It’s done. A carbon price, of a fashion, a poor one, so weak it needs to be bolstered by an extensive array of taxpayer spending, passed the Senate at 12.44. The journey embarked on by Julia Gillard on 24 February, which has seen her government and her leadership hammered mercilessly, is mostly over.
The vote passed as expected, last minute efforts by the Coalition to thwart a vote defeated by the Labor-Greens majority. The public gallery — from where Greg Combet watched proceedings — cheered an earlier procedural vote; the final vote went through with a decidedly anticlimactic silence. Opposition senators keen to delay proceedings had to settle for getting up and leaving the chamber after every vote, forcing the maximum period between divisions.
At deadline, the opposition were still trying to prevent the Bill titles being read by the Senate clerks.
This is the package that Labor promised it wouldn’t deliver before the last election, and one that has far more “direct action” than the package agreed by Malcolm Turnbull in 2009. And it comes nearly four years after both parties went to the 2007 election promising Australians an emissions trading scheme. It’s a reform John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull all failed on.
Even Julia Gillard, who’ll go down in history as the woman who managed to achieve what any number of male leaders couldn’t, didn’t particularly want it. Instead, it was the Greens who dragged Labor back to do what it had promised and then resiled from. It’s their day, having seized on the opportunity afforded by a minority government, adeptly exploiting the hung parliament delivered by Labor’s ineptitude.
Much of the post-election commentary on the Greens focused on whether the responsibilities of the balance of power would destroy them as it destroyed the Democrats. By becoming part of the process from the start, rather than only being played in at the death, the Greens managed to shape the package to a form likely to appeal to their base, which was always suspicious of “market mechanisms” anyway. The Greens have thus passed their first major balance of power test with flying colours.
The Coalition has had it good for most of 2011, as Labor struggled with a lack of policy detail and a rampant Tony Abbott. Now, it seems, the tide has turned against it. Its repeal policy looks increasingly problematic, and its own “direct action” policy is discredited. The only thing in its favour remains voter resentment toward Julia Gillard over her backflip on the issue.
But in the chamber today, like their Coalition forebears in 1993 on native title and like the Labor Party on the GST in 1999, the opposition looks a party stranded by ideology and opportunism on the wrong side of history.
As for Labor, it’s got the worst out of the way, but its fate still rests partly on the implementation from next June. Don’t forget the Howard government suffered terribly in 2001 from implementation issues around the GST. But that’s a fate that rests in its own hands.