It would be hard to dream up a more ham-fisted strategy than Rudd’s decision to spit in the eye of Australians who want to protect the biodiverse carbon sinks of Tasmania’s old growth forests.
Unlike Graham Richardson, who understood that for federal Labor to get the preferences of progressive voters on both sides of politics you had to deliver some policy outcomes, Rudd is banking on their desperation to get rid of Howard as being enough for them to preference Labor regardless of how regressive ALP polices are.
In an election which has the environment front and centre, he should spend less time with anti-environmentalists, Julia Gillard and Michael O’Connor, and more time with the voters he is trying to second guess.
It is clear that progressive voters worried about climate change and social policy are becoming more and more anxious as Rudd sinks into the Beazley “me too” mire. Rudd’s assurances — that he’s the same social and economic conservative, the same on Haneef, the same on Indigenous communities, the same on coal and uranium — are increasing anxiety levels in those who want a change of policy as well as a change of government. The forest announcement is a tipping point.
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Any residual hope that Labor would be better than the Coalition disappeared as Rudd embraced full-scale logging and burning of Tasmania’s forests. It was not only a sell-out on forests, it was also a sell-out on good public policy. This is the blow to Rudd that Howard has not been able to deliver. He is no longer a symbol of hope, just a younger version of the Howard dries.
The Coalition has the opportunity it was looking for. With a change of leadership, the Coalition would have time to hone its election strategy on forests and Gunns’ pulp mill in order to hold Bass and win in the mainland marginals.
Coalition efforts to sully Labor with union associations were failing, but now the Forestry Division on the CFMEU has come to Howard’s aid once more. Michael O’Connor is on Labor’s national executive and is close to Premier Lennon, Gunns’ John Gay as well as Julia Gillard. How do progressive voters feel about him calling the shots in Labor’s leadership team, preselection and policies? His union gives Gunns social licence to operate by spinning the jobs line. Now we find it gets secondhand cars from Gunns. What else does it get from Gunns?
If the Coalition was smart, it would change leaders to rid itself of the Howard baggage, repudiate the compromised pulp mill assessment process, and develop good forest policy based on downstreaming the plantation estate. Then it could sit back and watch the polls shift.