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Abbott faces fallout from Gillard's Big Week

  • 17 October 2011

So it is done. What Rudd and Turnbull couldn't achieve as party leaders in 2008–2009, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet last week achieved, in the face of implacable opposition from Tony Abbott and a well-funded, climate change denialist, do-nothing lobby.

It took courage and political skill to bring this off. And it may yet cost Gillard dearly. Abbott has so comprehensively poisoned the wells of public discourse on climate change that Labor could lose government over this in 2013. But I hope these newly passed bills will mark a turning of the tide.

Gillard decided after the 2010 election to turn the crisis of a hung Parliament into an opportunity to move forward with the Greens and Independents, to gain policy outcomes that Rudd could not achieve when he had a lower house majority.

The Greens in the Senate would not then support Rudd's halfway-house to climate change reform. So Rudd tried to go forward with the like-minded Turnbull. As a result, first Turnbull, then Rudd lost their party leaderships.

Abbott has convinced many voters that Gillard betrayed her pre-2010 election pledge not to pursue carbon pricing. I regard it more charitably as an electoral promise that was overtaken by an election outcome. As a person who takes seriously climate science's prognosis of disruptive anthropogenic global warming, I see this outcome as a blessing.

It is ironic that the Greens now support a halfway-house reform not too different from Rudd's CPRS which they refused to support in 2009. Rudd may well rue the unfairness of this. But that's politics.

The fact is that Rudd, Gillard and the Greens have been on a learning curve since 2008 as to what is achievable in Australia and over what timescales. For my own part, when I look back now over my book Crunch Time I am struck by the fundamentalism of parts of it.

Influenced by the views of climate scientist James Hansen, I wrote that emissions trading would not achieve results quickly enough; that international emissions trading with poor countries would inevitably be corrupted and ineffective; and that only a massive program of direct government investment in national grid conversion to renewable energy would meet the needs of the day.

Now, I