Kevin Rudd failed to lead public momentum on climate change that brought him to power in 2007, he watched agreement at Copenhagen die before his very eyes, and he faces the hollow feeling of having nothing to show for what he once called the greatest moral challenge of our time. Yep, he was really vulnerable there ... until Tony Abbott insisted on making himself the issue here with a policy I'll call Carbon Fightback!
Carbon Fightback! is fuzzy on costs, fuzzy on economic benefits, and is as unrelentingly statist as any Whitlam-era scheme. It is a non-core promise if ever there was one. The Green Army is a clumsy to address environmental issues and clear proof Anyone who gives this policy any consideration at all, even to be polite, is a fool.
It contains nothing to mollify those bludging farmers who insist on a God-given right to bulldoze every bit of vegetation that can't be sold - this is great policy, but it fractures the base that Abbott and his rabbits have identified as their platform for power. Mollifying such people will also slow progress toward carbon abatement targets, and send mixed messages about risk management for carbon emitters.
It is risk management that is the key public policy issue - not quibbling over graphs or playing gotcha with poorly understood scientific papers. Proof of the sheer bankruptcy came with that old chancer Chris Monckton, who spent years advising Margaret Thatcher and she still came out in favour of anthropogenic global warming. You can write off Monckton's exaggerations over his attainments as "white lies", but you can't then condemn your perceived opponents for blatant falsehoods. The Poms always send us their second-raters, some of us are used to that caper while others want to believe (thus the quasi-religious language from the right, which they project onto others).
The policies of the incumbent government and the Coalition should be judged against the key public issue of risk management. The Coalition has issued a flippant, piecemeal and inadequate policy, which will now become the focus of attention in the way that Fightback! became the focus of the 1993 election. Rudd has an opportunity to put his position (whatever it might end up being) as being the most comprehensive framework for carbon emitters to manage and limit their risk. He might well blow that opportunity, but at least he has an opportunity to blow.
Abbott has made himself the issue on carbon emissions, breaking rule number one for Opposition Leaders who seriously want to win government: put the heat on the government, not yourselves. Just as Howard was momentarily discomfited by Mark Latham, so now Rudd has looked unsure against Abbott - but now that Abbott's weaknesses are the issue for 2010, watch the right whinge distance themselves from him long before the inevitable election debacle.
Considering that Abbott saw the original Fightback! at close quarters as a member of Hewson's staff, he has no excuse for putting the Liberal Party in a position where it just gets thrashed by the incumbents for the rest of the year. He really is a clown. When and if the costings are produced it will have no credibility at all.
Greg Hunt will either end the year as the foremost Australian politician on environmental policy - better than Wong and Garrett combined - or he'll be broken.
Speaking of broken, why is David Marr the new Annabel Crabb? Why is the fine thinker behind the biographies of Garfield Barwick and Patrick White, of the National Times and the exposes of the Howard government's treatment of refugees amongst other pieces, slumping into cliches about Abbott-as-boxer or Rudd-as-bureaucrat? Replacing a Generation Xer with a clearly stale baby boomer is typical of the failure of imagination we've seen from Brian McCarthy and John B Fairfax.