05 February 2010

Carbon Fightback!

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.


  1. 'Right whinge' - excellent emancipation from defunct labels, Andrew. I think Marr's problem is symptomatic of current political reporting, a merry-go-round of Frontline proportions, it's as much an editorial failure of imagination. It seems everyone's already bored of the coming election and are trying to wring some fun out of it somewhere.

  2. People who define themselves by their resistance to 'emancipation', who specifically describe themselves as "The Right", don't deserve the pomo treatment, ewe2. The phase you describe is precisely that in which nuggets are to be found in plain sight, if only there were correspondents to find and describe them.

  3. Well it looks like turnbull is in for the long haul.


    He is going to do to the conservatives what they did to him. I'm sure they will enjoy it just as much.

  4. Being inherently gutless and stupid people, the right whinge regularly find themselves in breach of the What's Sauce For The Goose Is Sauce For The Gander Act, and unable to bear the penalties that such breaches incur.

    As for Turnbull, it's like Menzies in the 1940s: yes, he's the smartest guy in the room but he has to make other people feel OK with that.

  5. derrida derider8/2/10 4:50 pm

    And yet, Abbott was boxed in. Yes, the policy he's produced is a piece of crap, and patently so. But running with a piece of crap that at least doesn't tear his party in two was his least-worst option; it's better to look simply wrong than look ineffectual and divided. All the other options led not merely to to defeat in the 2010 election but utter obliteration.

    As for Greg Hunt, Abbott's done to him what Howard did so to so many of the prominent liberal wets - force him into the position of defending policy that goes against all his principles. It's a beautiful tactic - if they resign then they're no longer a problem but if they don't they're hopelessly compromised. Ruddock is the canonical case.

  6. What he's done is please nobody, and he hasn't got the skill that Howard has in keeping it all together. The small-l's have been so compromised they can't be said to exist - moderate is as moderate does, and maybe Ruddock has to go for that spell to be lifted.