Abbott faces fallout from Gillard's Big Week


'Julia's Big Week' by Chris JohnstonSo 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 find myself supporting the Labor-Green compromise bills passed last week. I guess I have, like both Gillard and the Greens, moved on from my earlier views.

When I wrote my book I was seeking to contribute to an urgent process of public education on the need for Australia to do something real about climate change. I saw the public discourse in 2009 infected by spin and hypocrisy. It was going nowhere.

Since the 2010 election, I see Labor, the Greens and Independents working together to get good laws passed. The first steps in reform are the hardest, and it can only get better from here. Full marks to Gillard, once she had decided to change course, for staying the new course resolutely.

Astutely, Gilllard and Combet framed the challenge unthreateningly as being about economic reform, moving to a clean energy future, harnessing the latest technologies, and keeping Australia competitive in a fast-advancing changing world economy.

Labor thus pressed 'hope' buttons and steered debate away from the 'fear' buttons the Coalition and shock-jocks were pushing. Gillard, in her stoic way, supported Combet, Wayne Swan and Penny Wong in making these reforms seem unthreatening, fairly painless, even boring. Some union figures (such as Tony Maher of CFMEU, at the National Press Club on 12 October) gave level-headed support.

As Australia moves into the new carbon pricing environment and the sky does not fall in, the wisdom of this calming strategy will become more apparent. Wiser industry heads already are welcoming the greater certainty of business settings. I believe voters may follow.

Abbott will then face a worsening dilemma. If he continues to rage about his 'blood pledge' to revoke the laws, he will alienate industry groups that now want stability above all. But if he goes quiet, he will validate Labor's portrayal of him as a cynical opportunist who stands for nothing but gaining power.

Abbott's style of political opposition, which may yet win him the prime ministership, has in my view damaged the civility of Australian public life. There are two parallel universes in the parliamentary chamber that seem no longer to meet except in gladiatorial contest. There is hardly any sense of a common pursuit of the national interest, and a fading recognition of the integrity of those opposite.

Can our polity recover from this? Or could this bare-knuckles style of politics finally turn off the mass electorate? Could the more civil figure of Turnbull ever regain the Liberal leadership, if Abbott continues as now? It seems to me that these are all quite open questions now.

I see Australia's main policy challenges now as interconnected: re-tooling our economy and society for a safer energy and climate future; the deflationary impact of GFC Phase 2 if European and US policy failures depress the global economy again; spreading the fruits of the Australian resources boom equitably, and stopping it from hollowing out our manufacturing, retail and small business economy; the role of higher mining taxes and a sovereign wealth fund in this effort; maintaining Australia's security and the good opinion of our Asian neighbours in the evolving balance of global power; treating refugees with love and respect no matter what their race or faith or means of arrival.

It will take great wisdom, and a return to civility in our politics, if Australia is to face these challenges successfully. Last week's votes on the energy bills may be the beginning. 

Tony KevinTony Kevin is the author of Crunch Time, a book exploring Australia's inadequate policy responses to the climate change crisis.

Topic tags: Tony Kevin, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Greg Combet, Carbon tax, Climate chane



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Existing comments

The whole carbon tax frenzy is a con. Having returned from China I can assure you that carbon taxes are the furthest thing on the minds of the Chinese. The carbon tax lies in the area of delusion built on a supposed 'consensus' which eminent scientists disagree with and provide evidence for. I will never vote for Labor because of their dishonesty - a lie is lie in the end - and their manic raging push for this 'grab money' tax.
Skye | 17 October 2011

This article appears to be an attempt to pass Julia Gillard, the leftists and the global warning (or climate change) Alarmists as great do-gooders and Tony Abbott as a man with no principles.

It is purely a party political piece and it pleases Tony Kevin in his support of an unprovable "end of the world-sky is falling" scenario.

Faith in God should be enough to know that mankind is not destroying itself by climate change when so many factors, many unknown yet, contribute to the climate of Earth and only God knows when the end of the world will come.

I'd prefer Tony Abbott any day compared to the likes of Julia Gillard, her comrades and the Godless greens. Gillard and company support baby-killing, contraception and the wrecking of the one true traditional marriage of one man and one woman.

Whenever Labor gets into power, the poor get poorer, in fact nearly everyone seems to get poorer in some respect and gives into rationalism, or the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of human reason. Here human reason is made the measure and sum of truth. Hence we have individual, social, and political Rationalism, the corrupt fountainhead of liberalist principles [which are]: absolute worship, the supremacy of the State, secular education repudiating any connection with religion, marriage sanctioned and legitimatized by the State alone, etc; in one word, which synthesizes all, we have Secularization, which denies religion any active intervention in the concerns of public and of private life, whatever they be. This is veritable social atheism.

These evil results grow in volume from day to day because of the utter impossibility of finding anything like a safe remedy to cure the ills of society, and this in spite of all the efforts of politicians and statesmen whose work has come to naught if it has not unfortunately tended to aggravate the very evils they tried to overcome. Conditions have become increasingly worse because the fears of the people are being constantly played upon by the ever-present menace of new awful scenarios, likely to be more frightful and destructive than any which have preceded them. Whence it is that the nations of today live in a state of a very worrying flux which is scarcely better than war itself, a condition which tends to exhaust national finances, to waste the flower of youth, to muddy and poison the very fountainheads of life, physical, intellectual, religious, and moral.

It is time to return to the Social Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ and try to save our souls from the fires of Hell.

Trent | 17 October 2011

Tony Kevin admits that he may have overcooked the climate change crisis in his book Crunch Time. Good on him! I'm reminded of the distinction made by Thomist philosophers when confronted by contradictions in some of Aquinas' philosophical opinions. Opinion of Thomas as a young teacher - I agree. Opinion of Thomas as an experienced teacher - I disagree.

The person who never changed his mind never changed anything.

What amazes me about the scientific debate concerning climate change is that miraculously everyone is suddenly a scientific genius.
Except occasionally when someone will say: "The science is crap."
How can one engage in a conversation with such a person?

But even if one prudently accepts the possible dangers of man-made "global warming" - a technical term in itself - what can be done about it? Nationally? Internationally? Immediately? Further down the track?

The answers to these five questions require persistent enquiry and research by the best brains in the scientific, economic and industrial community.

The media has a role to play in informing us about the results. However its preoccupation with conflict and boo-boos makes it highly unlikely that "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" will be promulgated.

Uncle Pat | 17 October 2011

As a catholic I find it very judgemental to accuse Julia Gillard of "lieing". You need to know what was in her mind when she said it. Did she say it knowing at the time that she would then say the opposite later. Only Julia Gillard knows the answer but we should not be judging her as we do not know.... She has always said she wanted a price on carbon and that is what she is doing. Initially a tax (a change of mind to acheive the end requirement) then in 2015 a price. Seems a good way to achieve what she has always said she wanted.

Tony a good article. Thanks.
Patrick S | 17 October 2011

There are some from the chattering class whose names immediately convey what side they will take in any political,social or moral argument. Philip Adams, David Marr, Andrew Bolt, Tony Kevin and Tony Jones come to mind. Consequently their suffocating prejudices are harmless because they write and speak just what we expect. This aticle is a perfect example.
grebo | 17 October 2011

A lie is a lie!
Bill Barry | 17 October 2011

Great article Tony! I think your optimism has infected me. Maybe this really is the start of the turn where Australians realise we are materially blessed beyond any peoples who have ever walked the earth and the consequent responsibilities incumbent upon us. Next step would be ending nasty, narrow, shallow and destructive carping in both Federal politics and in suburbia and instead thanking God for His great bounty to us. Australian leadership is needed in addressing climate change but also in promoting equitable wealth distribution within our country and a ensuring compassionate welcome to refugees desperately seeking our support.
Mark | 17 October 2011

I am very pleased that the climate change bill was passed, and also that asylim seekers bill wasn,t. We need to get some humanity into this issue.
JennyMartin | 17 October 2011

As 95% of the relevant scientists tell us that we have a problem and it's serious, we ought to take notice.
Geoff | 17 October 2011

Great. Please get this article into the main media and please don't let Murdoch's team be the ones who run this country.
fransje | 17 October 2011

You are right, Tony, and Patrick S. Julia Gillard was not lying. She was making promises about what she would do when and if she won the election. She didn't win, not in her own right. She needed support from others, and the promises had to be negotiated with them.

Trent speaks of "an unprovable 'end of the world — sky is falling' scenario". As well as being exaggerated, this is silly. Any prediction, especially one about such a complex matter, must be unprovable. That's the nature of predictions. It's also the nature of science.It is impossible to prove that you will get drowned if you go to sleep in a creek bed when you see that there's a big storm coming, but you don't do it. You take precautions, even if it costs you money.
Gavan Breen | 17 October 2011

Pity they spoilt it though by still insisting they could traffic humans for politics.
Marilyn Shepherd | 17 October 2011

As Piers Akerman wrote in his article (It's certainty: carbon tax is political death) "The carbon dioxide tax is coming, the mining tax is coming, the boats are coming - and Labor is going" Good bye Labor and Greens - Welcome Tony Abbott
Ron Cini | 17 October 2011

I find it very difficult to reconcile some of the moral stance taken by both parties at times with Christian principles. That people contribute an opinion is free speech and that is fine but to think for a moment that this paradigm has delivered anything at all for Australia with its mixed up Independents, Greens and the ALP (who are quite obviously not united) are governing - or will - in an efficient manner is just wishful thinking. I never thought Tony Abbott would get this close - and I can only imagine he would be doing somewhat better than what is currently being dished up out of Canberra.

If Tony Kevin seriously believes that Julia Gillard is delivering well, then I cannot see a great future for Australia! Still! Free speech is a great thing. Just don't agree and neither do the majority of Australians whose opinion is as valid as yours.
Jacki | 17 October 2011

Piers, you believe Piers? How strange that you would admit it.
Marilyn Shepherd | 17 October 2011

Yes Marilyn, Piers express my view on what is good for Australia. We are not socialists. I am also a loyal Catholic like Tony Abbott
Ron Cini | 17 October 2011

Tony Kevin has the courage to tell us that he changed his mind after reviewing the evidence. That's probably more than we can expect from Skye, Trent, Ron Cini or Piers Ackerman whose positions seems to be 'don't confuse me with facts, I've made up my mind'.
Ginger Meggs | 17 October 2011

I am surprised to hear that someone writing to a christian publication would imply that just because we have only 2% of the worlds child molesters we shouldnt do anything about protecting children - in fact the environmental consequences of doing nothing to prevent global warming are worse than anything apart form a nuclear holocaust- regarding his claim that there is no support for concensus - isnt 95% of worlds scientists close enough - furthermore all the argumnents put up by deniers have been are refuted at SKEPTICAL SCIENCE ) look up the www)

Finally how does Abbott switching from earlier support for a carbon tax
compare with the pm's lies?
tognetti | 17 October 2011

Patricks - 'As a catholic I find it very judgemental to accuse Julia Gillard of "lieing".'

One can recognise a lie without judging the person. I can recognise that Julia Gillard told a lie. I do not judge her soul. That is up to God. But in the ordinary world when politicians, judges, marriage partners, priests and anyone lies, an injury in done to the person being lied to.
Skye | 18 October 2011

Reading comments here I find it hard to believe that intelligent people still cling to the 'Gillard lied' rationale for rejecting her decision to work with Independents and Greens to achieve an outcome approved by all parties at some time in the last two decades. Promotion of the 'lie' notion came from Tony Abbott, self confessed liar and one time supporter of action on climate change with an outright carbon tax. He is now willing to undermine our economy by bringing huge uncertainty to power producers.
Patricia WA | 18 October 2011

Tony, thank you for the insightful article. I felt some optimism until I started to read the comments from your early correspondents. I despair at the state of our politics generally. While Tony Abbott is unabashed about seeking power for power's sake, I wonder at others in Coalition ranks who for the sake of power are prepared to set aside all principle on issues like climate change. How does Greg Hunt reconcile his support of 'direct action' and repealing the carbon tax with what he knows are the imperatives of acting on climate change. Are all Liberals prepared to go to the next election to seek a mandate to roll back action on climate change? The negativity of Opposition infects all discussions about issues of national importance.
Kate | 18 October 2011

Thanks for all comments. Can I just clarify. My views on the accuracy and urgency of the climate science referenced and summarised in Crunch Time have not changed since it was published. What has changed since my book is that - like the Greens and Independents - I now support the political agenda that was agreed between Labor, the Greens and the Independents after the 2010 election. At the level of practical achievable politics, Australia must start somewhere. It is in that sense that I am now struck by the fundamentalism of some parts of my book.
tony kevin | 18 October 2011

The question is: With a magazine 95% filled with rounds, would one happily play Russian Roulette? The same plausible ideologues, lionised by Akerman and Bolt (and whom even the elder Bush would not touch with a barge pole), led the charge into Iraq by a large part of the Anglophone West. So who (other than Abbot) wants to risk letting them loose again for an "experiment" on a truly global scale?
FG | 18 October 2011

Dear Bill Barry, Do you see a comparison with Howard's "non-core promises? Congratulations to our courageous P.M.
Mary Maraz | 18 October 2011

Tony Kevin's thinking is based on the disputed (by many scientists such as Bob Carter, Ian Limer and David Evans)) premise that human CO2 greenhouse emissions are the major cause of global warming/climate change. Natural causes are at work here as well! Whilst 95 per cent of scientists (including the so called deniers & sceptics) agree that global warming is happening (at least moderately), that CO2 is a minor greenhouse gas (water vapour is far more significant), that humans have added CO2 to the atmosphere), 30% or more of them (refer to Bob Carter's book 'The Counter Consensus)') are not convinced that human CO2 is the prime or even a major cause. Dr David Evans, formerly of the Dept of Climate Change, says that the latest empirical evidence does not support the theory of AGW!
Gerard Tonks | 19 October 2011

Why don't the people who can't get past the "liar, liar" rhetoric ever criticise John Howard for his "non core" promises? At the very least it is inconsistent. I won't take that theme any further. By the way, I did not have a problem with Howard breaking his "non core" promises. I recall the situation had changed since the election and he was within his rights to modify his actions.
Brett | 20 October 2011

I share your hope, but not your optimism...
Too much damage has been done to public discourse IMO. Even tertiary educated people see issues as black-and-white, and the mainstream media has cemented conflict-as-entertainment in stone. And as we can see from the comments here, public discourse is not about the issues - it's more about being nasty in a way that people never would be f2f down at the pub, the water-cooler, round the kitchen table or at a BBQ.

Thank heavens for Eureka, Inside Story and Crikey where (as long as we don't read the comments) at least we can read intelligent analysis.

PS I wish some of our political leaders would read Walking the Camino... perhaps it might inspire them to reflect a little about what's really important...
Lisa Hill | 21 October 2011

Thanks for a good, well reasoned article Tony. Funnily enough in response to "Skye" I have read that the Chinese are taking some action regarding climate change. Also most scientists are of the view that climate change is probably man made. I can't think of any reputable scientists who differ. I well understand that people like "Skye" will never believe the reality of climate change, my comments are to assure "Skye" that he/she is wrong and proven wrong where it counts. I am greatly unimpressed with this Liberal voter.
Martyn Smith | 21 October 2011

Thanks Tony for your thoughtful article.

Your point about the practical small steps that have to be made to bring about change in a political context is well taken. "One small step for Julia Gillard. A great leap for the planet".

In response to Ron Cini. You may well think Tony Abbott is a loyal Catholic. His position on refugees ("turn the boats around") and and his dishonest campaign against the price on carbon makes me ashamed to be a Catholic and an Australian.

Tony W | 23 October 2011


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