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The Australian’s Paul Kelly: the surreptitious climate denier, ahem, delayer

February 24, 2010

So Paul Kelly, one of Australia’s most respected political journalists, had this all-too-cunning bit of analysis in The Australian’s Op-Ed page today. Paul says that:

THE Rudd government stares down the gun barrel of one of the greatest policy and political retreats of the past generation that confounds its election strategy and its policy credibility.

And why? Three pieces of justification. One:

“Cap and trade in America is dead, the idea is completely dead,” says Chicago-based economist, David Hale. “The Democrats in the coal-burning states have effectively vetoed a cap-and-trade scheme and Republican gains in the mid-term congressional elections will only make it even more improbable. Cap and trade has been totally submerged in America’s economic problems and unemployment near 10 per cent.”

Actually, Paul, that’s overstating the case. It’s probably not going to happen in 2010. But, that’s differet to “completely dead”, in the never-to-be-again-among-the-living sense – i.e. in terms of the ACTUAL MEANING of the word!

As I’ve argued before, it’s definitely coming, it’s just a question of when and how well the White House can improve it’s powers of persuasion. 

Two: Australian Industry Goup’s lobbyist-in-chief, and completely impartial expert, Heather Ridout, says:

“I think the political consensus on climate change both domestically and internationally is now fractured,” Ridout tells The Australian. “The emissions trading scheme is on life support. Copenhagen fell well short of expectations.”

Enough said.

And Three:

The Rudd government is stranded without any apparent game plan on its most important first-term policy… It is rare for a national government to face this predicament in its first term. Labor seems unable to abandon its ETS yet unable to champion its ETS; it cannot tolerate the ignominy of policy retreat yet cannot declare it will take its beliefs to a double-dissolution election; it remains pledged to its ETS yet cannot fathom how to make its ETS the law of the land. Such uncertainties are understandable, yet they are dangerously debilitating for any government. In such a rapidly shifting policy and political climate, even fallback positions risk being rendered obsolete. As Ridout says, the way forward is not clear.

Why don’t you and Heather Ridout get a room. But, OK, in general that part is fair.

In sum, he suggests the Labor Government has three options: they come under the brands belief, compromise and retreat.

The belief option is to stand by the ETS and seek its passage via the deadlock provisions of the constitution at a joint sitting after a successful double-dissolution election around August-September, which approximates a full-term parliament. This is strictly for a government that believes in its policy and its powers of persuasion. Such faith is visibly draining away from Rudd Labor.

The compromise option means radical policy surgery to the ETS, such as legislating a two-year fixed carbon price of about $20 a tonne to get the scheme operational, or even a carbon tax…But it presumably requires some deal with the Greens, a fateful political step that would only create a new set of policy and electoral problems for Rudd. The truth is Labor has not recovered from last year’s collapse of its parliamentary strategy of joining with the Coalition to implement its policy.

The retreat option equates to admitting it is too hard to legislate a policy and too dangerous to make the issue an election centrepiece.

Yet saying “no, we can’t” would constitute a humiliation for Rudd, making it the worst in a series of unpalatable options.

Two points of ripost. 1. Paul, in focusing so singularly on the US’s difficulties in implementing cap-and-trade, and on Copenhagen’s falling short of expectations, in his quoting of industry lobbyist Heather Ridout, is clearly, surreptiously propping up the morally dubious argument that Australia should just follow whatever the US and the rest of the world does. Also, I’m not sure exactly why it would be difficult for the Government to start dealing with the Greens. After the next election, they will almost certainly hold the balance of power in the Senate, so they’ll have to start some time!

There is no denying therefore, that this is anti-Rudd, and a ‘pro-delay’ piece.

2. But, on the other hand, Kelly is  right that the Government is all at sea on its strategy. And Kelly is no doubt right that the Government needs to be showing either a lot more conviction, and/or a lot more flexibility in its current negotiatiations with the Greens and independents.

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