Thursday, September 04, 2008

Senate set to throttle climate action

Last night, the government accidentally won a vote in the Senate to increase the luxury car tax. But the situation was righted today when the the vote was recommitted, and the recalcitrant Liberal Senator fronted up. Reported here.

Treasurer Wayne Swan accused the Liberals of "supporting a tax cut for owners of luxury cars". Well, they would; they're on that side of politics. But in fact, they had earlier committed to being an Opposition of opposition for opposition's sake. Not a recipe for thoughtful outcomes, but it's the normal state of affairs.

The Senate makeup is a recipe for disaster and inaction. For anything to pass, the government needs the support of the Green Senators and Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon. The Greens will support the government more often than not. Xenophon has indicated he's not averse to being onside.

But Steve Fielding of Family First is the reverse. The only representative of yet another one of those parties with a motherhood name that gets voted in mostly thanks to anonymity. He comes from quite a deprived background (a very large family), but turns out to be conservative. He's also quite capable of enjoying the spotlight, and sometimes rather quixotic. He opposed the luxury car tax because it would hurt farmers and tourism operators - never mind that they could claim the tax back. Wayne Swan did nobody any favours by expressing his frustration vociferously to Fielding. Stoking his ego would be the best way to confuse Fielding into voting the right way.

Nevertheless, Fielding is conservative on the whole. Although the ALP government started out last November in high popularity, it has done little to entrench support. I suspect it's rather unlikely they would call a double dissolution election to clear the whole Senate. So the prognosis sounds like a whole lot of not very much happening in the next few years. Which is parlous, given climate change is such a pressing issue. The Senate makeup is a recipe for the worst of outcomes.

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