What a shock result in Gippsland! A deeply rural electorate, one that repeatedly re-elected the profoundly thick Peter McGauran, has returned a Nationals candidate yet again.

What did Rex Mossop used to say? “I don’t want to sound incredulous but I can’t believe it.” Incidentally, Malcolm Mackerras called an easy Nats win in Crikey back in April.

The orthodoxy is that petrol prices produced the anti-Government swing in Gippsland, although Crikey’s Gippsland insider stresses the lamentable state of the local ALP. Personally, in deference to Brendan Nelson, I’d like to declare the outcome a victory for the Traralgon Post Office. But let’s stick with petrol. Suitably encouraged, perhaps Nelson will start bidding up his 5 cent a litre excise proposal to 10, 20, maybe even 38 cents a litre. Hell, why not subsidise the stuff? Someone needs to think of the Taragos.

Nelson’s declaration that he will oppose an emissions trading scheme — without knowing what the Government will propose, indeed without even having seen the Garnaut interim report or the Government’s Green or White Papers — is useful. It entirely exposes the vacuity of his leadership and puts the pressure on Kevin Rudd to show how seriously he takes climate change. Nelson isn’t the only one with resource company stooges and greenhouse denialists in his party. Labor ranks contain plenty of people who don’t see what all the fuss is about, or think global warming is a Green fiction, or who are willing to work hard to serve the interests of Australia’s resources sector. A number of them are in Cabinet, which must sign off on an ETS model at the end of the year or early in 2009.

The Opposition has already started a scare campaign, in which evil environmentalists are not merely depriving Aussie families of the basic right to drive a car down Struggle Street to get to work, but will send their jobs off to Third World countries where the only emissions trading is the annual village belching contest. If the Government summons the courage to implement a trading scheme capable of actually doing something, it will need its best communicators firing back. This might mean some changes in personnel are required.

Wayne Swan’s competence is no longer questioned, and the days of his being under pressure in the Chamber are long gone, but Julia Gillard is the Government’s deadliest weapon. You can tell by the distressed reaction of the Coalition as soon as Dorothy Dixers are directed to her. IR, no matter how important to the economy, is now a low-profile issue. With Nick Minchin still declaring that WorkChoices was “the right thing to do,” the task of painting the Opposition as still committed to the Howard IR agenda doesn’t require a genius. Gillard could more profitably be used to present the economic case for the ETS and expose the rent-seeking and market distortion that lies at the heart of the anti-ETS campaign.

It’s also becoming clear that Peter Garrett and Penny Wong should swap jobs. Garrett is locked into an uncomfortable role of having to negotiate compromises, accept second-best solutions and follow bureaucratic processes in the Environment portfolio. But when he gets onto the topic of climate change, he can free up his shoulders and swing hard into the Opposition, and loves it. Giving Garrett responsibility for climate change over the process-focussed Wong will stop the whingeing that Labor has forced him to sell out and provide an enthusiastic salesman. Garrett’s value to the Government is maximised when he can participate in the issues with which he is so strongly identified by voters, not when he is hidden from them.

In responding to the Gippsland result, the Prime Minister said the Government would keep making tough decisions. Hopefully Rudd knows perfectly well that’s a load of rubbish. If he thinks he’s made any tough decision in the last six months, then he’s in deep trouble. Along with the rest of us.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.