Senator Penny Wong – unfashionable but right?

Senator Penny Wong has an exceptionally erudite column in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that – I think – does a remarkable job of cutting through the crap on both sides of the climate change issue. With all the hubbub in recent weeks about a mooted further government review of the proposed emissions trading scheme, and the Coalition amusingly promising a stronger scheme but declining to outline what that scheme might amount to, one could be forgiven for being confused about what the hell is happening on climate change.

Wong’s column goes some way towards dispelling this. On one front, she mounts a defense of the government’s scheme and the much-publicised low targets:

By starting to reduce our emissions from next year, Australia will be putting a cost on carbon pollution before some competitor economies. We are doing this because we know it is in our interest to take action now and encourage the rest of the world to do the same. But there is no point in putting a cost on carbon pollution in Australia if it simply results in jobs and emissions being exported to countries that do not yet face a carbon price.

And whatever people think about these so-called “big polluters”, the fact remains that many Australians are employed in these industries.

We are embarking on an economic transformation to create the low pollution jobs of the future, but it is a transformation that will take time.

Wong then goes on to reiterate the case for action:

We can do nothing – and lock in more emissions growth. Current projections show emissions would be 20 per cent higher by 2020 than they were in 2000 if we choose not to act.

Alternatively, we can initiate the scheme to ensure we are 5-15 per cent below where we were in 2000 by 2020. The scheme will result in emissions being up to 30 per cent lower in 2020 than if the scheme is rejected. The scale of this transformation cannot be brushed aside.

Make no mistake – Senator Wong has to sail the government’s emissions trading boat on a profoundly tempestuous sea. She and the Rudd Government are facing formidable attacks from the left; the government’s targets certainly seem on first consideration to be pathetically low. The government is also under considerable pressure from conservatives and indeed polluting industries to water down the plan, or to scupper it altogether given the economic crisis that the world still finds itself in. If the nation emerges from all of this political and economic turmoil with a functioning apparatus to reduce emissions – even if it is a little weak to start with – Wong will have done an amazing job.

The first cut is be the deepest. Yeah sure, there was Rod Stewart, but before him, just remember it was Cat Stevens.

ELSEWHERE: Harry Clarke also thinks Penny Wong is on the right track.

Hell’s inferno, thirty minutes away?

Like just about everyone I suspect, I am shocked and disturbed by the bushfires that have wreaked havoc across Victoria over the last few days. The truly apocalyptic pictures that are coming out the worst hit areas beggar belief, as do the heartwrenching stories of those who have survived the tragedy, but lost so much. I also can not help but be dumbstruck by the incongruity of it all, as Armagnac observes:

Melbourne squirms, wringing its wrists, not knowing what to do or how to help, as all around us firestorms are razing houses, removing historical towns from the map and burning people to death.

Sitting in my apartment in Melbourne as the sun slowly sets on a rather crisp, pleasant day in the city, it is hard to believe that all that chaos and destruction is just thirty minutes away. It does not seem fair that this metropolised little world, geographically so close to the chaos, has been spared the terrors or our regional friends and neighbours. Most of us, no doubt, toddled off to our places of work and study today just as any other day, our thoughts drifting, but our immediate concerns still squarely focused on the humdrum of everyday life. If only we could all somehow share out the misery and pain amongst us and lift the burden from those who have completely unfairly borne the brunt.

All we can do is ponder how we can all do our little bit to help. For this camper, that means looking into donating both money and blood.

You can donate money online here at the Red Cross website. I have had some issues getting my payment through today for some reason, but you may have better luck.

Reportedly urgent demand for blood in Victoria has been met following a wonderfully massive public response in the aftermath of the tragedy, but you might also want to consider donating blood.

Channel Nine are also reportedly hosting a fundraising telethon on Thursday night.

Whither Mr. 5%?

It has been a desperately interesting week for the environmental movement and indeed the fortunes of the Rudd Labor Government. On Monday, the Prime Minister delivered a speech at the National Press Club, releasing his government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) white paper into the spotlight. The result was not pretty. The unconditional 5% by 2020 carbon emission reduction target promised by the government was immediately attacked as being a paltry figure, particularly given what the science currently tells us about climate change. Even the government’s proposed 15% carbon emission reduction target for 2020, which is conditional on a global agreement being reached, did not nearly meet the expectations of many observers and environmental activists.

We now have a situation developing where the broader “green” movement in the non-party-political sense of the term may choose to part company with Federal Labor. After its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the Rudd Government was given the benefit of the doubt on environmental issues by many supporters of the Greens and members of the Labor Left. There is little doubt that some Liberal voters have been attracted to the new broom the Rudd Government ushered in on environmental issues immediately after its election; voters who may after this week decide to reconsider where their loyalties lie. Let’s also not forget that there are a number of inner-city marginal seats that Labor may struggle to retain at the next poll if the local Green campaigns are fought primarily on the climate change issue, which is looking increasingly likely.

My own view is that the climate change issue is one that is going to need to be addressed, discussed, and revisited almost perpetually over the course of the coming decades, and that in the immediate term, there is nothing particularly wrong about the initial targets that the government has set. Firstly, it is worth re-iterating that the government’s 5% target refers to a reduction in overall national emissions, without considering population growth. The white paper seems to suggest that this 5% target equates to a per capita reduction of some 27-34% below 2000 levels, and 34-41% below 1990 levels. This seems to compare quite reasonably with the commitments offered by both the United Kingdom and the European Union at the present time. While we might observe say that the per capita reduction numbers are somewhat besides the point with respect to the requirements implied by the climate change science, population growth is something that can not simply be ignored in a policy sense. In essence, significant per capita cuts are going to be required in order to meet the national 5% target. It is not the gimme it appears. It is all very well for folks sitting on the sidelines to demand that the Prime Minister puts Australia out on an economic limb by going bold on climate change and hoping that others will follow; they of course will not be held responsible for the repercussions that follow in an economic sense, and of course an electoral sense when an even more enviro-pragmatic Turnbull Opposition is returned to office in 2010 should the economy be wrecked by the Rudd Government’s actions.

Secondly, the economic outlook is extremely uncertain at the present time. It is little wonder that not a great deal has been achieved in the way of commitments to emissions reduction at the Poznan conference, coming as it does in the midst of a quite severe global economic downturn. What sane government is going to make a commitment to cut carbon emissions massively during a time when the world is on the brink of global recession, and the world’s major polluters are not really even close to coming on board and signing up for a new multilateral deal? What average punter who has just lost their job (an there are an increasing number of them by the month) is going to invite any potential for more imposed self-harm through aggressive government action on the climate change issue?

Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that the 5% target is fundamentally speaking, less than that which the climate change science demands of the Rudd Government (and the rest of the world) at the current time. Unfortunately, there is no realistic sense in which Australia announcing a more aggressive target this week at Poznan was going to “save the world”. This is a problem that does not have any quick and easy solutions. No sweeping hand of any single government has the authority or power to resolve the issues that activists seem to want resolved, and resolved now. We are as a nation and a society are going to go two-steps forward and one-step back on this until momentum gathers further, the imperative to act is even greater, and the stars align in such a fashion that a global deal on carbon emissions is not as intractable as it might appear at first blush.

Is Sydney ready for “congestion” tolling?

NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal handed down his government’s much awaited mini-budget today, and boy has he been hit with a few brick bats in the media. Ross Gittins has effectively panned the mini-budget, commenting that it will “impress no one and win the Rees Government no friends”. One of the most contentious new measures has been a move to introduce a kind of cutdown congestion charge to two of the inner city’s toll roads. Roozendaal outlines the scheme in his budget speech [PDF]:

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Tunnel will become the first motorways in Australia to switch to time-of-day tolling.

The toll on these roads will be a ‘peak’ toll of $4, a ‘shoulder’ peak toll of $3 and an off peak toll of $2.50.

This is the first change to the Harbour crossing tolls in six years.

Mr Speaker, every cent of the extra revenue raised will go to buying new buses.

Despite the fact that this new measure comes in difficult economic times, I honestly think that on balance, it is a welcome step forward. If New South Wales does need more money to invest in public transport (and I don’t think this is in dispute), why not raise it through a new measure that acts as a disincentive to motorists? Why not ask the people who are causing Sydney’s ugly traffic snarls to pay for it? As Roozendaal says, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Tunnel tolls have not changed in six years – if we really are concerned about climate change and decreasing traffic on our roads, then an increase is more than due. It is probably worth adding that the cost of the toll will actually drop by 50c per trip for people who use either tollway in off-peak times.

Predictably, both NRMA President Alan Evans and the NSW Opposition have condemned the congestion tolling concept, but the reasons they give for their opposition seem fairly half-baked. Besides throwing tee-hee slogans like “Nathan ‘Ned Kelly’ Rees”, “daylight robbery” and “highway robbery” out there, Evans’ main argument in opposition to the new measure is that Sydney does not currently have a sturdy enough public transport system for motorists to switch to. This seems to be the line that Barry O’Farrell is pushing as well, with the Opposition Leader suggesting that CityRail can’t cope with any increased utilisation during peak hour. While there is an element of truth to what both Evans and O’Farrell are saying, they are also somewhat missing the point. This new measure is being used to pay for more buses for Sydney. In other words, better public transport. In the current fiscal environment in New South Wales, assuming that we do actually want to improve the state of Sydney’s public transport, I feel that the new congestion tolling regime is quite reasonable.

So am I saying the measure is perfect? Hell no. Anyone who drives around Sydney or has done so over the last decade will know that there are several other key arterial roads that could do with a lot less traffic on them – Victoria Road, Parramatta Road, and the City West Link to name just three. Presumably because these roads do not currently have the infrastructure necessary to support a toll-based congestion charge, the traffic snarls on these three roads will not be going away any time soon – in fact, they may even increase as some drivers change their route in order to avoid the increased tolls. The measure, bound as it is to the Sydney Harbour toll roads, also unfairly targets those who live north of the harbour and work in the CBD or south of it, and vice-versa.

It will be interesting to see if we see the vigorous public objections to this charge that Ross Gittins predicted we would see if a congestion charge was introduced back in 2006. The NSW Government has not gotten a lot right in recent history, but I think it deserves a bit of kudos here for delivering a spot of tough love to motorists and indeed the motoring lobby.

Brendan Nelson and the prisoners’ dilemma

I have not had the opportunity as yet to completely digest the draft Garnaut Report [PDF from SMH], although I have had time to be annoyed that the government feels comfortable basing decisions on predictions of the distant future when it seemingly does not have the ability to predict the demand for downloading a report from its website now. As I type the Garnaut Review website is completely out of commission and seemingly accepting no traffic. One wonders if the entire domain is being relocated to a different network or provider. Whatever is going on, it is a hardly acceptable level of service. People should not be prevented from viewing information disseminated by the government because it did not adequately predict demand for that information.

But on to more material matters. What I have read of the report so far certainly provides food for thought, and by the looks of things, there are quite insightful nuggets of wisdom embedded throughout. What I appreciate about Garnaut’s analysis is his intellectual pragmatism. I have little doubt that his blue-blooded contrarian streak questions whether the devastating potential consequences of climate change will come to fruition. I have little doubt that the imposition of government controls that could serve to damage the economy in the short-term run counter to his natural intuition. Despite all of this, like most of the rest of us who do not immerse themselves in the climate change science literature full-time, Garnaut knows that he has little recourse given the available evidence but to presume that the scientific mainstream is right, or in the very least, not far from. He therefore respects the need for potential short-term pain in order to reduce the likelihood of severe long-term pain. This is an entirely rational approach under the circumstances.This characterisation of the political problem facing the nations of the world from the draft report sums things up fairly well (pp. 12-13):

Effective international action is necessary if the risks of dangerous climate change are to be held to acceptable levels, but deeply problematic. International cooperation is essential for a solution to a global problem. However, such a solution requires the resolution of a genuine prisoners’ dilemma. Each country benefits from a national point of view if it does less of the mitigation itself, and others do more. If all countries act on this basis, without forethought and cooperation, there will be no resolution of the dilemma. We will all judge the outcome, in the fullness of time, to be insufficient and unsatisfactory.

Resolution of the international prisoner’s dilemma takes time—possibly more time than we have. The world has squandered the time that it did have in the 1990s to experiment with various approaches to mitigation.

Climate change is a diabolical policy problem. It is harder than any other issue of high importance that has come before our polity in living memory.

The prisoners’ dilemma, of course, is a well known logical problem that has important applications in mathematics, economics, computing and psychology. In raw economic terms, Australia would be best served in the short-term if all other nations on the planet cut emissions multilaterally, and we were allowed to continue emitting as much carbon as we pleased. Of course, this is not a tack that every nation can afford to take with respect to climate change. If all other nations decide to cut emissions only when the largest polluters except them cut emissions, the world will remain in a state of emission cut deadlock perpetually. This is a scenario that calls out for leaders; for a few select nations to put their hands up and show the rest of the world how it is done.

Brendan Nelson’s populist response to the draft report indicates that he either does not understand this point, does not really accept mainstream scientific opinion, or otherwise (most probably) has decided that there is more to gain politically from opposing any climate change policy that might involve short-term economic pain:

“It will be an act of environmental suicide, an act of economic suicide, if Australia were to be so far in front of the world implementing an ill-considered, not yet properly developed and tested emissions trading scheme if we haven’t got a genuinely global response,” he [Nelson] told journalists.

It would seem that the leader of the Opposition, cast as prisoner in the apocryphal dilemma, would rat on his fellow prisoner in an instant in a ruthless and foolish attempt to try and stay ahead of the pack. Given what we know about the mainstream climate science, Nelson seems to be risking a lot more than five years imprisonment by refusing to give an inch until some of the other nations of the world give a mile. This approach is a continuation of the willingly ignorant purposelessness that characterised the Howard Government’s approach to environmental issues, and I think that most people who give a fig about what is going to happen on this planet over the next few decades will see that.

Tidy towns, applied globally

One thing I have pondered from time to time whilst living in London is to how the air quality compares to that back in Australia. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the situation might be worse over here, but it is only anecdotal. While obviously London is a much larger and busier city than the likes of either Sydney or Melbourne, it’s probably arguable that the major cities in Australia have much more of a car-centric transport culture than the British capital. During his eight year reign as Mayor for London (which only ended a few months ago), Ken Livingstone made a political point of discouraging commuters from driving their cars into the city, most famously and controversially through the introduction of the London congestion charge.

Mercer Human Resource Consulting have recently released their 2007 Quality of Life Report, which if you are feeling extraordinarily affluent and interested you can purchase for $USD 390. The report compares and ranks 380 cities worldwide with respect to 39 separate criteria across 10 categories. Setting aside for a moment the issues associated with having valuable data like this only available to those willing or able to pay, this seems like a report well worth digesting. Fortunately for freeloaders some high-level summary statistics from the report are available free of charge (including the “Top 50”), from which we can glean the following interesting tidbits in relation to health and sanitation rankings:

  • The top ranked Australian city for health and sanitation for 2007 was Adelaide at 35th.
  • Melbourne and Perth tied for 43rd place, with Brisbane coming in at 47th.
  • Sydney came in at 62nd with London following marginally at 63rd.
  • All Canadian cities part of the survey featured in the top 25.
  • Seven cities in the United States were ranked higher than Australia’s highest rating city.
  • Auckland and Wellington came in ahead of any Australian city in joint 18th place.
  • Glasgow is the only city in the United Kingdom to have made the top 50.

Of course these rankings are apparently calculated from a variety of metrics relating to health and sanitation (e.g. hospital and medical services, water and air quality, etc), and not just air pollution, but these comparative rankings are quite interesting regardless. Also of interest is Mercer’s “quality of living” rankings, where patriotically speaking, we must note, Australia performs significantly better.

ELSEWHERE: More in this story from Forbes, which also has an exposè-style photo from each of the worst 25 ranked cities for health and sanitation. Unsurprisingly, most of the worst 25 cities are from third-world nations without strong public health infrastructure or investment patterns.

Is this protectionism or is this investment?

The Rudd Government’s foray into the car manufacturing industry looks set to divide expert commentators. The Australian is already running what seems to be a fairly strong editorial line in opposition to the $35m subsidy granted by the federal government to Toyota towards the development of a hybrid Camry, on the grounds that Toyota was going to fund the development regardless. It goes without saying that your average economist is probably going to be very sceptical that such a grant amounts to much more than rank economic protectionism; an approach that should have been buried last century. On the other hand, one would imagine that the average environmentalist is going to feel generally positive about the grant, which has been matched with another $35m from the Victorian Government.

Philip King’s observations in The Australian exemplify the orthodox economic argument:

There’s only one winner out of the announcement that $35 million will be handed to Toyota to produce a hybrid Camry in Melbourne. It isn’t the Government, the car workers, the environment or the Australian consumer.

It’s Toyota.

It means threats by a senior executive last year that Toyota might quit Australian manufacturing can now be put on hold, for a few years at least.

Beyond that, the dividends look dubious in the extreme. Toyota was on track to make the announcement in a few months anyway and claims it already had the business case sewn up.

I am neither an economist nor an environmentalist in the formal sense, but I am a little sceptical about the real benefit that this grant will bring. By the sounds of things this grant has been made to Toyota effectively as a kind of reward for exhibiting willingness to pursue the development of hybrid technology. It does not seem that Toyota’s work on a hybrid Camry was contingent on receiving the subsidy; it was going to happen anyway. However, now that the company is to receive the subsidy, it has also been burdened with a greater degree of public responsibility with respect to green car development. Toyota is directly receiving funds from taxpayers, and I am sure that the Rudd Government and indeed taxpayers will make it clear that they want something in return for their investment.

This first grant from the Rudd Government’s $500 million Green Car Innovation Fund does represent something of a watershed, and it does fly in the face of the established economic orthodoxy. It will make the usual suspects angry as a result, but I am not sure we can seriously expect a workable alliance to be built on climate change issues without some give from both industry and the taxpayer. That this grant also represents a pork barrel salve for Australia’s slowly dying car manufacturing industry is perhaps too politically convenient for Federal Labor for comfort, but the mere fact that this is an economically unorthodox step does not mean it is a misstep. Over the coming days, I expect that we will see a number of conservative economic pundits make the mistake of rebutting the rationale for the grant based on a dogmatic argument rather than a reality-based argument.

Of uranium and guestbooks

I have to admit that while I think the humble guestbook is a neat way of annotating the worth of a museum or gallery exhibition to its visitors, for whatever reason I very rarely leave a comment when I visit one. Perhaps part of the reason why is that when it comes to summarising my thoughts, I am simply unable to reduce what I think and feel to a single sentence or two. I am not sure if that is more a failing or more a virtue. It is a failing, of course, because a certain crucial aspect of the skill of using language is being succinct. The writing of folks like who make a virtue of their prolixity aside (e.g. take for example Marcel Proust), it is usually better to use ten good words rather than one-hundred sloppy words to get across what you are trying to say. On the other hand, it is a virtue, because I am sceptical of the notion that your average guestbook comment provides anything more than a virtually content-free expression of either “it was good” or “it was bad”.

It is with these thoughts in mind that as someone who writes and is a bit of an armchair student of language in public life, I thought that this comment left by Kevin Rudd in the guestbook of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was beautifully phrased:

“Let the world resolve afresh, from the ashes of this city – to work together for a common mission of peace for this Asia-Pacific century and for a world where one day nuclear weapons are no more.”

Not only does this single sentence express a clear abhorrence for nuclear weapons, but it also gracefully alludes to a point often implied but rarely talked about explicitly in the mainstream media: the spheres of power in the global political economy are set to shift quite dramatically in the coming decades. Thanks to the growing might of China and India and also the importance of Indonesia, Asia is indeed looking set to be the most dynamic and influential arena for political and economic debate amongst the nations of the world in the 21st century. The era when Europe and the United States dominated the political and economic affairs of the globe is not precisely over, but it does look set to ebb.

The statement also ties in neatly with the Prime Minister’s bold announcement for a new International Commission of Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Although the government has been criticised in the media of late for going committee and commission crazy since assuming office, there is little doubting that new frameworks for international co-operation are required in order to progress debate beyond the status quo on nuclear disarmament that currently exists. One would also hope that the government works to ensure that its position on uranium trade does not serve to fatally undermine its good will in establishing this commission. We must remember that it is easy politics to establish commissions; whether or not the government has done the right thing will depend on whether the commission achieves anything of worth. The outcome is what, at the end of the day, we should judge, not just the intention.

UPDATE: From this report, it seems that the commission’s goal will be to deliver a report to a conference of experts in the field in 2009, before serving as input to the planned 2010 review of the NPT.

Earth Hour and dumbass contrarianism

As an Australian I am sort of proud that the Earth Hour event has now taken off all over the world. Practically speaking of course I am not sure the event achieves all that much, but if it continues as an annual event it will serve as a potent global reminder of the importance of tackling climate change issues. I think its interesting that folks like Matthew Warren at The Australian and of course perennial climate change sceptic Tim Blair have quickly jumped back on the contrarian bandwagon. Unfortunately, the event embodies enough symbolistic bonhomie to attract satire and ridicule from anyone with a bone to pick with either the mainstream acceptance of the climate change science or symbolism in politics more generally. There is a target on its back as wide as a barn because of the way it is framed.

I suppose a slightly broader question is whether events like this are really worthwhile, when all things are considered. Regular readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to hear that I think they are, although I think its healthy to temper one’s view of symbolic events like Earth Hour with a dose of scepticism. I think the positives we can take out of Earth Hour mostly relate to increasing public awareness of climate change issues, and the marketing of environmental issues more broadly as being somewhat relevant to us all. Any reduction in overall carbon emissions resulting from Earth Hour is of course likely to be on the inconsequential side of things, as several critics pointed out in relation to last year’s inaugural event. However, critics who focus entirely on the raw carbon emission reduction from the event are missing the point. The event provides an avenue to people who ordinarily would not give two hoots about climate change issues to be part of something bigger themselves and make a small difference. Many people now doubt see that powerful corporations and other Australians they respect and admire are taking the event seriously, and decide to participate, or in the very least, think a little bit more for a moment about what climate change may eventually mean for the planet.

The professionalism and success of the campaign is an interesting contrast to the sheer juvenilia exhibited by some climate change science deniers. But then for some of these people, “denier” is too strong a word; they haven’t bothered to engage with the science, and only seem interested in letting off some steam with some faux-cool contrarianism. These guys are to climate change issues what kids taking mobile phone pictures up women’s skirts are to clothes shopping. Offensive, irrelevant, and just plain pathetic.

UPDATE: Tim Blair’s entirely predictable and brain-free snark in response to this post is here. I feel gratified to be the target of a re-run of the “Al Gore catches a lot of planes” gag. Maybe it is a summer programming thing over there – who knows?

Throwing the uranium out with the bathwater

The Coalition’s enthusiasm for pursuing nuclear power solutions for Australia apparently dropped off quite rapidly after the departure of the former Prime Minister; although we have only started to hear about it now. Despite no associated media statement being released at the time, Chris Hammer reports in The Age today that the decision to junk the Coalition’s approach to nuclear power was made at a shadow cabinet meeting in December last year. Shadow Environment spokesperson Greg Hunt now suggests that there is “zero chance” of a nuclear power industry emerging in Australia within the next 40 years. Needless to say, it is very interesting that an election result apparently has the capacity to change a partyroom’s mind on a policy so profoundly. Particularly one which the election was not widely perceived to be a referendum on.

Unfortunately for the Opposition, its new “stance” on nuclear power appears riddled with ambiguity and is ripe for attack from the government. Consider this thoroughly non-sensical sentence attributed to a spokesperson for Doctor Nelson, attempting to summarise the Coalition’s revised approach to nuclear power issues:

Yesterday a spokesman for Dr Nelson said: “Coalition policy is to investigate the possibility of nuclear energy, but it is not part of our policy. If it were to occur, it would only occur in a bipartisan way.”

A translation would seem to be required. The message from the Coalition seems to be that they are interested in investigating the possibility of nuclear energy, but no, of course they would never actually pursue the development of a nuclear power industry in this country. No, sir. They are just interested in investigating it. Unless of course, the Rudd Government decides to embrace nuclear power, in which case they would be happy to hop on board for the ride, as they have done on industrial relations, the Kyoto Protocol, apologising to the stolen generations, and so on, over the course of the last couple of months.

The Nelson Opposition has once again been caught junking a seemingly unpopular policy, without actually thinking too much about what its new approach or direction in that area is going to be. This latest sabotage of the Howard team platform adds further credence to the snowballing public perception that the Coalition has not a clue what it stands for anymore, now that its former leadership team are mostly now on the backbenches or else out of parliament. It needs some direction and fast, before the Rudd Government starts feeling like the comfy old pair of slippers that the Howard Government became for so many ordinary voters out there.