25 November 2009

Too late

This is the period to which Labor people will look back and ask: why, why didn't Rudd call an early election to take advantage of Liberal disarray?

But this isn't about the actual government that develops and implements policy, oh no, it's about the opposition. Not enough about the former government or the next Liberal government, nor about the current government, just the current opposition and its current leader.

The proposal that Turnbull is putting forward is much the same as the policy that the Howard government put in its failed bid for re-election in 2007. Observers of the Liberal Party used to marvel at the way that John Howard would make a pronouncement and the Libs would fall in behind like so many sheep. Now we see that this was based on the supposition that such unity and obedience would yield - and be justified by - victory.

In theory the Liberal Party should just fall into line behind Howard-era policies in the same way that it has in other areas of policy: but it's too late for that now, too late. There's no victory to validate such a stance, the spell has broken. This is part of the remaking of the Liberal Party, wonderful to behold for those of us dissatisfied with Howard, terrifying for those seeking to build on what he achieved.

The climate change denialists in the Liberal Party represent the coagulation of two forces, one as perennial as the grass and another a noxious import.

The standard old-school conservative identified climate change as a minority position, far out to the left and using environmentalism as another stick to beat capitalism with (never mind environmental degradation in eastern Europe, the USSR and what used to be known as Red China). Ayn Rand's book The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, released in 1971, was an early primer for this way of thinking and ironically the Greens have pretty much reinforced its thesis of capitalism as the problem rather than the solution.

The noxious imports are the very sort of people Rand warned about: lefties in the early '70s who've since seen the light, and the vacant space among conservative intelligentsia, and scuttled across vast tracts of moderate middle ground to rebadge themselves as 'conservatives': Keith Windschuttle and pretty much every regular Quadrant contributor over 50 (except, perhaps, George Pell) can be included here.

This latter brigade group outfit are responsible culpable for the idea that climate change science can be politicked away. The same people who pooh-poohed the domino theory as a tool of imperialists and aggressors are trying to do the same to climate change as a tool of lefties.

Almost all of those who are the most determined climate-change deniers are aged over 60, and have no future in a Liberal government: Tuckey, B. Bishop, and the charity case Dennis Jensen (the Liberals' answer to Julia Irwin). This cohort will be worked out of parliament over the next two or three terms - younger members like Bernardi will be free to go with them, or to change their minds.

There simply is no future for the kind of quietism implied in the cc-deniers' position: even if the consensus was shown to be a sham, the idea that we would return to fossil fuels as though nothing had happened is a non-starter. It's no kind of policy, it preserves no industry or jobs, it offers nothing to the future of this country.

Turnbull and other Liberals are right to see climate change as an overwhelming reality, deserving of a proper and far-reaching policy response. They are right to perceive that scientific proof and public opinion will grow and solidify behind positions that call for sharp and permanent reductions in carbon emissions.

Capitalism is big enough to adapt to systems that minimise carbon emissions - indeed, only capitalism is so capable. New forms of energy (or even new-ish, such as solar energy systems capable of rendering an average home independent of the grid) are likely to proliferate into the near future. The Liberals are doing Australian industry a disservice by doing what the Rudd government is doing - sending inconsistent and ultimately counterproductive policy signals to what can only be a crucial industry of the future. Look at Nick Minchin's employment background and wonder what he'd know about business - I've seen traffic go by but that doesn't make me a driving instructor.

The other matters that government would need to consider in this matter don't seem to be important to the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party as currently constituted.

Firstly, it's indisputably true that the brown coal of Victoria is Australia's worst power stations, fuelled by its worst power source - "brown coal", slightly more energy efficient than burning old newspapers and household waste. It's also true that these power stations have to keep going until alternatives can be found - see above for a description of how the Libs are making this more difficult rather than less.

Time was that the Liberals would be awake up to Victoria's power needs, and would be busy developing policies accordingly. Those days have passed, and instead dipsticks and knuckleheads just say: no, not this, and not that either.

To some extent, it serves the Victorian Libs right that they keep preselecting such people. Look at the Victorian Liberals in the Senate - that lot should not be municipal councillors, the very idea that they might help shape the future of Australian industry is just ridiculous, and they wonder why they can't get a Federal leader up from there.

Second, since the Stern Report in 2006 the response to climate change has been one of risk mitigation than flat out denial. In company reports, you can see references to carbon mitigation efforts rather than long screeds denouncing lefties or ignorant nonsense about how warm days and rising sea levels might not be so bad. From the supposed party of business we hear not one word about risk mitigation.

Another important difference is that the policy of the current government, the CPRS with its target of a 5% reduction in carbon emissions, is not a substantive policy but a cobbled-together compromise that satisfies nobody. It is likely that the next Liberal government will go much further in clamping down on carbon emissions, much further than you might imagine the current government going. Watch for Gillard, Tanner et al being gobsmacked and stammering at Liberal progress on this issue - then you'll know the ground has shifted, but that's a while off yet and depends upon a stable Liberal Party.

Then again, there's Leadership:

"There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two.”

- Bertolt Brecht

Turnbull has toughed it out, flouting the rightwing fantasy that moderates are softies just waiting around to be toppled by manly men of conviction such as they. Tony Abbott's switch has counted for nothing, absolutely nothing. Battlelines, his thoughts on Australia and the world in general, contains little on the pressing issue of carbon - and was no help in positioning him as a leader (and the sales haven't provided much of a war chest, either). Peter Slipper and Kevin Andrews have joined the ranks of political roadkill who still think they're part of the journey. All the Machiavellian skill of Nick Minchin has failed to shift Turnbull one iota. Turnbull just will not die. All he needs now is staff with some political skill and the wit to listen to them.


  1. Well done again.

    Do you think Turnbull can succeed in modenising the Liberal Party? He seems to me to be, while intelligent and able, politically inept. Am I being unkind? Could not a more adept politician have avoided this very public confrontation, and slowly achieved change?

    It seems that the one unifying complaint the dissidents have is that 'Malcolm wasn't nice enough to me'.


  2. Roll Malcolm, block legislation, bring on Double Dissolution, get whacked over head, get up, do it all over again.
    World Championship wrestling had better scripts.

  3. derrida derider27/11/09 2:49 pm

    You make a good point about the long, as well as short, term costs to any politician sucking up to the far right delusonists.
    Facts are stubborn things - things will get hotter, southeast Australia will get drier and the barrier reef will disappear. And what will the punters think about the denialists then?

    Even in the shorter term, if Rudd calls a February or March election at the end of a very hot, dry, bushfire-scorched summer (the Bureau of Meteorology are saying el Nino is well established) then the punters will punish them very hard indeed.

  4. Kymbos, if there's one thing funnier than Liberals generally bleating about being steamrolled, it's Minchin and Abbott doing so.

    dd, couldn't agree more.