Trolling coal: jobs, climate and the Iron Lady

The pre-recorded televised tributes have ended. The street parties are over. In Britain, the outrage that swelled in some quarters over the Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s faux state funeral has died away, leaving in its wake the dull, tedious thrumming of politics as usual. Still, the polarisation of the British people remains, festering beneath the surface. Thatcher’s staunchest defenders remember her as her country’s most important and impactful post-war Prime Minister; her staunchest detractors, as some kind of demonic caricature: a milk thief, an unemployment generator, a life destroyer. Everyone else – particularly those who tend to tack left – has been cast intellectually adrift in their attempts to fairly place in history a woman who shattered the glass ceiling, but in the process laid the popular foundations of the modern economic orthodoxy that so many of us today reject. Like it or lump it: you can’t deny that it’s a Thatcherite world out there today.

One of the often glossed over sticky points for the left on Thatcher’s legacy is of course coal. The Conservative Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan makes the point for the Telegraph:

What I find bewildering is why the mine closures are cited now as evidence of Tory wickedness. No one, with the exceptions of the SWP and the BNP, wants to recreate a state-owned coal industry today. Indeed, the people who complain most bitterly about the pit closures are generally those who are most against burning coal.

It is on this issue that the Greens and indeed a decent swathe of the Labor Party find themselves in rather closer political proximity to the Iron Lady than they might like: in recent years, the Greens have been vociferous opponents of both coal-fired power and investing in clean coal technology at the expense of cleaner and more renewable energy sources. The Greens would in an ideal world like to see all of Australia’s coal-fired power stations closed down, something that the Baroness indirectly took a step or two towards in the United Kingdom in the early 1980’s through her program of mine closures. Admittedly, climate change was not in the forefront of anyone’s mind in those days, but the fact remains that if Thatcher was alive and in power today in Australia, closing coal mines across the country, it could, in a strange twist of fate, be perceived as something like a progressive policy. Imagine that: Christine Milne and Margaret Thatcher, arm-in-arm.

In truth, Thatcher’s closure of the pit mines and the reaction of both the blinkered right and the blinkered left to them shines a light on the violence that the oversimplification of issues can bring to bear on ordinary working people. Daniel Hannan is apparently “bewildered” by the outrage still felt by people, decades after the Conservative Party’s role in shutting down unprofitable mining operations across the country. I find his bewilderment bewildering – but then I am sure that Hannan and many others like him will never know what it is like for whole families and whole communities to lose their livelihoods in one swift stroke. He is, at heart, a Eurosceptic who is nevertheless more at home in Brussels than Sheffield; make of that what you will.

Similarly, when the Greens talk about the “transition” to a low carbon economy, it seems to me that there is potentially a great deal of trauma concealed within that rather unfairly peaceful word. If Australia were to scale back its export of coal to China and India on principle, for example, and to commence the shutdown of its existing coal-driven energy industry, how many thousands of jobs would be lost? How many communities near coal mines and coal-fired power stations would be rent asunder? Are the people who are dependent on coal industry for their livelihoods just to be collateral damage in the nation’s drive towards a low carbon economy, much in the same way that mining communities reaped the whirlwinds of Margaret Thatcher’s war on unions and unprofitability in the 1980’s?

I appreciate that tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs stand to be created in the green energy industry in the coming decades – but clearly, it is not simply going to be a case of governments picking up people working in coal mining and energy jobs and dropping them neatly into green energy jobs, as if they were so many Lego figurines. Communities and brown energy workers will need support from government and industry, including compensation and retraining to help them adapt to the “new energy world” that is to be shaped by the increasingly interventionist role that the Federal Government may play in the energy market in the future. It is this sort of detail that gets lost in the sorts of black and white “coal is evil” or “coal is Australia’s economic future” messages that have tended to emanate from all of Australia’s political parties in recent times.

Can Australia reduce its emissions effectively without unleashing the unsympathetic economic trauma of the like perpetrated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government on mining communities across Britain? Only time will tell, but the signs are not that promising, and the playing field in any case looks set to be flipped end over end all over again come September, creating even more uncertainty.

“Carbon tax” repeal: rhetoric and reality

On 4th April, Tony Abbott spoke to Craig Huth from Max FM in Taree, and was asked about the mechanics of rolling back Labor’s carbon trading plans should the Coalition win government in September. In keeping with party policy on abolishing the scheme, this was the most interesting part of his response:

Some people say, oh but the Labor Party and the Greens will combine to oppose it in the Senate. Well, look Labor wouldn’t be so stupid in my opinion to commit political suicide twice if I may put it that way. If they’ve just lost an election which is a referendum on the carbon tax, they’re hardly going to defy the people twice on this. So, I think the chances of them supporting a carbon tax which has been the cause of their political demise are low, but look, the point I keep making is that when I say there’ll be no carbon tax under the government I lead, I’m fair dinkum Craig and if against all judgment and expectation, the Labor Party is utterly recalcitrant on this, well we’ll take the options available to us under the constitution to resolve the deadlock between the House and the Senate.

Tony Abbott is a man without nuance, and his party’s policy on this issue is wholly emblematic of the man as a politician: lacking nuance to the point of being disingenuous. Whatever happens in the election (which is far from simply “a referendum on the carbon tax”), the current state of the Senate will of course remain as-is until 1st July 2014. The Greens will retain a balance of power, and it is utter nonsense to suggest that they or Labor would simply bend to any incoming Coalition Government’s will, particularly on climate. Memories of the Coalition’s obstructive control of the Senate between 2005 and 2011 are strong in the Labor Party and both Labor and the Greens would relish the idea of returning the favour on such a high profile issue.

Knowing this, Abbott claims that he would immediately seek a double dissolution election if the current Senate declined to yield to a hypothetical incoming Coalition government’s wishes. Really? This would be a high risk strategy, and opens the door for a small-g “green” election fought exclusively on the environment. In this sort of political grudge match, the Greens would stand a good chance of winning a higher proportion of seats in the Senate, as Norman Abjorensen has alluded to. In short, this claim is more bluster than reality, and speaks to Abbott’s inexperience of the practicalities of working with the Senate in a minority government situation. Winning in September – even emphatically – does not necessarily imply that the Coalition would then hold all the cards. In the double dissolution situation the Opposition Leader is supposedly so bloody-minded about triggering, all bets would be off. A famous election victory would amount to little if a hash is made of the next one, which given the gaffe-prone nature of the Coalition’s front bench, would be a serious possibility.

A weighty question mark also remains with respect to how the Senate will be constituted from 1st July 2014, even in the event of a storming Coalition election victory. Antony Green has written a typically exceptional piece on the prospects of the Coalition winning outright control of the Senate if they win in September, in light of the current polling. In short, this seems an unlikely eventuality. The most likely positive scenario for Abbott is that the conservative heartlands of Queensland and Western Australia will offer up additional minor party senators more amenable to working with the Coalition than the Greens and Nick Xenophon. A distinct possibility, but far from a foregone conclusion – and even if that scenario were to materialise, the Coalition would need to wait until July 2014 to set about its demolition work.

In other words, the Coalition’s “plan to abolish the carbon tax” is not so much a plan as an election device. “Tell it like it is” Tony is “telling it like it isn’t” on this issue. The plan itself is impractical and politically unworkable. Arguably, it succeeds in its goal of offering an over-simplistic, easily digestible message to voters: “we’ll get rid it, and if can’t get rid it right away, we’ll upturn the Houses of Parliament to bloody well do it”. This is the sort of pugilistic approach that wins votes and that the near-apocryphal “Lindsay voters” have come to associate with Tony Abbott, but it not the sort of approach that is going to cut the mustard in the corridors of Parliament House should Liberal and National Party arses warm Cabinet benches.

If it comes to the crunch, the smart money suggests that the Coalition’s “plan to abolish the carbon tax” will get tossed out the passenger-side window many hundreds of kilometres before carbon trading does. A hypothetical Abbott Government would much prefer to live on its knees, blaming Labor and the Greens all the way, than stand the risk of dying on the altar of climate change in a double dissolution election.

Whither a comprehensive green product rating system?

Being “green” is not always completely straightforward. I was reminded of this recently upon reading the following message, thoughtfully printed on the outside of my polystyrene foam coffee cup:


Carbon footprint fact: an average weight paper hot cup with a cardboard sleeve requires 47% more energy to produce than a comparable foam cup. www.dart.biz

Apart from inspiring guilt pangs about the rather excellent hookTURN reusable coffee silicone cup I really need to start using again, this little message exemplifies a rather common modern dilemma. Sometimes, in that instant of decision, it’s hard to be as informed as we would like to be about the particular production and energy characteristics of everyday products, services and activities. Just been to a public bathroom? Is it more environmentally friendly to dry your hands using an electric dryer or to use a paper towel? Is recycling that heavy duty plastic container really going to be “greener” than consigning it to landfill, or finding a way to re-use it? In the coffee cup example, conventional wisdom implies that “styrofoam” is one of those ugly, ubiquitous, mass-produced products that is difficult to dispose of and bad for the environment. Clearly in some respects, however, it still may be “greener” than other more fashionable materials.

This problem is particularly apparent in the supermarket, where one is confronted with an often bewildering array of options for even the simplest of product purchases. The three strongest purchase decision determinants for the average supermarket shopper are probably price, branding and for food, the nutritional information printed on the packaging – but I am sure a lot of modern shoppers also consider “green” metrics like the amount and type of product packaging, where the product came from, and the amount of energy they think was used to produce the product. The reckoning process can quite obviously end up being maniacally complex. Even assuming the perceived quality of the actual products are the same (which it often isn’t), our poor average shopper is inevitably forced into making a “least worst” decision. Should we buy the cheap tin of tuna from fish farmed in the other side of the world, the expensive one farmed locally and sustainably, or a mid-range option that just happens to be excessively packaged or produced by a company renowned for dubious ecological practices?

Here in the United Kingdom a rather handy “stoplight” nutritional label tends to be printed on food packaging, indicating what proportion of an adult’s recommended intake of calories, fat, salt, sugar and saturates the product has.


Each pudding contains calories (315, 16%), sugar (40g, 44%), fat (6.1g, 9%), saturates (1.7g, 9%), salt (0.3g, 5%).

I don’t see why an analogous “ecological” label system shouldn’t be developed, indicating (for example) the estimated amount of carbon used to produce the product, a packaging rating indicating the type and amount of packaging the product has, and a sustainability rating indicating to what extent sustainable practices were used in production. One could argue that this would create a bureaucratic nightmare for businesses, especially small and boutique producers. On the other hand, it would also place more power in the hands of consumers, and create a natural market incentive for businesses to keep searching for ways to produce their goods and services in an ultimately “greener” way. And wouldn’t that be a good thing?

The great moral challenge of our generation – junked

The behaviour of the Rudd Government during the last couple of weeks has been, simply put, erratic. There’s been a whole lotta junking going on. The election promise to build 260 new childcare centres in schools has been junked. The Prime Minister’s commitment to hold three, independently regulated debates during the election campaign has been junked. Any further talk from the government regarding a possible federal bill of rights has been – that’s right – junked. And to cap it all off, the policy that Federal Labor framed as its response to the “great moral challenge of our generation”, its carbon pollution reduction scheme or ETS, has been rather ingraciously junked, until 2013 at least.

There are a number of plausible political reasons as to why we are seeing this pattern of behaviour. The first is the fact that this is all happening relatively early in the election year. There is undoubtedly a push from strategists close to the Federal Cabinet to get any bad news the government has out the door now, presumably a good six months from any federal election. Secondly – we are very much in pre-budget territory. It is highly likely that pressure from Treasury and Lindsay Tanner’s Department of Finance and Deregulation has driven the government’s decisions in relation to childcare centres and emissions trading. For various reasons, neither proposal appeared to be going anywhere fast in terms of implementation. This being the case, it obviously didn’t make a great deal of sense for the funding for these proposals to be incorporated into this year’s Budget, which is already comfortably in the red due to the government’s stimulus measures. Thirdly, these announcements have been made during a period when the Rudd Government was finalising the central plank of its re-election strategy for later this year: health reform. Despite the intrastringence of Western Australia’s Barnett Government, Federal Labor came out of the negotiations with the states looking like it has achieved something quite worthwhile. One would imagine that some advisors would be of the view that the good news on health had the capacity to “absorb” a bit of bad news from other quarters, at least as far as the news cycle was concerned.

The government’s decision to delay its emissions trading scheme further may prove to have been a scuttle too far. It looks set to alienate some of its base. I don’t always agree with Paul Kelly, often finding him too dogmatic once he has made up his mind, but I find myself agreeing with a lot of his combative column in today’s Australian:

In truth, Rudd has lost his nerve. This is a political and policy retreat. He says the ETS remains “the most effective and least expensive” means of combating greenhouse gas emissions. His tacticians will call this smart and they may be right. But it betrays a government weak to its core. Understand what this is about: it is giving Rudd a political strategy to maximise his re-election by removing the only mechanism he had to deliver his ETS policy. He has chosen safe politics over policy delivery. Any voter who believed Rudd was genuine about climate change needs to reassess.

The rhetoric from the government – in particular the Prime Minister – has been just too big on this issue for it to be credibly delayed for three years. A good government does not delay its response to the “great moral challenge of our generation” merely because it can not get its legislation through parliament. A good government fights for such a cause using all the legitimate tools of persuasion and negotiation at its disposal, including mechanisms like double dissolution triggers should they prove necessary.

Truthfully, I can abide the other disappointing announcements mentioned above, but on climate change, the Prime Minister has effectively asked its supporters to defend the indefensible. This transcends the question of whether the government has the courage of its convictions – does the Rudd Government really even have the conviction to decisively act on climate change?

Is climate change a burning issue and a call to action, or is it merely a launchpad for rhetorical flourishes?

ELSEWHERE: Even Dennis Shanahan is making sense.

A somewhat belated caveat emptor to you too

Dr Allan Hawke completed his Review of the Administration of the Home Insulation Program on 6th April 2010, and his final report [PDF] was just released to the public, coinciding with the Rudd Government’s decision to terminate its insulation rebate scheme. What is clear from Dr Hawke’s report is that the overriding imperative for a speedy implementation of the program undermined its integrity.

From page 28:

The Early Installation Guidelines required that homeowners arrange a minimum of two quotes and pay their installer upfront. These requirements were intended to generate householder ownership over installer selection and potentially to drive competitive pricing. However, they were dispensed with at the full program launch in July 2009 as they were thought to slow the program and were inconsistent with the stimulus imperative.

And on the following page:

… the lack of an upfront payment and no requirement for quotes (between June and November 2009) meant there was little incentive for householders to take the normal level of responsibility for the quality and performance of the installers.

It certainly sounds as though the Rudd Government’s drive to stimulate the economy actively encouraged the suspension of common sense by homeowners. “Buyer beware”, indeed.

ELSEWHERE: Robert Merkel laments a decent idea gone awry at Larvatus Prodeo.

Tanner on the Greens

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner authored quite an interesting column in The Age yesterday, dredging up one of the most excruciating and ultimately inconclusive debates in Australian leftist politics. What does a vote for the Greens actually achieve? If the Australian Labor Party fails to deliver on the progressive policies hoped for by the broader left, is a vote for the Greens the most sensible option for the modern progressive voter?

Arguably, Tanner’s contribution to the debate is prejudiced; he obviously has some concerns about what an upsurge in support for the Greens would mean for his own federal electorate of Melbourne. If the recent state election results in Tasmania are anything to go by, traditionally Labor-held seats in the inner-city like Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler may be under increased threat at the next federal election due to the increasing support that the Greens stand to attract, particularly in affluent, inner-city areas. He nevertheless raises some fair points. Would it have been better for the environment, overall, if the Greens provided the support necessary to pass the government’s ETS? Even if it is true that the Rudd Government’s scheme as it currently stands is inadequate for reducing emissions to the extent necessary, surely it would have been better to get some well-meaning scheme over the line and then lobby to improve it, than to have no scheme at all?

While I think that Tanner over-eggs his point of view in his article, I think my own point of view, exemplified by membership of the Labor Party, speaks for itself. As Gough Whitlam once intoned, only the impotent are pure. It will be interesting to observe what happens in Tasmania over the coming weeks, but I can only hope for the sake of the environment that the Greens come to their senses and actively seek an alliance with one of the major parties. It is well past time that the Greens started engaging more with its opponents with the aim of producing the best possible compromise result for its supporters, rather than holding out for some impossible, uber-green solution that will never, ever, ever come about.

Just what is Malcolm Turnbull playing at?

As a Labor supporter, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, I prefer Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott as the leader of the Federal Opposition. This is not just because Turnbull agrees with the Labor Party on climate change, and it’s certainly not because Malcolm Turnbull laid bare the ideological chasm between the liberal and conservative wings of his party – a divided and ineffective opposition is in nobody’s interests. However Turnbull, at least on some issues (e.g. climate change, the republic), offered the electorate a glimmer of hope that concrete bipartisan progress was not impossible, and that the nation is capable of moving beyond the one-eyed partisan bickering that characterises our political system, even if just for a moment or two. Turnbull showed promising signs of understanding that the job of an Opposition is not always to oppose; it is to present an alternative vision for the nation and to back that vision up with policy. Sometimes it is better to be constructive. This is a lesson that Kevin Rudd adopted in Opposition to mighty effect, cherry-picking policy from the government whilst magnifying points of differentiation in other areas. Abbott, in contrast, appears to be set on the “oppose for opposition’s sake” approach. Perhaps he should have a bit of a chat to his mate Peter Debnam on that topic.

Despite all this, I am still a bit shocked at how Malcolm Turnbull has behaved since he was defeated in the leadership ballot last week. Immediately after the ballot, Turnbull asserted the following, as Ben Packham reports in the Herald Sun:

“I am not going to run a commentary on Tony Abbott. Lots of people ran commentaries on me when I was leader but I’m going to be more measured in my backbench remarks,” Mr Turnbull said yesterday.

I guess it all depends on what one considers “more measured” to mean, but a week has been proven once again to be a very long time in politics. Today, less than a week after those remarks, Turnbull posted a strident attack on his leader’s position on climate change on his blog, which quite frankly has to be read to be believed:

While a shadow minister, Tony Abbott was never afraid of speaking bluntly in a manner that was at odds with Coalition policy.

So as I am a humble backbencher I am sure he won’t complain if I tell a few home truths about the farce that the Coalition’s policy, or lack of policy, on climate change has descended into.

First, let’s get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money.

To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money.
Somebody has to pay.
So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, “bullshit.” Moreover he knows it.

If Turnbull continues to undermine Abbott’s position in this way, it will lay waste to the Liberal Party. This is, make no mistake, a running commentary on Tony Abbott’s leadership qualities, and it is a commentary that promises to continue well into the New Year. Abbott is already going to find it frightfully difficult to produce a policy on climate change that reduces emissions without significant costs. Even if a so-called “magic pudding” policy is found, it’s hard to imagine it being a dessert that the divided Coalition caucus is going to be happy to eat (insert “just desserts” pun here).

Seriously, how is the Coalition going to be a competitive force if its spurned leader – a media darling – feels able to fearlessly criticise his party’s policies in this way? It is, simply put, unsustainable.

On the Liberal Party, schisms, and curious steampunk machines

In considering how events have played out with respect to the leadership of the Liberal Party, a certain image springs to mind for me. For just a moment, picture the federal party-room of the Liberal Party in your mind’s eye as an elaborate, archaic, steampunk-ish contraption giving off heat and billowing steam, emitting all manner of clanking and wheezing sounds. There’s brass, there’s rust, there’s lint, there’s probably even some asbestos in there somewhere. It is an engine that has survived beyond its time and in some dubious way evolved, with strange, artificial improvements bolted higgledy-piggledy around the exterior. If you squint you might just make out what appears suspiciously to be microchips “growing” under a moist alcove, or what could well be a miniature LED screen replaying the tumultuous events of the last week or so over and over again, on silent repeat. Needless to say, despite the odd snatch of modern bling, this is a machine that doesn’t hum like your new home computer; it sounds kinda like a Datsun that hasn’t been serviced since 1982.

This curious machine has taken all the ingredients generated by the ructions of the last week and spat out a response to the leadership question, but it is the wrong response. A 42-41 decision is hardly a decision, particularly given that three likely Hockey/Turnbull supporters could not vote (Kelly O’Dwyer, Paul Fletcher, Fran Bailey). It doesn’t seem to be the response a majority of the party-room actually wanted. It doesn’t seem to be the response the eventual victor expected. It is, practically speaking, an non-sensical result. I am not sure that it really matters if the Liberal Party primarily blames Turnbull’s virtuoso but unconsultative approach to the CPRS for what they have now, or Hockey’s bizarrely principled vacillation on the precipice of his triumph. Oddly enough, both men proved their mettle and that they were worthy leaders since late last week, but still failed. What matters in the wash-up is that the moderate, liberal arm of the Liberal Party was holding all the cards over the conservatives and indeed had done so for most of the period since November 2007, but in a collective brainfart of truly epic proportions, they’ve managed to trade in all their aces for zippo, in one fell swoop.

The climate change issue has proven to be the most sublime wedge issue imaginable for the Rudd Government. Numbers-wise, the Coalition has been riven effectively right down the centre by the government’s CPRS, with the liberals and conservatives who played so nicely together during the Howard years now at each other’s throats. The marriage of convenience that holds the Coalition together has been ruthlessly exposed by the government as the shemozzle it really is. There is no effective consensus position for the Liberal Party on climate change, and no successful leader to call the shots first and sticky-tape the party together later, like there was during the Howard Government years. Dennis Glover does a fine job in today’s The Australian of spelling out why this issue so lethal for the Coalition, and why the Abbott Opposition needs to work out a credible position on climate change, and fast:

The evening news reports of the retreat of Greenland’s ice caps and the advance of solar power projects across the deserts of California will have far greater electoral effect than any theories Nick Minchin or Andrew Bolt try to sell on Lateline or Insiders.

Even cautious politicians such as Kevin Rudd are helping voters join the dots when the temperature gets above 40C.

For the coming months, a few predictions. I am extremely doubtful that we will see a double dissolution election. The Prime Minister, already sensing he has been gifted the upper hand by the Coalition’s bungling and the public’s goodwill, will not risk the ire of the electorate by pushing for an early climate change election. The Nationals and the Minchinites, having surprisingly emerged victorious with their candidate, are now perhaps just a little unsettled. Their “Anybody But Turnbull” approach has yielded the cut-through candidate that most gels with their own political philosophy, but has arguably as much capacity to polarise the electorate as anyone in the party. I sincerely doubt the Liberal Party pollsters are thrilled by the collected wisdom of the party-room. The first “post-spill” polls that emerge will be very interesting.

The moderates within the Liberal Party, having fielded two not unpopular candidates in the spill but still managed to lose, are now too enfeebled to challenge the leadership result or pursue the matter further. They will not speak up in support of the government’s CPRS. They will have to grit their teeth and mumble the Howard-era lines that they don’t actually believe in until the leadership changes again. Some may even decide to walk away from the party at the 2011 election. The rest of them will be hoping, of course, that their junk-tech party-room machine can, with a hiss and a puff of brackish smoke, spit out the right candidate for a modern Liberal Party the next time that the opportunity presents.

Which, in all likelihood, will be after Tony Abbott loses the next election.

Problem gambler

In my local Cafenatics branch I could not help but notice this excellent cartoon by Joel Tarling, on a free Avant Card:

problem-gambler_joel_cartoon.jpg



From the collection of symbols available on the machine to the name of the machine, I think it’s a very clever piece of work no matter which way you look at it. Personally, I don’t begrudge Peter Garrett his foray into mainstream politics, and despite some recent decisions emerging from his office, I still have faith that he is pushing his point of view at every party room meeting that he can. It goes without saying that if enough people of Garrett’s stripes joined the ALP, the ALP would be a very different beast.

Would he have had a greater impact on Australian politics if he had joined the Greens? Time will tell, and I really don’t think we can say for sure one way or the other just yet.

Is the emissions trading scheme doomed?

After months of earnest assertions to the contrary, the Rudd Government has finally caved in to the pressure and postponed its emissions trading scheme. Although the nation’s worsening economic situation no doubt accounted for a substantial component of that pressure, its certainly fair to say that the government’s backdown represents a political victory for the Opposition. For some time now Malcolm Turnbull has been promoting the postponement cause, and despite the fact that his party has engineered yet another schizophrenic change of mind on the issue, refusing to back the government’s revised approach to emissions-trading even though it owes much to its own, it would appear that he has won this little stoush with the Prime Minister.

Personally, I think there are credible cases that can be made for either side of the debate. It goes without saying that while the economy was getting a pummeling, introducing a new, somewhat risky mechanism that threatened to impact profitability and therefore jobs for thousands of Australians was a politically dubious step to take. While I accept the fact that the climate change science demands swift and effective action, most people (myself included) instinctively feel that a delay of a year or two is probably not going to end life on Earth as we know it. In ideal conditions I would love to see action now, but we are living in far from ideal conditions. The government has already spent billions of dollars during the past nine months, stimulating the economy and sending the country into a significant amount of debt in the process. It must have a serious concern that it commands neither the requisite economic or political capital to launch the emissions-trading scheme during this time of crisis.

On the flip side of the coin, one really does have to question the Rudd Government’s commitment to climate change. The science calls for bold steps, not delays or a pragmatic watering down. I frankly don’t understand why the government has only now decided to cave in to the Opposition on this issue. If it really is the case that the economic situation is so dire that implementing the ETS would be unsustainable, the government should have known this six months ago. When economists the world over were saying six months ago that it is likely going to take over a year to get out of this slump, the government should have been paying attention and started sounding the alarm bells then. Instead, it continued to glibly peddle the line that the ETS would be implemented as scheduled, despite the fact that the global financial system was crumbling all around it. Putting the science aside completely for just a second, we would have to conclude that this exemplifies poor judgement.

While we have an Opposition full of climate change sceptics and opportunists and a government with such a wavering commitment to the issue, it’s hard to be very confident that we are eventually going to get an outcome. At this rate, I would certainly not be putting money on a functioning emissions-trading scheme being implemented in Australia any time soon – whether 2010, 2011 or 2012.