It has been bugging me for a while. I didn’t see the promise by Julia Gillard that we wouldn’t have a carbon tax before the August Federal Election. When Tony Abbott continually called her on that promise, I wondered where he got the promise from. It wasn’t a widely circulated or promoted promise by the ALP during that dire campaign. I had thought for a long time that it was a silly thing to promise, considering that a carbon price was on the table and a carbon tax is as good a way as any to apply that.
However, I saw Gillard start speaking on Q&A the other night, revealing how she embedded a critique of the madness of the tea party, et al, inside a speech about the greatness and boldness of Americans. You can’t say anything to Americans by criticising them. By highlighting the “boldness” of the American national self-image, she was striking at the insularity of the current forces attacking Obama and his agenda. It then struck me that she really does have two meanings to a lot of what she says. It must be a lawyer thing.
I then turned to the phrase “No Carbon Tax Under a Government I Lead” – and it took me to a place where you have a Prime Minister who could have phrased that in any number of ways – “never have one”, “it’s not a part of our philosophy”, “our goal is towards an ETS”. No, she said a government I lead. She was leaving the door open for a new parliament where she knew she would have to negotiate with the Greens.
The ETS “negotiation” was pretty poor and demonstrated Rudd’s inability to compromise or realise how meagre his suggestion was. The fact that the Liberal Party – well, the ones who believe that climate change is actually happening and want to do something – agreed with it demonstrated how meagre it was. Like many of Rudd’s schemes, they were wrecked on the rocks that was Rudd’s inability to be an enabler.
Cue Gillard and her reputation for being an enabler (or a fixer, as Annabel Crabb characterises her here). She knew that she would have to negotiate with the Greens to get an ETS at some stage and also realised that the Greens would increase their presence in the new Senate. Therefore, she makes the comment “Under the Government I Lead” – it makes her look Prime Ministerial, plus it left her with the opportunity to turn around and say during the new parliament “I lead the Government, BUT I don’t control the senate, and the Greens are forcing us to adopt a carbon tax, we don’t want one”.
And now we are seeing her say that. Blaming the word “tax” on the Greens, hoping that the idea of taxing carbon will stick with the Greens until the next election. Sticking a party with the word “tax” in Australia is like sticking a “kick me” sticker on the back of the new boy in the school. Just ask the Howard government after the 98 election. It’s not without accident that another of the “enablers” in the new cabinet, Greg Combet, is assiduously avoiding the “tax” word, sticking to the line that the price on carbon is the desired outcome and that eventually we will have the Labor Party’s preferred conservative option of an ETS.
So it come to pass that at the Don Dunstan talk tonight that she is outlining precisely what she said and why she said it. As well, taking a well aimed swipe at the targets many people have been wanting her to swipe for a long time – the parrot, Alan Jones, the street corner soap box ranter, Andrew Bolt and the shocking old cynic Piers Akerman.
This is the real Julia, the Julia of realpolitik, the lawyer, the enabler. And one who will now act to isolate the Greens as the carbon taxers and the ALP as the sensible, conservative ETSers.
Finally, the timing of the announcement is also very interesting – it could have occurred at any time between now and July, when the Greens assume their real power. But it happened now, in the lead up to the NSW State Election – an election where the ALP will cope the hiding for the ages, largely due to the poor management of infrastructure by Bob Carr and his penny pinching treasurer Michael Egan. Gillard and her advisers would know that a carbon tax announcement would have a negative impact on the Labor vote – but that hardly matters on this occasion. What does matter is that it will mostly likely have an impact on the Green vote, despite the fact the carbon tax has no relevance in the state poll. And make no mistake, there are many NSW Labor Right operatives who would hate the Greens more than the Liberals. Yes, it’s nuts, but that’s the NSW Right.