It's hard to describe just how truly wretched Labor's new climate change policy is. It makes the CPRS, its dog of an emissions trading scheme, look like a model of best practice. It is a spectacular failure of leadership.
Julia Gillard's "citizens' assembly" has effectively outsourced responsibility for climate policy to "ordinary Australians", on whose "skills, capacity, decency and plain common sense" Gillard will rely to tell her about the community consensus on climate change. In effect it institutionalises what is already apparent -- this is a Government controlled by focus group reactions.
Labor has been playing politics with climate change for three years and it hasn't stopped. But whereas for most of that time it used climate change to damage the Coalition, now it is having to defend itself against the issue. It will only be with the political cover afforded by this nonsensical Assembly that the Government will take any action on a carbon price.
Rarely has so much goodwill and political capital been wasted on such an important issue.
The consensus the Government insists it needs the protection of before acting already exists. It's not just in the opinion polls, which show time and time again that the majority of voters want action on climate change and supported the Government's CPRS. In 2007, let's not forget, both sides of politics told Australians they were going to introduce an ETS. The 2007 election endorsed a community consensus on the need for action.
Instead, in 2010, neither party will commit to any sort of carbon price mechanism for at least three years. Instead, they're offering excuses as to why they don't want to take action. We've done anything but move forward on climate action.
Gillard's interim actions are little better. The new emissions standard she proposes won't even apply to four coal-fired power stations being built or brought back on line currently. They may not apply to two more, the massive Mt Piper and Bayswater projects in NSW, which will together add 4% to national CO2-equivalent emissions when they come on line. Holding the baseline for the CPRS at 2008 levels won't give electricity generators any more investment certainty when it remains unclear whether there will ever be an emissions trading scheme in Australia. Nor does it change the simple fact that State Governments continue to drive Australia into a coal-fired future.
Labor's craven pandering to key outer-suburban electorates in its population and asylum seeker policies was bad enough. But abdicating executive responsibility for action on climate change is a new low in cynical politics, beyond the depths even reached by NSW Labor. Politicians are elected to lead. Deferring every controversial issue back to the electorate is a clumsy variant of leadership by polling and focus groups.
So blatant is Labor's refusal to lead that it raises serious questions about its fitness for government. The only problem is that the alternative is an economically-illiterate party whose leader doesn't believe in climate change at all, but who insists on wasting $3b on the most expensive possible means of addressing it.
What a choice, two major parties incapable of leadership and unfit to govern.