Rudd’s backflip on the ETS and his unwillingness to fight a double dissolution over the issue makes him a coward. No, it’s true – every color-by-numbers, intellectually lazy hack from Broome to Cockle Creek has told us so over the last few days. You only have to head over to Fox News With Words and pick a random column to experience the flavours of that particularly insipid political degustation menu.

Yet a reality check is in order here because this sort of vacuous tosh ignores a few rather important truths relating to policy implementation timelines, Senate maths and the electoral clock. Not quite as sexy as plucking a tantrum from the nearest orifice and pretending you’re Glenn Beck , but it’s probably more enlightening.

First up – the obvious. The current Senate route to an ETS policy goes through one of two paths – either a joint Labor/Coalition agreement, or a Labor/Greens/Xenophon/Fielding agreement. There is no third option – those two are it.

The election of Abbott as leader destroyed one ETS Senate route, and the odds of Fielding becoming a gay icon are better than the odds of him passing any form of ETS whatsoever. After all, this is the bloke with climate change graphs so dodgy that he makes Andrew Bolt look like Edward Tufte.

This term, because of Abbott and Fielding, any ETS in any form is dead.

No amount of ifs, buts, bitching & moaning or political hallucinations will change that reality. This term it’s dead.

So the earliest possible time that any ETS can get implemented is during the next term with a new Senate, whether that new Senate is as a result of a double dissolution or whether it comes about through the ordinary half-Senate election process that will accompany the next general election.

However, there is a problem with the ETS policy that is a current double dissolution trigger – it is legislated to commence on July 1st 2011.

When the most recent version of the ETS was planned to be passed (the bipartisan Wong/ MacFarlane plan) back in December, it would have provided an 18 month window for all stakeholders to get their act together before the ETS D-Day of July 1st next year rolled around. That would have meant every business, organisation and government department in the country even marginally involved in the ETS, had a solid year and a half to prepare themselves, to put in place the people and the processes that were required to make the ETS an economic reality.

It’s worth mentioning about now that the last comparable structural change we had to the Australian economy was the GST and the other bits and pieces that made up the package quaintly called “A New Tax System” – an arguably simpler structural change compared to the complexities, let alone the enormous churn of dollars, that is the ETS currently on the table.

The GST was passed in June 1999, for commencement on July 1st 2000. That gave everyone involved a full year to prepare. The reason for that was simple, these types of large policy programs with sweeping consequences require a massive amount of work up front to make sure that the new system won’t smash anyone or anything into tiny little pieces. The pure magnitude of the preparatory work involved in getting a company(s) or government department(s) ready to comply or administer large new economic policies is rarely appreciated by either the journalists and commentators or the wider public. As we saw with the GST, 12 months was barely enough time at all to prepare considering what happened in the last 6 months of 2000.

Keep that in your thought orbit for a second.

If Rudd were to hold a DD on the ETS, the political reality is that he would first have to spend a few months planning for the election – getting the political ducks in a row, so to speak. That means a DD couldn’t practicably be called before July, and probably not actually held until the last half of August – at the earliest.

If Rudd won such an election, it would take 2 weeks or so for the results to be finalised, which would mean a joint sitting of Parliament to ram through the ETS couldn’t be held until September.

If the ETS was passed at the joint sitting process, that would give the everyone involved in the ETS, from large companies to utility services, all the way through to the government departments administering the program, only 9 months to prepare – exactly half the time that the Wong/MacFarlane legislation had provided for, and a third less time to prepare for than was provided with the GST.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how that is a blueprint for complete and utter disaster for everyone involved. Nine months preparation time is simply a failure waiting to happen for everyone concerned.

So this ETS, the one with the July 1st 2011 starting date, has already passed it’s used by date – it is now too late to implement it in any way, shape or form. Any government that gives even the smallest care about proper governance standards would not implement this policy for commencement 9 months after legislating for it in a million years.

Not in a million years.

But wait – the stoopid gets worse! (#WorseThanWhitlam even, for the Twitterati out there)

In order for Rudd to fight a DD on climate change that actually had some semblance of appreciation for the most basic notions of responsible governance, he would need to change the commencement date in the legislation from July 1st 2011 to July 1st 2012 (as well as delay and rejig all the other dates built into the program by 12 months – a substantial change), then send it back before the Senate, get it rejected, wait three months and then get it rejected again – just to get a proper trigger with a workable timeline.

The Senate doesn’t sit properly until the end of May, meaning a trigger won’t become available until the last weeks of August.


The last possible date available to call a DD is August 10th 2010 (rather than explain the gory details, Antony Green goes through the complex constitutional realities over here ), meaning that the Constitution T-bones the calendar, providing absolutely no mathematical possibility of there being an ETS with an appropriate commencement debate becoming a double dissolution trigger this term.

But wait – the stoopid gets worse! Again!

Under an ordinary election result, the new Senate will start sitting from July 1st 2011, but the make-up of that Senate will be known a few weeks after any ordinary election later this year. The alternative for the government is to have a normal half-Senate election and then start negotiating with the new Senate before it actually starts sitting, so that the legislation can be rammed through on the very first date that the new Senate takes over from the old in July 2011.

Considering that new Senate will probably have the Greens with the balance of power, Rudd could start negotiation an ETS with them in October/November this year (assuming an election at the back end of this year), have it finalised and publically released by February in 2011, ready for commencement in July 2012 (while passing the legislation in July 2011). That would give the economy a full 17 months to prepare.

So it would be an ETS that would commence at what is really the earliest possible time anyway, which would also have the exact same commencement date that a “fantasy ETS” with an appropriate timeline would have had, were there the months left this year to call a DD on it in the first place!

But wait – the stoopid gets worse! Again, again!

Not only are the clowns calling Rudd a coward for not running on a DD which would result in the economy having an impossibly short preparation time, less time to prepare than there was for the GST, but they are also calling Rudd a coward for avoiding a Senate result which would be worse for Labor than a normal half-Senate election!

Antony goes through the likely results of the Senate under two scenarios – a DD and an ordinary half-Senate election over here – and while it gets a little tedious as all Senate numbers do, the key point is that 2004 was a good year for the Coalition and a bad one for Labor. As a result of the pro-Coalition 2004 half Senate likely getting replaced by a much more normally balanced half Senate this time through, under just about any circumstance Labor ends up better off in the Senate with a half Senate ordinary election than they would under a double dissolution.

So, according to these jokers and misfits, Rudd is not only a coward for choosing to avoid screwing the economy blind for absolutely no reason (as a result of July 2011 not providing enough preparation time) while still having plenty of capacity to introduce an ETS for what is the earliest possible practicable commencement date anyway, but he has the audacity to choose an election path that provides a beneficial Senate result for Labor!

I know – whooda thunk it!

Honest to god, the commentary around the ETS and the DD is being written by idiots.