In the digital age, weekly print magazines are not supposed to break stories, especially before the actual events have taken place. But sometimes one gets lucky. We refer to our cover story last week that celebrated the Abbott government’s repeal of Julia Gillard’s hugely unpopular carbon tax. The view that the tax would be axed any day was so commonplace among government senators, their opponents and the Canberra press gallery pundits that it seemed reckless to contradict it. But we were bold enough to publish the scoop on our cover with a congratulatory editorial and feature article. Of course, Clive Palmer had a last-minute dummy spit over a few amendments to the legislation 12 hours after we went to press. Which meant the decision to legislate the carbon tax repeal was delayed a week. We had jumped the gun.
What has been happening to the carbon tax repeal Bill in the Senate during the past fortnight simply bears out Bismarck’s injunction that making either sausages or laws is not a pretty sight. Clive Palmer and his Palmer United party senators, along with the motoring enthusiast Ricky Muir, have turned the Senate into a sausage factory, stuffing unmentionables into the relatively clean receptacle fashioned by Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Senate Government leader Eric Abetz. If we learnt anything from this episode, it’s not just that Mr Palmer is a first-rate buffoon, but that the Australian Labor party under Bill Shorten remains deluded about carbon pricing.
Start with Mr Palmer. The flamboyant Queensland mining magnate is playing a cynical, attention-grabbing and manipulative political game based predominantly on his personal love of controversy and his peculiar hatred of Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman. What will come of his conduct we can only guess and we’ve learnt enough about this fiasco not to be making any definite calls about the prospects for the rest of the Prime Minister’s legislative agenda. Our hunch is that from the first Mr Palmer has been out to sandbag the government, even on a policy over which there appears to be a wide philosophical overlap, but will end up supporting the carbon tax repeal Bill’s passage before the parliamentary recess, after milking the last possible ounce of attention and adulation. But there’s a good chance the electorate will just roll their eyes.
Not that Mr Shorten is in any position to capitalise on voter angst. The Labor leader maintains support for a carbon price, which means that he will unashamedly embrace an emissions trading scheme as part of Labor’s election campaign. Never mind that the Coalition won an electoral landslide on this very issue. Never mind that the prospects for a legally binding, enforceable, viable and genuinely global agreement are virtually zero. Never mind that Australia generates only a tiny fraction of the global emissions. And never mind that when sophisticates try to shut down debate, it amounts to an attack on the public interest. Mr Shorten can talk about the ‘science’, but one can agree that there is a link between greenhouse gas emissions and modest warming and still oppose the doomsday scenarios peddled by the likes of Tim Flannery.
After five years in the chair, Tom Switzer has resigned as editor of The Spectator Australia. Rowan Dean will become editor of the print edition and our newly revamped website in August.
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