10 August 2009

Governing the environment

Who gives a damn about the CPRS bill (subtitle: it's everything you want it to be, and anything we feel like)? Who gives a damn about the Turnbull-Xenophon thing, which is neither the anti-CPRS nor (despite what Turnbull might wish) one-up on the CPRS? Why do we even have a Canberra press gallery when they are so easily led, en masse, into the valley of the shadow of tosh and happy to bunk there until led by the nose to some equally pointless place?

Frontier Economics are the employers of this peanut, who clogs up Andrew Norton's site and Catallaxy with the same post regardless of the issue: that the number one pressing issue in education is the absence of vouchers, that everything would be fine if only for vouchers. It is hard to tell whether Australia's electricity network is in its current state because of, or despite, Rajat's advice; it is to be hoped that he has not Greched his way into the Turnbull-Xenophon proposal, but I fear that he might have.

This document, like the Garnaut report, is at its most strident when making its weakest assertions. Others have gone through it with a fine toothed comb - having been one of about a dozen Australians who has read The Things That Matter and Future Directions from front to back, I'm not making the mistake of seriously critiquing a document that nobody intended to be taken seriously. It is too weak a document in itself to form the basis of any sensible policy, and it draws on no wider research or active support.

The action of tying itself to the government's silly assumptions and then making a show of vigorously wriggling free of these constraints is risible. Turnbull is emulating Kim Beazley in over-egging minor differences of emphasis, and when you do that too much people stop listening to you.

The policy with which the CPRS is most often compared, the various proposals for a GST throughout the 1980s and '90s, worked on building coalitions of shared assumptions and understandings before pushing off in the various directions they went in. The Frontier report fails to give Turnbull and Xenophon the support they need in terms of making important distinctions from the government (oh, a bit of cost saving - great) while at the same time demonstrating a clear commitment to reducing various forms of pollution.

Still, give Turnbull and Xenophon some credit - at least they didn't use Access Economics.

It is not necessarily Frontier's fault that Turnbull lacked a clear narrative on the CPRS. Turnbull cannot pull together a coherent policy on carbon pollution reduction, and thus he cannot be taken seriously in Canberra as a force to be reckoned with. He can't be taken seriously in Canberra and isn't taken seriously beyond, either. No unilateral strutting is going to change that, or nor will any uncharacteristic wheedling to clowns like Dennis Jensen or Wilson Tuckey. Whatever Turnbull might say or do now, Minchin and Abetz will scuttle any Liberal Turnbull initiative in the Senate like they did with the National Broadband Network.

Labor supporters, such as those here, might fret that Labor isn't serious about this issue. When Rudd and Wong insist that the CPRS must be dome their way or not at all, they create the impresson that no action on pollution really is an option - which reinforces the perception that this issue is another excuse for politicking, rather than an issue of genuine urgency and vital importance.

Let's look at how the ducks are lining up and it's clear they're doing plenty:

  • August '09: The CPRS bill is scuttled in the Senate.

  • November '09: The CPRS bill is scuttled again. There's your double dissolution trigger.

  • December '09: Copenhagen. Eyes of the world, etc.

  • January/February '10: Extreme weather events reinforce the seriousness of climate change - Victoria burns again, northern Queensland floods again, and goodness knows what else tears up lives and communities throughout the continent. It does not do to stand in the blackened ruins of someone's home and quibble about climate change science, but watch as some fool does just that.

  • March '10: Rudd comes over all angry that the Liberals and the Greens are blocking his legislation, calls the election on who is best able to deliver a climate-change solution. Turnbull spruiks about his own sincerity, but nobody believes he can deliver on his small-target quibbly changes and so the Liberals lose (but the Nationals lose more).

And that is why the idea of Rudd as a oncer is dead - Turnbull's "small-target" strategy on CPRS, and the fact that debt takes time to be politically crippling, as we saw in the early '90s.

The climate-change deniers in the Liberal Party will survive a rout. The Liberals' safest seats in both houses are held by denialists, and however disappointed party members from the "grass roots" (the Liberal version of "rank and file") may be, they won't rise up and turf these clowns. Tony Abbott will distract them with a culture war, but that won't work either in the doldrums of a second term. There won't be any moderates left who can create a strong narrative or build a nationwide presence sufficient to rout the intellectually-exhausted right (after Bush, conservatives are so exhausted intellectually that they don't think that exhaustion matters. Note how easily the tome by Tony Abbott is swatted away by Andrew Norton, despite the big ups from the Canberra press gallery for its "intellectualism").

After all that, the fact remains: the CPRS really is crap. The wrong people get free passes and those who should get a break get slugged. Worst of all, it does nothing for a low-emission economy - just as protectionism stifled the economy in the '50s (despite being done in the name of a competitive Australian economy): in this piece Bernard Keane says nothing with which I disagree. You'd hope that the sheer shamefulness of this approach would be quietly scuttled, but having been a DD-trigger it is likely that it will be endorsed by a Labor victory - unless that election also sees a surge in Green votes.

Maybe the Liberals will have something to work with after all - but then again, maybe they'll botch that too.

Someone who won't survive beyond the next election, though, is someone who had been one of Australia's most prominent environmentalists. His response to the supposedly competing carbon trading models was to subsidise numerous polluting long-haul flights for this. This should be Garrett's moment, a campaign focused on the future of our environment - but he's sitting this out, too.

1 comment:

  1. derrider derider11/8/09 2:18 pm

    All fair enough.

    But maybe Rudd would, in private, argue that a DD was always the only way to get a decent scheme. So this scheme was created with the intent of making no powerful enemies (such as coal-reliant State governments), even if that made it unfair and ineffective. He could count on even an ineffective scheme tearing the Libs apart, as it has.

    With the Greens holding the BoP in the Senate the post-Copenhagen successor scheme to this might look quite different.

    At least I'd like to believe that Rudd was clever and gutsy enough for this. OTOH maybe its just the troglodyte unions and State governments bent him to their will.

    And yes, Garrett's saga is tragic.