Tony Abbott’s tendency to utter whatever comes into his head certainly isn’t doing him any harm. In one week, he’s racked up three howlers on a carbon price. They’ve all received critical media coverage. But you get the impression the public doesn’t particularly care.
The noteworthy feature of the current “debate” over the employment and cost-of-living impacts of a carbon price is that we appear to have reached a standard in public discourse where the truth, or consistency, aren’t preferred positions any more; that something happens to be true or logically coherent or consistent isn’t especially relevant, certainly not more so than whether it sounds clear, has “cut-through”, reinforces people’s expectations rather than runs counter to them, and most of all suits a preferred narrative.
Or perhaps it’s not so much the case that we’ve abandoned the idea that truth is important, as that we’ve adjusted our standards about truth. My facts are now as good as your facts, regardless of whether they are indeed correct. And, really, everyone has a right to their own facts; insisting on one set of “true” facts is, well… let’s call it what it is: blatant censorship.
The chattering classes need to stop trying to impose their own élitist concept of facts on the facts of large corporations — validated, of course, by originating in the real world of private enterprise — and climate denialists.
Of course, the Right — frequently in the form of ex-Marxists — used to stand guard against trendy academics advocating exactly this sort of relativism. Much fun was to be had, and rightly so, at the expense of Cultural Studies academics (RIP “The Humanities”) and their war on that tool of white patriarchal capitalist genocidal oppression, logic-centric discourse. But we couldn’t expect them to hold out forever, so cut them some slack. The castle of reason has been overrun; the survivors will have to take to the hills and turn to irregular warfare.
Oddly, despite the media attention, most missed Mr Abbott’s particularly risible remark. It wasn’t merely that Abbott claimed he had never supported a carbon tax or an ETS — a claim so demonstrably untrue even The Australian mentioned it. He belatedly qualified that by adding the caveat “as leader” hours later, the worst recovery since Basil Fawlty, learning his American guest enjoyed the works of Harold Robbins, pretended to be lambasting someone else. “Oh Harold Robbins. I was talking about… Harold Robinson.”
But it was what Abbott said immediately before that that was more interesting, when asked about whether he thought climate change was a myth:
“Yeah look I never said it was a myth. I once used some colourful language describing the so-called settled science of climate change but look, climate change is real, humanity does make a contribution to it and we’ve got to take effective action against it. I mean, that’s my position and that’s always been my position but I’ve never been in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.”
Abbott’s difficulty in asserting he has never believed something is of course problematic because he has professed to believe everything at various points. As we know from his no-holds-barred debate with himself, Abbott once claimed “atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have significantly increased since the spread of industrialisation, but it seems that noticeable warming has only taken place between the 1970s and 1990s”, that “notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man-made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped” and that “there may even have been a slight decrease in global temperatures (the measurement data differs on this point) over the past decade.” Although, we’re still waiting for Greg Hunt’s “direct action” plan to combat the coming Ice Age.
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Indeed, on the issue of human contribution to climate change, don’t get Tony started. Climate change has “been happening since the earth’s beginning. The extinction of the dinosaurs is thought to have been associated with climate change” and “climate change happens all the time and it is not man that drives those climate changes back in history. It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays.”
But then again, for every quote from Abbott asserting humans have nothing to do with climate change and the planet’s getting cooler, you can find Abbott averring that climate change is indeed real and human-caused and needs action — action, of course, by a carbon tax, the preferred approach of the “intelligent sceptic”.
But that’s the Opposition Leader for you, a man who has kicked free of the shackles of truth and consistency. Tony Abbott’s on course to be our first post-modern Prime Minister. He’s the big-government social engineer who enthuses about small government, the global cooling carbon tax advocate who wants direct action to address global warming, the proponent of lower taxes who proposes his own new taxes, the economics graduate who doesn’t grasp economics, the leader who urged Peter Reith to run for the party presidency then voted against him, the bloke who wants to stop the boats via policies that in the past guaranteed asylum seekers came to Australia.
And, to recycle John Howard’s famous line, the time will suit him.