By gum that young Kevin Rudd chap is a clever, clever politician. He has made life a misery for the Coalition on climate change. There has been the odd tactical fumble on the issue, like the abortive reference to a House of Reps inquiry earlier this year, but otherwise the Prime Minister has used the issue deftly to club his opponents about the head.
But surely not even Rudd’s evident political smarts could possibly extend to the walking debacle that is Tony Abbott, now starring in his own version of I Was A Labor Sleeper Agent.
Wilson Tuckey is one thing. He’s great value, but doesn’t mean anything. Ron Boswell and Barnaby Joyce are climate change deniers and left the reservation a long time ago anyway. Their absence from serious climate debate, and for that matter planet Earth, is of no moment. But I observed on Tuesday that the Coalition is only a brain explosion away from another climate change disaster and suggested Tony Abbott had some form in that regard.
Lo and behold…
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The best line in Abbott’s op-ed piece in The Australian today is the last one.
“Tony Abbott is opposition spokesman on families, housing and community services.”
No, I can’t see “climate change” in that list either. But Tony isn’t talking about his own portfolio, as any number of journalists have discovered in the last 24 hours. Tony is launching a book shortly – the launch that will possibly coincide with the new season of Mad Men, from which it apparently draws its core values – and isn’t talking about issues like indigenous housing in the interim, as part of his publishing deal.
Peter Costello not commenting on the Liberal leadership in the lead-up to his own book launch was one thing. A shadow minister not doing his job for the same reason is something else, especially when he insists on offering 1000 words to the national broadsheet on an issue outside his own portfolio.
If you wrote this stuff in a political comedy you’d be told it was too silly.
The point of Abbott’s piece was not really to argue – via a detour into smoking regulation — that backing the Government’s ETS was the smart political move. It was to point out that under Malcolm Turnbull the Opposition is headed for a hiding if there’s an election. Abbott, as the only Liberal figure who currently rates less than Turnbull in leadership polling, may not be entirely disinterested in making such observations.
Nick Minchin was on telly last night talking about climate change as well, but at least he could argue he was reiterating what is currently the Coalition’s position.
The Prime Minister mustn’t be able to believe his luck. Maybe it’s the case that if you repeat “the Opposition is in disarray” often enough eventually it will become true.
The more sensible piece in The Oz today was from Dennis Shanahan, showing that when he’s not running a partisan agenda he’s an astute analyst. He’s dead right in identifying the Coalition’s real problem of failing to have used the eighteen months since the election effectively to work out where they stand.
Deciding your vote on one of the most important economic reforms in Australian history purely on the basis of political expediency would be bad enough. Doing it when it is plain that you don’t really know, as a party, what you think on the issue is bordering on criminal, and will be punished at the ballot box.
The most sensible intervention in the debate yesterday came from Martin Parkinson, who heads Penny Wong’s department, in a conference speech. Parkinson correctly noted that emissions trading is a long-standing approach to environmental problems and has been under consideration for a decade in Australia, and that much of the rubbish modelling produced by the likes of the Minerals Council and other rentseekers was inexplicably being treated as on a par with far more rigorous Treasury modelling.
But Parkinson’s most acute point was one to which the “business community” and the Coalition might give detailed consideration. The US approach, as currently encapsulated in the Waxman-Markey Bill, is nothing like the polluters’ nirvana being suggested by those who want Australia to mimic it. As the Australian Conservation Foundation spotted when they compared ACES and the CPRS, free permits to emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries under the proposed US model are capped and cannot rise beyond 11% of total permits; under the CPRS, free permits start at 28% and can keep going up until the point where the Government will need to dip into the budget to meet its obligations.
Nor is there a permit price ceiling, or a petrol excise offset, or unconditional handouts to electricity generators, and assistance to households is aimed at improving energy efficiency to bring about long-term energy cost reductions.
Next week it is likely that the Government will complete its wedging of the Coalition by announcing some additional assistance for the coal sector and perhaps electricity generators, which Cabinet will consider mid-week. The electricity generators latter will get nothing like the tens of billions of dollars they have been demanding. The coal industry, which has been singled out by the Government to miss out on the sort of handouts every other emissions-intensive sector (and some not so intensive sectors, like LNG) may get a doubling of the currently-proposed level of assistance, which is $750m.
This can be advertised to mining unions and coal mining seat MPs — as well as the rest of us — as further evidence of the Government’s willingness to be practical about the costs of the CPRS. There’ll be much talk, as there usually is from the Government, about “getting the balance right.”
If they’re talking about making life hell for the Opposition, the Government has got the balance absolutely perfect.