16 January 2009

Spoiling the environment

You know the Federal Libs are not fit to govern, nor are getting ready to govern, when you see a shambles like we've seen from them recently. The Shadow Minister for Families Families Aborigines and Families will jabber on about anything but his own portfolio. The Shadow Ministers for Education and Communications are having a spat over the environment. Someone from the Eye Pee Yay is attempting to explain why the Liberal Party should stay a course that the voters have rejected, and in framing this as a philosophical matter goes against the very principles of not only the Liberal Party but his host organism.

This is such a lame headline. It's one thing to downgrade sub-editing in the name of marketing, but a good headline is a marketing tool: no sensible person wants to read an article with such a headline. However, now that you've clicked that link, let's just go ahead:
In an article in the Herald this week, the Liberal Christopher Pyne called for his party to be more centrist and to lead the debate on carbon reduction ...

"It would seem that Christopher Pyne is advocating a significant move to the left, rather than to the centre," Senator Minchin writes.

Sure, if you assume that any and all concern for the environment is exclusively the preserve of the left.

Look at East Timor as an example of policy courage: only the far left gave a damn about East Timor, but when the time was right the Liberals realised it was an issue of human freedom: they stepped in and took the issue off the left. For the Liberal Party to exclude itself from the carbon reduction debate is to ignore a substantial issue for governing this century. Step up and take the issue off the left,or at the very least make it a matter for mainstream political debate. The Rudd Government is vulnerable on this issue, and an aspiring Coalition would be stupid to ignore any area of vulnerability for this government.
He commends Mr Pyne on his contribution to the debate, "but there are many of us who respectfully disagree with his conclusions".

It's hard to be respectful when you're such a patronising dickhead.
Senator Minchin told the Herald it had been the achievements of the Howard government that had dragged Labor towards more conservative policies and it would be a "big mistake" to blink now and take a backward step.

There's nothing conservative about carbon pollution. Rather than just reporting what Minchin said, this journalist should consider whether Minchin's words are at all valid. Labor dragged the Howard government into an acceptance of Medicare. I notice that the Gordon-below-Franklin is still undammed and that the Snowy Mountains Scheme is still publicly-owned, just as they were under Keating, Hawke, Whitlam and Chifley.
Senator Minchin said while he and Mr Pyne might have their political differences, they were able to work "very well together" in seeking to reform the party's state branch structure.

Get Minchin to prove it, Mark Metherell, don't just quote every damn word that dribbles out of his face.

If Minchin and his ilk were unconcerned about these matters, they'd brush them off at a doorstop interview or in a Quadrant article. Not so, it seems: Minchin has stooped to missives unto Fairfax publications, because Tom Switzer seeking resurrection as a philosopher simply isn't enough. Yes, the man who put Brendan Nelson where he is today is seeking to become Australia's own Bill "Wrong About Everything" Kristol.

It was Tom Switzer, as editorial page editor of The Australian, who demonstrated the limits of loyalty. The Coalition could have won the 2007 election had it changed course a bit, but Tom insisted that they stay the course to disaster. Dennis Shanahan made himself a national laughing-stock by insisting throughout 2007 that any day now, any day now, Howard will turn things around by staying the course. Well, he didn't but Tom is still stuck in that wreckage and fighting off rescuers with crap like this.
... notwithstanding the loss of conservative government, the centre of political gravity in Australia remains conservative. No longer, for instance, is welfare seen as an unconditional right.

In the era of the baby bonus and the $1400 grant to play the pokies, the expectations generated by Howard himself, oh yes it is.
No longer are activist judges rewriting our constitution.

Not that they ever were.
No longer are Australians ashamed of our past, pessimistic about our future and unsure about our place in the world.

No, Rudd's apology helped lance the shame. Howard's frittering away the benefits of the minerals boom has put the lie to the latter two though.
In this environment, why should Liberals lurch left when Labor could only win power by moving right? Why should a right-of-centre party run to the left of a church-going, family-values Labor leader almost as conservative as the prime minister he replaced? Indeed, Kevin Rudd - first as opposition leader and then as Prime Minister over the past 13 months - has had a lot more in common with John Howard than he has with Phillip Adams.

As opposition leader, Rudd not only styled himself as an "economic conservative" but also mimicked Howard on virtually everything from opposition to gay marriage and teacher unions to support for anti-terrorism laws during the Haneef debacle and the federal intervention in remote indigenous communities. Such tactics worked a treat. He convinced key segments of the socially conservative working and lower middle classes in marginal suburban and regional electorates to vote Labor again after their 12-year affair with the Coalition.

This does not help Liberals explain why, when confronted with the real John Howard and an imitation, the voters clearly chose the imitation. Such an explanation is necessary to help Liberals choose what they should retain, what they should discard.
What about Rudd's record since he's been PM? True, he has jettisoned some of the former government's positions

Switzer goes on to describe a number of substantive issues, such as the Kyoto protocol and combat troops in Iraq. He treats these as though they're ephemera, just because they don't suit his argument.
But take a closer look at Rudd's other positions.

Yes, let's. They tend to be ephemeral culture-wars bullshit: Bill Henson, straw-man stuff on teaching history, and teasing Rudd for being too busy to put asylum-seekers at the very top of his agenda.
In this environment, do Liberals win electoral kudos by becoming more progressive? In fact, the most politically important voters remain not the so-called doctors' wives from metropolitan Australia, but the so-called Howard battlers from middle Australia, particularly in outer suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane and sunbelt seats of Queensland. It was these people who formed Howard's core support. It is these people to whom Rudd has appealed in the past two years. It is these people to whom today's Liberals need to appeal in coming years.

They may not read Edmund Burke but they are a temperamentally conservative lot, wary of change, believing that efforts to transform anything quickly will have, as Burke wrote, "pleasing commencements" but "lamentable conclusions".

I've read Edmund Burke from front to back and nowhere does he talk about carbon-induced climate change. Maybe that's why he's not widely read: in this important twentyfirst century issue, Burke isn't much help. The environment is an issue where people are looking for leadership, and Howard would not provide it. Switzer and Minchin insist that the Liberals must not be seen to provide it. You get into government, Tom, by providing leadership on the difficult issues - not keeping the home fires burning to give stale leftovers the appearance of freshness.
After all, it would have been crazy for Australia, heavily dependent on fossil fuels, to slash its greenhouse gas levels at a high cost in jobs and cash when no nation that matters would follow our lead.

After all, it would be crazy to ignore the fact that Garnaut addressed this directly, when he said that Australia is so far behind other countries' initiatives and so immediately affected by global warming that it would be crazy, crazy to accept that Australia could get too far out in front of this debate. Think of all those coal-mining votes that the Liberals would lose, Tommy!
But in their rush to outflank Labor on the environment, there is a risk that Malcolm Turnbull and his spokesman Greg Hunt could further alienate the party from the very constituency they need to win back (not to mention the energy-intensive industries that will be slugged by the trading schemes).

Now we see what he's really getting at here. Rudd was happy to get the voters onside and leave the polluters to the Libs. This only works when the polluters are riding high and happy to shell out donations to the Liberal Party. When times are hard and Labor's in government, and polls show they'll stay there, donations are not so forthcoming. That leaves the Libs shackled to some unpopular corporates, just like the UAP - and we all know what happened to them (and you won't find that in Edmund Burke, either).

The other trouble that you have Tommy, is that these industries are mendicant industries. They rely heavily on government to maintain their profitability. They're rent-seekers, Tommy - now I know you're new to the Eye Pee Yay, but they take a dim view of rent-seekers there. Start standing up for rent-seekers and the Eye Pee Yay will cut your research, fella.
It is another for Liberals to insist that a single-income family should pay more to run their air-conditioner, fridge and stove, computer and large flat-screen television. Middle Australia may not understand emissions trading but they understand hits to the hip pocket.

When did the Liberals do that, Tom? Not trying to undermine sound policy with a scare campaign, are you Tom? Especially when people are prepared to pay a bit more for less pollution (all the polls say so Tom - read any lately)? Having put Brendan Nelson where he is today, are you really sure you want to take on Malcolm Turnbull?
For these reasons, it would be a mistake for Liberals to embrace a progressive agenda in a political landscape that remains conservative.

Insofar as they were reasons, Tom, and insofar as you ignore the fact that all Australians expect their government to take them forward. People are looking for leadership on environmental issues, and God help us all if only Chris Pyne and Kevin Rudd are providing it.
As Peter Costello argued on these pages recently:

Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear. The time when you could quote the Former Deputy Leader as the final word on anything have passed Tom. Besides, if Costello believes that there's only a carbon reduction scheme between him and the Lodge, do not doubt that he'll weave it into the Liberal tradition somehow.
If Liberals cede the nation's heartland to Rudd, they might as well kiss the next election goodbye.

If? If? It's 2009 and the damage has been done, Tommy old son, and you're proposing to make it worse. This insensate man reminds me of another Tommy from a previous age:
He ain't got no distractions
Can't hear those buzzers and bells
Don't see lights a flashin'
Plays by sense of smell
Always gets a replay
Never tilts at all
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball ...

- from 'Pinball Wizard' by the Who


  1. Oh, the effing Howard battlers again. Especially the Western Sydney Howard battlers.

    It's quite simple to explain the fallacy: many influential journalists and think-tankers are based in Sydney. They like to think they're the centre of the world. So they ascribe to Sydney seats an entirely undeserved significance.

    Of the seats that changed hands in 2007, TWO could plausibly be called 'Sydney seats'. One was Bennelong -- an exceptional circumstance driven, if anything, by Howard's Neolithic stances on immigration earlier in his career, which hurt him with the growing non-Anglo population of his electorate.

    The other is Lindsey -- always ascribed mythic powers by lazy pundits, but atypical. Lindsey lies on the divide between the northwestern suburbs -- full of bible-bashing crucifix-clutching Ned Flanders types -- and the southwestern suburbs -- which are Labor's heartland, and more or less always have been. Sydney's suburbs are not full of hardy tradesmen disillusioned by Keating who threw their lot in with Howard. They are some of the safest seats in the country -- for either Liberal or Labor. Suburban seats, and by extension suburban voters, are generally set in their ways.

    The seats that DID change hands were overwhelmingly 'provincial' seats -- in Queensland, regional Tasmania and the New South Wales provinces. Flynn, not Lindsey, is the defining seat of the Rudd swing.

  2. When Labor wins government, it attracts upper-middle-income voters who might normally be considered Liberal voters (e.g. Bennelong, Longman). When the Liberals win, they attract lower-middle-income voters who might normally be considered Labor voters (e.g. Lindsay, the old Blacktown-centred boundaries of Greenway, and Macarthur which was less Southern Highlands-based than it is now).

    The seats in northern Tasmania have been bellwether marginals since 1975. I agree that it's Queensland that is starting to make its political muscle felt.

    It's easy to amaze people with no memory.

  3. "When the Liberals win, they attract lower-middle-income voters who might normally be considered Labor voters (e.g. Lindsay, the old Blacktown-centred boundaries of Greenway, and Macarthur which was less Southern Highlands-based than it is now)"

    See, I acknowledge that Macarthur was less based in the SH in the past (I should know; I live in the SH and Macarthur), but I'm not quite sure that shifts in blue-collar workers are the explanation.

    There are two towns, Campbelltown and Camden, in close proximity. One is Labor. One is Liberal. The slice of Campbelltown in Macarthur is about equivalent to the slice of Camden. And I suspect that both the median Camden and Campbelltown residents are fairly rusted on in their views. Just as the Western Suburbs shapes Labor's self-image, so places like Camden (in a belt that stretches north from there, up through 'aspirational' suburbs, to arrive in the northwest) shape the Liberals. John Howard WAS Camden.

    So I suspect, and this is just my personal observation of the area, that Macarthur has a relatively small swing vote, whose influence is increased by the fact that so much of the seat is rusted-on. These voters aren't necessarily lower-middle-class, though much of the seat is; I suspect, given large swings in places like Harrington Park (a new planned community, which stands apart from Camden proper) that they're richer, less socially conservative, and although mortgaged to the hilt not exactly the typical conservative beau idol of former Labor voters turned off by Keating's glitziness.

  4. Boundary changes, UW, account for the differences I raised above. Greenway used to be centred on Blacktown, then boundary changes made it a safer Liberal seat by including Windsor and other towns along the Hawkesbury.

    Ironic that well-planned communities vote Liberal and that unplanned, poorly-served sprawl votes Labor, eh.

  5. If the Greens drop the so-called "repellent hippies" in order to chase after the dubious glory of 1 or 2 reps seats, they will go the way of the Democrats, as they will become just like the two majors. They may gain one or two reps seats but lose most of their senate seats, or even all of them.

    Their best long term survival plan is to maintain their points of differentiation and not be poll led populists.

  6. Bonsai politics, an appeal to a base that would have to be content with stunts and so lacking in confident that their impact can be anything but marginal.