Saturday, April 09, 2011

In defence of Kevin Rudd on climate change

Listening to ex-PM Kevin Rudd on ABC's Q And A recently, some meaningful insights emerged, on the political process and the sometimes opaque approach governments have to communication.

Yet the subsequent media storm seemed to focus on the more trivial, obvious revelations.

Rudd was talking over the events that lead to his downfall.

His period as Prime Minister, 2007 to 2010, came after 11 years of conservative rule. As PM, he characterised climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our day - yet he apparently fluffed it, and shelved the planned emission trading scheme.

This led in no small part to his drop in popularity, and thence to his being deposed as Prime Minister.

Inter alia, Rudd said:

"we'd already put the emissions trading scheme to the senate twice... the Coalition voted it down twice... Following the next election there was no way the Coalition was going to maintain dominance in the senate, as it's proven. The Greens now control the senate as of 1 July this year. So a basis for delaying the implementation two years was mindful of the fact the senate would change."

He also mentioned some cabinet division on the way forward, but the implication was clear: they simply needed to wait for a change in Senate. [In Australia, senate terms are twice that of the lower house, so only half need to face the voters each electorate. A change in government thus means the first term is often not long enough to get through reformist legislation, particularly after a lengthy reign of a previous government.]

Rudd said that his mistake was not ploughing through. However, there came a cogent response from a member of the audience:
"You've certainly admitted your first mistake on the ETS. Surely now your second mistake is actually not articulating what you've just said to this audience to the Australian people about a year ago. At least we would have had a better handle on what was driving your decision to back flip on an issue that you'd fundamentally been given a mandate to push through. I mean here we are now 12 months later and you're umming and ahing but at least you've engaged us on a fraction of probably what the story is. Isn't your second mistake that you actually didn't tell us - and you didn't give the Australian people the respect to actually articulate the story 12 months ago?"

Rudd: "I think the response to that question is that, guess what, political leaders are not perfect."

Of course, the subsequent media furore focused on the internal cabinet divisions, and the part played by the current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

It remains that the current government intends to move forwards on climate change, and should be able to do so, with the impending senate makeup. Instead of an emissions trading scheme, they're now working on a carbon tax. Yet the government's popularity is quite low; again, the media is focusing on the wrong end of the stick: giving vent to those to whom the word 'tax' is ideological anathema. Still, it's the government's fault for not emphasising that households would be sufficiently compensated, and there will be no nett revenue increase.

Full transcript of Q And A available here.

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