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 colour-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 and 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.