Taking their harpoon home. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep is not a bad rule for politicians as Peter Garrett, Kevin Rudd and the Daily Telegraph are about to find out. Before the last election Labor in Opposition thought promising to push hard to stop the Japanese whaling in southern waters was a vote winning thing to do. Now in Government, but having raised the expectations of whale lovers throughout the land, Labor is finding that being anti-whaling is not so easy.

The Prime Minister started the retreat from Australia’s hard-line on his recent visit to Japan when faced with the reality that pursuing a campaign risked getting an important ally and trading partner off-side. A nation where creatures of all kind from the sea are a primary source of protein does not fancy being told by outsiders what it can and cannot eat. Kevin Rudd at his meeting with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda retreated to the safety of agreeing to disagree on the issue and said Australia would pursue diplomatic means of dealing with the dispute with Japan rather than making a challenge in the international court.

What the Japanese regard as diplomatic discussions was made clear before the start of this week’s meeting in Santiago, Chile of the International Whaling Commission — Japan has indicated to member countries of the International Whaling Commission, reported the Japan Times, that it may resume commercial whaling if the IWC fails to alleviate tensions between the pro — and anti — whaling camps before the end of its general meeting a year from now in Portugal. Should Japan carry out this threat there is little that Australia or anyone else can do a bout it. The IWC, it should be noted, is not a body set up to stop commercial whaling but one founded to ensure that the killing is kept at a level where the killing is sustainable.

Not easy being green. It is not just whaling that is teaching a new government that it is not easy being green; petrol is proving to be a far more difficult issue. The Liberal Leader Brendan Nelson was out over the airwaves again this morning spreading the message that he is not in favour of a greenhouse gas emissions policy that puts up the price of petrol. He told the AM program he was not conducting a scare campaign about a possible petrol price rise under an emissions trading scheme.

“I have heard the PM in the Parliament in the last couple of days talking about people dying — pestilence, disease — and all sorts of things so we’re not going to be verballed about so-called scare mongering,” he said. “One of the most important principles that Mr Rudd must guarantee Australians — as a result of the introduction of climate change policy by the Government — will not in itself put the price of petrol … up for every day Australians.”

We can be sure Dr Nelson will not be the only politician around the world who sees promising lower rather than higher fuel prices as a great way of winning votes. That’s the reason for feeling pessimistic about there ever being a meaningful international agreement to combat climate change. For politicians elections are the here and now; the consequences of inaction are away in the future.

When in doubt back the dictator. I ventured to give a little punting advice in Crikey back on Melbourne Cup Day. I quoted a learned article by an academic who asserted that people normally were far too optimistic in believing that dictators would soon get their comeuppance and be removed by the good forces of democracy.

“Which means those of you with any punting money left this afternoon”, I wrote, “should hop in and back Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. He is one of those dictators with a very good record as a stayer so laying the short price about the old rogue still being in office mid-way through next year looks like a decent punt.”

The Intrade Prediction Market at the time the contract “Robert Mugabe to depart as President of Zimbabwe on/before 30 June 08” was given a 20% probability and I recommended taking the other side of that proposition, believing that the chances of him staying put were far greater than 80%. So it has proved unless there is a miracle tomorrow but I note that there is an opportunity to invest on the chances of the old rogue still being in office at the end of September. The assessment is that there is a 25% chance of him being gone and a 75% chance that he is still there. Once again I’ll be backing the dictator to stay.

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