The problem with performing a political backflip of such spectacularly high degrees of difficulty as Kevin Rudd shakily negotiated today is the haunting rhetoric which can come back to bite you in the ass.

In dumping Labor’s commitment to introduce an emissions trading scheme (ETS) this term, various media reports have pinned Rudd to comments he made in a speech to the Lowy Institute for International Policy last November. It’s worth republishing his remarks at length:

When you strip away all the political rhetoric, all the political excuses, there are two stark choices ­– action or inaction. The resolve of the Australian Government is clear: we choose action, and we do so because Australia’s fundamental economic and environmental interests lie in action. Action now. Not action delayed.

…It is time to be totally blunt about the agenda of the climate change skeptics in all their colours ­ some more sophisticated than others. It is to destroy the CPRS at home, and it is to destroy agreed global action on climate change abroad, and our children’s fate ­ and our grandchildren’s fate ­ will lie entirely with them. It’s time to remove any polite veneer from this debate. The stakes are that high.

…Instead they [skeptics] offer maximum fear, the universal conservative stock in trade. And by doing so, these do-nothing climate change skeptics are prepared to destroy our children’s future.

…It is an endless cycle of delay, and I am sure that with December almost upon us, the eighth excuse cannot be far away — which will be to wait until the next year or the year after until all the rest of the world has acted at which time Australia will act.

What absolute political cowardice. What an absolute failure of leadership. What an absolute failure of logic. The inescapable logic of this approach is that if every nation makes the decision not to act until others have done so, then no nation will ever act.

…This brigade of do-nothing climate change skeptics are dangerous because if they succeed, then it is all of us who will suffer. Our children. And our grandchildren. If we fail, then it will be a failure that will echo through future generations. No responsible government confronted with the evidence delivered by the 4,000 scientists associated with the international panel could then in conscience choose not to act. In any public company, it would represent a gross contempt of the most basic fiduciary duty.

…You’ve got to know when to fold ’em ­ and for the skeptics, that time has come. The Government I lead will act.

Just to be clear, less than six months ago Rudd believed Australia’s “fundamental economic and environmental interests” were at stake; no responsible government in the world could “in conscience choose not to act”; bailing on an ETS would “destroy our children’s future”.

Today he folded ’em, our children and children’s children be damned, leaving a supposedly responsible government bereft of a policy to address the “greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”.

Rudd’s words ring true. He is a coward; a failed leader. He said it himself.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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