Malcolm Turnbull is quite right; the government had finally shown common sense in separating its Renewable Energy Bill from the Emissions Trading Scheme Bill.
So it is doubly unfortunate that so few of his own colleagues are exhibiting that rare political quality themselves. Forcing Penny Wong to revert to what she belatedly describes as Plan B is a much-needed win for the coalition parties in the ongoing climate change wars, and they should be savouring it while they can. Instead, they are already signalling that they regard it as an excuse for yet another round of brawling.
The problem is that the government’s compensation package for trade — affected industries was based on the premise that the two bills would proceed as a package; thus compensation could be geared to the combined effect of both. Now they have been separated the compensation has to be as well: it would obviously be absurd for taxpayers top be paying industry compensation for emissions trading when the scheme was not in place.
But apparently the shadow industry minister, Ian MacFarlane, believs that is exactly what should happen: the compensation provisions should simply be copied over from the original combined legislation. The shadow environment minister, Greg Hunt, is rather more reasonable, but is still arguing for extra money for the cement and aluminium producers. And of course the Nationals are in there with their hands out, demanding cash for food processors, abattoirs, anything they can think of.
Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are both keen that the bill should go through by the end of the week, so it probably will; but by making extravagant demands, opposition members are setting themselves up for another defeat, albeit a minor one. With the big one on emissions trading still looming in three months time, it’s something they do not need.
Turnbull, of course, is still chasing a compromise on emissions trading, but at the weekend he received advice from an unexpected and more than usually ill-informed source. In the Sydney Morning Herald the eclectic columnist Miranda Devine urged him to vote the scheme down and bring on an early election; it was, she averred, his best chance of regaining office for the good guys.
The voters, it would appear, do not agree: according to a poll in the same paper on Monday, 46 percent intend to vote Labor and other ten percent to give Labor their references. But more significantly, 55 per cent want the government to bring the emissions trading bill back in November and only 12 percent want it dumped. These are not the figures a rational person take to an election.
Miranda Devine is, of course, a staunch Catholic and as such believes in miracles — but not in science, and especially not in the science which questions man’s God-given dominion over land sea and air, the earth and everything in it. After all, her mob have only just got around to pardoning Galileo for daring to suggest the earth revolves around the sun.
It is hardly surprising that she rejects the idea of climate change — and also, it appears, of political common sense.
With plan B more or less in place, Penny Wong now has to turn her mind to another problem in decoupling: Cubbie station, the giant cotton farm in the upper reaches of the Murray-Darling system, is up for sale and the government is under pressure to buy it — or at least its huge water entitlements.
The difficulty is that you can’t have one without the other. Last year the feds bought the Toorale station near Burke, returned its water to the system and made the land into a national park. Unfortunately there was an unintended consequence: as a productive station Toorale had been a major contributor to the district’s economy, and without it there was a serious downturn. Locals do not want the same thing to happen with Cubbie.
They say that even without the irrigated cotton it is still good land and could be a viable producer of sheep or cattle — which it ws before the cotton growers moved in. But the water is probably the most valuable part of the deal, and Cubbie is being offered as a package. The commonwealth government is the only body in Australia which could even contemplate the $450 million price tag, but there may well be some overseas interest in what is still a working cotton farm — as long as the water is included.
Another day, another dilemma for Penny Wong.
And finally a local environment issue: the appalling World Rally Championship about to be inflicted on the Tweed Valley and surrounds by the state government and a developer-dominated local council.
Ironically the area is advertised for tourism as “the green cauldron” — well, at least the cauldron bit may be right. The course skirts a couple of national parks home to many native species: the assurance by organisers that they will scare the koalas away from the immediate surrounds so they do not get injured when the rally gets under way has underwhelmed conservationists.
The organisers say there is majority local approval but it turns out that many groups claimed to be onside have not been consulted: at best a single member had been taken aside and bribed or threatened into acquiescence. This technique has also been applied to the council, where the general manager has accepted a seat on the rally board, a conflict of interest so blatant that even the mayor has asked him to resign; as a result she has now been sent to Coventry by her developer colleagues.
But it doesn’t matter what the locals think anyway; the state government has passed special legislation to ensure that the rally goes ahead no matter what. It is not clear how ticket sales are proceeding, but since there will be an enormous police and security presence an enthusiastic audience is guaranteed. Ah, the joys of country living. Vroom vroom.