No-one should doubt the political potency of the climate change issue. Malcolm Turnbull’s demise came as a direct result of the bi-partisan agreement on an ETS negotiated between Ian Macfarlane and Penny Wong in 2009. In a three-way contest Joe Hockey was expected to win in a landslide, but he was eliminated in the first round of voting.
So what went wrong for Joe?
Yesterday, Mr Hockey was demanding a free vote to decide Coalition policy on climate change early next year, if he were to agree to take on the leadership.
That angered right-wing Liberal powerbrokers and prompted Mr Abbott to stay in the race for the top job.
It’s worth noting, as I did in the post Political thuggery and climate change that it was Abbott and Nick Minchin who told Turnbull he could only keep his job if he changed his stance on the CPRS. Also that Andrew Robb’s actions were described by Hockey as “the worst act of political treachery I have seen in twenty years of politics” and by Turnbull as “an act of almost inconceivable treachery and dishonesty”.
Rudd’s dumping of the CPRS in April 2010 was followed by a sharp fall in Rudd’s approval rating and party voting intentions. As I pointed out in Rudd, Gillard, the CPRS and public opinion the notion that Rudd was talked out of doing something about climate change by Gillard and Swan does not hold up. Rudd was dithering and unapproachable on the issue. When he called a meeting to discuss the issue his view was to leave an ETS until broad international agreement was achieved. Gillard wanted to wait for a return of bipartisanship with the LNP. Rudd decided to do it his way.
Climate change was nominated by Gillard as one of three policy areas where the Government had lost its way.
Recently Mark Textor said that a politician can survive breaching trust once, but not twice. Gillard’s change of position on carbon pricing after the 2010 election was arguably her second, her first being the way she came to power. It’s public perception that matters here rather than substance.
After announcing the intention to introduce carbon pricing early in 2011 Labor plummeted in the polls and never recovered although an upward trend emerged after the ETS was introduced in July 2012 until the end of the year.
The ETS was a signal achievement for the Gillard Government. Tony Windsor thinks no-one else could have done it in the prevailing circumstances. Rudd needs to build on that achievement. Any perception that he is going soft on the issue would be a negative politically.
Rudd has indicated that he would like to move earlier to a trading system rather that a fixed price. He has enphasised that he needs to consult and look at the budget implications. The proposal would be to move to a market-based system rather than a fixed price in July 2014 instead of July 2015.
When this was proposed to Gillard, she said it was in the too hard basket politically. The Greens and the indies would have to agree. She’s right. There is effectively no chance of effecting such a change by recalling parliament before the election.
Today in the AFR Laura Tingle tells us that Combet says such a change would be possible, but not easy. There would have to be negotiations with the EU and many commercial contracts are written assuming a three-year fixed price. The budget implications are thought to be about $4 billion for 2014-2015.
The big worry to my mind is that Rudd might cut back on some of the complementary effort to save funds thus relying unduly on carbon pricing.
In recent times Gillard defended her flip on the ETS as the right thing to do and in sync with Coalition policies under Howard to which Abbott was party. She might have pointed also to his history as a human weathervane on climate change an other policies (see the transcript of the Oakes interview posted by tigtog at Hoyden and cross-posted at LP).
Recently in the Senate I heard that 150,000 jobs had been created by the introduction of the ETS. Christine Milne understands that it is about economic transformation rather than just climate change. This was reflected in the full suite of Greg Combet’s general industry responsibilities. In the new Rudd ministry (story here) climate change has rejoined responsibility for the environment with Mark Butler in charge.
Elsewhere Graham Readfearn has a post Can Kevin Rudd protect Australia’s climate change crediblity?. Towards the end he mentions that “Abbott leads a party with several climate science denialists in its ranks…” He’s being generous, surely.
On the weekend John Davidson sent me a discussion starter on what Kevin Rudd should do before the election on climate action policy. Please find it reproduced below.
WHAT SHOULD KEVIN RUDD DO ABOUT CLIMATE ACTION BEFORE THE ELECTION?
It is worth remembering that Kevin Rudd started plummeting in the polls when he ditched the CPRS. To my mind dumping the CPRS was a good move, partly because I believe there are much better ways to reduce emissions than putting a price on carbon and partly because it was too complex to understand and sell in the face of the Barnaby and Tony show.
However, the real problem was that the CPRS was ditched without any sign of it being replaced it with another climate action plan. This was too hard for the voters to take from a leader who claimed that climate change was the great moral challenge of our time.
So what should Rudd do about climate action leading up to the election?
Firstly, what Rudd shouldn’t do is anything that can be interpreted as diluting the carbon tax. All the lies Abbott has told about the carbon tax can be used to help build up a picture of an opposition leader that has a chronic honesty problem over a whole range of topics.
Secondly, Rudd should make some simple moves that reinforce his commitment to climate action. Kevin raised the RET renewable target when he got into power the last time. Raising the RET target again would be a good way of signalling a commitment to climate action and recognition that the RET emissions trading scheme that has been an effective driver of the clean-up of electricity that doesn’t cause the dramatic price rises associated with simple carbon price schemes.
It would also be easy to raise short term emission reduction targets in conjunction with the medium term target, preferably backed up with some ideas that would help such targets to be met.
What else? Some time in the next term I would like Rudd to commit to something like the BZE Stationary Energy Plan (pdf). This project would stimulate our economy at a time when it looks like it will need stimulation as well as converting our power supply to zero emissions. However, it would be brave to start sprouting complex projects like this between now and the election.
What do you think Rudd should and should not do between now and the election?