Turn coal into the Tassie forests of the 2007 poll and his task is even easier. Ziggy’s report becomes just something for the silly season – a document to keep in the bottom draw for later on.

McHugh and his friends are simply making the next election easier for Howard to win.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey