A climate ambush

When she took pow­er, Julia Gillard said she want­ed a nation­al con­ver­sa­tion and ‘deep com­mu­ni­ty con­sen­sus’ about cli­mate change. What she has giv­en us, instead, is an elec­tion cam­paign that is, by its nature, guar­an­teed to pro­duce neither. 

I was con­cerned that if you were going to do some­thing as big to your econ­o­my as put a price on car­bon, with the eco­nom­ic trans­fer that implies … you need a last­ing and deep com­mu­ni­ty con­sen­sus to do it,” she said.“I don’t believe we had that last and deep com­mu­ni­ty con­sen­sus.” (Gillard on the Nine “Sun­day” pro­gram on 27 June)

In place of the con­sul­ta­tion Gillard promised, she has pro­duced an ambush. Even if—as now seems likely—her pol­i­cy will be to pro­pose a future con­sul­ta­tion lead­ing to a car­bon tax, there is no chance of a detailed debate over the next five weeks on the neces­si­ty or suf­fi­cien­cy of that pol­i­cy as a response to the “great­est moral chal­lenge of our gen­er­a­tion”. The ‘deep com­mu­ni­ty con­sen­sus’ on sub­stance will be at best post­poned and at worst aban­doned under cov­er of an inde­ter­minable “man­date” on cli­mate for what­ev­er par­ty wins government.

This is a betray­al of both sides of the abort­ed dia­log. It will no-doubt dis­ap­point the faith­ful that after a full term in gov­ern­ment Labor’s pol­i­cy will be no more detailed and inspi­ra­tional than the sort of non-com­mit­tal mashup found in ‘fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble’ elec­toral plat­forms. It will cer­tain­ly dis­ap­point the scep­tics (and tax­pay­ers) that a jum­ble of slo­gans and half-explained ideas could be all the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion giv­en for a rad­i­cal and bur­den­some ‘tax reform’.

Giv­en that the Cab­i­net spent some time debat­ing cli­mate pol­i­cy last week (with the com­ing elec­tion in mind), the fail­ure to spell out a plan sug­gests that, con­trary to her lead­er­ship mantra, Gillard has not restored a sense of direc­tion (on cli­mate, at least) to the par­ty that had “lost it’s way”.

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