John Howard has a vision for the nation. Australia: the country with the largest middle class in the world.

He told us about it yesterday in the first of his so-called “Australia Rising” addresses delivered at a Brisbane Media Club luncheon.

“Many years ago when I was Treasurer,” the Prime Minister recalled, “I first met Alan Greenspan before he became the head of the US Federal Reserve system. He said something to me then that I have never forgotten. He said, quote, of course Mr Treasurer, you come from Australia. That country has the largest middle class in the world, and he was talking then, of course, in per capita terms. Eleven years ago, we inherited a country where that great social achievement, of having the largest middle class in the world seemed to have slipped from our reach. And while we still have a way to go, Australia is on the road back.” A country on the way back in a world where the “human face of globalisation in 2020 will be increasingly Asian and middle class – as our region becomes the epicentre of history’s first truly global middle class.”

While singling out the presence of a substantial middle class as a virtue was one theme of yesterday’s Australia Rising, it did not disguise what was a surprisingly negative tone for what was billed as being the first in a series of visionary speeches. A major part of Mr Howard’s time was spent talking about his Labor opposition – four references to Kevin Rudd, one to the Leader of the Opposition and another two to his “opponent”.

There might not have been the personal bitterness of some of the recent attacks on Mr Rudd’s truthfulness and judgment but all of the 11 references in the speech to climate change were in the context of attacking what Labor and its leader it would do to the country.

Having established that Kevin Rudd would put the restoration of the noble middle class in jeopardy because of an obsession with climate change, Mr Howard got down to his theme of the economy by using the word 22 times along with 14 references to job(s). In an attempt to appear visionary there were 14 globals, 10 target(s), nine strongs and seven futures.

It was hardly an inspirational performance and suggests that knocking the alternative government will be what we hear most of from the Coalition over the coming months with Mr Howard harping that a healthy and wealthy middle class at home requires selfishness when it comes to setting things like targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

It will be an interesting variation on playing to the hip pocket nerve as the argument is made that if countries like China and the United States are going to ruin the planet then Australia should do its bit of destruction as well.

What a pity that the Prime Ministerial speech writer does not have the imagination of the one employed by United States presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich. Yesterday he too addressed the question confronting conservatives around the world of defining a fundamentally different approach to a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

In an article titled “We Can Have Green Conservatism — And We Should”, Mr Gingrich set out these basic values of his environmental policy:

 

1. Green Conservatism favors clean air and clean water.

2. Green Conservatism understands biodiversity as a positive good.

3. Green Conservatism favors minimizing carbon loading in the atmosphere as a positive public value.

4. Green Conservatism is pro-science, pro-technology and pro-innovation.

5. Green Conservatism believes that green prosperity and green development are integral to the successful future of the human race.

6. Green Conservatism believes that economic growth and environmental health are compatible in both the developed and developing world.

7. Green Conservatism believes that we can realize more positive environmental outcomes faster by shifting tax code incentives and shifting market behavior than is possible from litigation and regulation.

Under the Gingrich Green Conservatism, one of the reasons he is “optimistic about the future of America is that we can expect four to seven times as much new scientific knowledge and innovation in the next 25 years as we have had in the past 100. As a result, America is truly ideally suited to meet the challenges of conserving our environment.

Americans excel at precisely those capabilities that will be required: entrepreneurially led technological innovation and utilization of the power of the free market to provide better environmental outcomes with economic growth advantages, not disadvantages.

There are two key ways Gingrich suggests to encourage this entrepreneurialism and innovation:

Allow Prizes to Compete With Process in Our Government-led Scientific Research Investments. We should significantly invest in prizes as a competitive alternative to the current peer-reviewed process of scientific research. We should, for example, offer prizes for the development of high gas mileage cars and other carbon-reduction challenges. We must maximize the rate at which we develop and diffuse new technologies both here and abroad, and prizes have historically unleashed dramatic creativity and innovation.

Offer Carbon Reduction Tax Credits. Green conservatism values reducing the carbon loading of the atmosphere. The least economically disruptive and least government empowering models will be the most effective in achieving this value. We should therefore create a program of carbon-reduction tax credits. One such tax credit idea is to incentivize the creation of new energy production technologies that reduce carbon loading.

Peter Fray

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