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Jun 28, 2010

Gillard doesn't get climate change

Julia Gillard doesn't get climate change, and those hoping the Labor Government will make a marked policy shift will once more face disappointment.

Julia Gillard doesn’t get climate change, and those hoping the Labor Government will make a marked policy shift will once more face disappointment.

Over the weekend, the new Prime Minister spoke of her commitment to “build a consensus” before acting. As there’s already strong support across the community for an emissions trading system, it’s not apparent whose consensus she will seek.

If she means climate deniers, their minds are closed. If it’s the fossil fuel corporations, we know they will do only what they are forced to do. It was the Rudd Government’s willingness to obtain their “consensus” with massive cash hand-outs that destroyed the integrity of the CPRS.

It is not consensus that Australia needs on climate policy, but leadership.

The new PM also went out of her way to state: “I believe climate change is real. I believe that it is caused by human activity.”

Why say that? It implies that not believing in human-induced climate change is a legitimate position. And since when did accepting a body of scientific fact become a matter of “belief”?

Gillard’s softness on climate policy can perhaps be understood from her political roots. Since the 60s and 70s, when activists from the new social movements flooded into the ALP aiming to promote change through mainstream politics, Labor has divided into two broad camps, those sympathetic to environmentalism and those indifferent or hostile to it.

Many in the party resented the influx of well-educated activists who, while committed to the party’s principles, did not share its working-class and trade union culture or the political outlook it gives rise to. The rights agenda of the social movements — anti-discrimination, equal pay and so on — was over time integrated into the party’s culture, but environmentalism has never been fully accepted.

There are still those who regard environmentalism as a middle-class indulgence of inner city professionals, and resent the way a trendy preoccupation has taken attention from the real issues of social justice, education and jobs.

Although environmentalism was more readily embraced by the left of the ALP, the divide crosses factional boundaries. There are plenty on the “workerist” left who still regard it as a soft issue that has to be accommodated for electoral reasons only. Some, like Martin Ferguson, are actively hostile, although antagonism more often manifests at a state level. Over the years, Labor Governments in NSW and Tasmania have reserved their most bitter attacks for the Greens rather than the Liberal Party.

Notwithstanding her affiliation with the left, Gillard’s family background and her political associations put her on the side of old Labor. No-one who has any sense of the seriousness of climate change could argue, as Gillard did, for the complete abandonment of the commitment to emissions trading.

And while we now know the NSW right will support someone from the left to take the reins of the country, someone from the left with a strong commitment to environmental protection would probably have been too hard to stomach for the faction that led the charge to kill off the CPRS.

Gillard won her spurs prosecuting the iconic issues of old Labor, industrial relations and education. While undimmed in importance, these concerns are backward-looking, while those who “get” the environment are forward looking.

For perhaps around half of the population, somewhere along the line they experience a little “click” of recognition on climate change, something that says “Hey, this is serious.” It doesn’t turn them into greenies, but it does explain why in surveys a majority always puts environmental protection before economic expansion.

Many in the senior ranks of the ALP have experienced this little click — Bob Hawke, Lindsay Tanner, Bob Carr, Carmen Lawrence, Sharon Burrow, to name only a handful — but many have not — Martin Ferguson, Gary Gray, Simon Crean, Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard and almost all of the NSW right including Mark Arbib and Paul Howes.

There could be no more disturbing portent of the Gillard government’s unwillingness to take global warming seriously than the decision last week to approve the export of brown coal from Victoria.

For pure environmental vandalism, exporting the dirtiest form of energy is matched only by extracting petroleum from oil sands. There could be no clearer sign that, whatever form of window-dressing the Gillard government engages in, it will be business as usual for the coal industry for a long time to come.

Over the last few months many voters alarmed about climate change deserted Labor for the Greens. Polls suggest that over the last few days most have returned to Labor in the hope that Gillard will be more resolute than Rudd. She will do her best to keep them hoping until the election.

In all likelihood the realisation that Labor under Gillard will be as reluctant to act as Labor under Rudd will not take hold before the federal election. But we can be sure they will feel bitterly disappointed in the months that follow the election — unless, with the balance of power in the Senate, the Greens can force the Gillard Government to go much further than it intends.

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95 comments

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95 thoughts on “Gillard doesn’t get climate change

  1. Tom

    Who is more bonkers Bolt or Hamilton?
    Who would you want to have dinner with? – Neither
    Who ‘cherry picks’ only data that support their argument? – Both
    Who is ‘self appointed’ and glibly speaks for us all? – Both
    Who lends more to the argument? – Neither
    Who wishes both of them would shut up and bugger off? – Me for one!

  2. Mack the Knife

    Couldn’t agree more Tom.

    No matter how much she loves an ETS its impossible to get one through in the present legislative environment and eliminating coal production is easier to demand than implement.

    Who is this Clive Hamilton anyway?

  3. Sancho

    Got to agree, Tom. I’m usually sympathetic to commentators speaking from a progressive, pro-environment position, but I really have no time for Hamilton. It’s a shame he’s so sanctimonious, because he’s quite a talented performer otherwise.

  4. Syd Walker

    @ Clive

    >>> “As there’s already strong support across the community for an emissions trading system, it’s not apparent whose consensus she will seek.”

    There is, I believe, strong majority support for effective action on reducing emissions.

    That support should not be conflated with specific support for an ETS.

    As Clive Hamilton is well aware, there are other approaches to reducing emissions that are widely supported and do not entail a market in emissions permits.

    He may favour an ETS, but should not pretend the ETS proposal has more widespread support than is actually the case.

    There is also more than a touch of blatant arrogance in the statement:

    >>>”since when did accepting a body of scientific fact become a matter of “belief”?”

    Why not answer your own question, Dr Hamilton?

    Was it since the era of the Ptolemaic system?

    Or before?

  5. Bellistner

    unless, with the balance of power in the Senate, the Greens can force the Gillard Government to go much further than it intends.

    Which is why we must still vote The Greens first in both The Senate and House of Reps. Betting that the Labs will now go with a ‘greener’ ETS (insofar as the CPRS was in any way Green, rather than a Taxpayer-funded excuse to pollute), just because Rudd is on the outer, is a fools gamble, for my money.

  6. Michael James

    Ah, poor Clive, still lamenting that the Gillard Government and the electorate live in the real world, rather than his utopian fantasy where his concerns are the most important item on the global agenda.

    Sorry Clive, the adults are busy trying to repair a damaged global economy, deal with a couple of major diplomatic flashpoints, fix the boat people siise and get re-elected.

    Once they are fixed they might turn their attention to other matters. Until then, don’t call them, they will call you.

  7. Fran Barlow

    I believe the best proposal we could put know on a price on co2 emissions would have the following elements:

    1. Define dirty energy by reference to the average CO2 intensity of anthracite coal (stationary) and CO2/BTU of petrodiesel (transport)
    2. Allow tax deductibility for the proportion of cost saving in relation to dirty energy. Thus,if the energy mix one paid for was 75% of the intensity of “dirty energy”, one would get 25% of it tax deductible
    3. Withdraw subsidies for all dirty energy usage
    4. Hypothecate funds clawed back under 2 and 3 to pay means tested assistance in tax-free and welfare exempt cash or service (eg public housing, food bank) to those in the bottom 60% of income earners — so it is revenue neutral.

    The advantage of this is that it would effectively make dirt energy an after tax expense,whereas clean energy would be before tax. It would make energy saving and efficiency cost-rational. It would stimulate demand for energy saving and clean energy development

    It would also be administratively simpler, since you would not have to do much more than audit claimed clean energy usage, thus simplifying compliance. Payments to low income earners go through an existing system. All businesses would pay and there would be little scope to game the system. Different arms of the bureaucracy would not be pulling in opposite directions — (subsidising and then taxing/limiting)

    Politically, it can’t be called a “Great Big New Tax” and the presenting feature would be low income and low middle income earners being paid or getting services. The Liberals, who on paper oppose subsidies would be hard pressed to oppose it. A regulatory regime limiting emissions could still be progressively imposed.

    Being a regulatory measure, it also wouldn’t require senate approval, since it could be implemented at the minister’s discretion, though it would be worth putting to the senate. The government could implement it early — perhaps as early as January 1 — as an amendment to the budget.

  8. DodgyKnees

    The “strong support” comes mainly from Australians, like Clive Hamilton, who have an understanding of the science.

    Unfortunately there’s a too significant fraction of voters with “fragile support” who are spooked by irresponsible politicians shouting Great Big Tax, Absolute Crap and cherry picking scientific opinion from nutters on the short end of the bell curve.

    Abbott, Bernardi and Co. should be Hamilton’s target. Attacking Gillard simply exposes his primary motive of getting the odd extra seat for the Greens.

  9. Liz45

    At my age(21 and some months) I don’t get conned any more. I’ll still give my first vote to The Greens, as I agree with all their policies, not just on climate change. It should be noted, that while the majority of people want action, they don’t want to pay (more) for it! Even though I’m only on a pension, I don’t mind contributing by higher energy costs, as long as I’m assured, that the money is used for the benefit of my grand kid’s future, and everyone elses’ as well!

    I pay some towards my energy bills each fortnight – only way to manage. I don’t know how pensioners and others cope if they have to pay market value rents – I’m lucky to be in public housing, and I’m most fortunate re position and type of unit – a villa? (best kept secret in the area?)Some pensioners are forced to pay 80% of their income on rent (heard this during discussion prior to last Sept’s increase)- I don’t know how they survive – particularly if they don’t have family to support them!They should be subsidised by the more affluent in my view.

    I believe what the scientists assert. I just want the govt/s to get on with it!

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