13 July 2011

Lateralist Politics - The Carbon Tax & Common Sense

Most of the time, I try to let myself think that, for the most part, we Australians are a pragmatic and fair-minded bunch, capable of listening carefully and speaking honestly. But the sheer enormity of drivel being written about the Gillard Government and the proposed carbon tax (which isn't a tax) is forcing me to question the veracity of this assumption.

It seems that the majority of Australians accept that action on climate change is necessary, because our planet is trying unsuccessfully to adapt to the impact of unnaturally high (i.e. man-made) levels of carbon in our environment. (That we don't want to pay for this is a little depressing, but understandable.) I'll briefly address the scepticism on this. I'm not a climate scientist, but thankfully, I don't have to be, because there are quite a lot of them, and the overwhelming majority of them are of one mind when it comes to the destructive impact that carbon pollution is having on our environment.

It's worth noting that I for one have never needed to understand every little aspect of the world in which I live in order to go on living in it. I mean, I've not seen it conclusively proven in the media that I should eat my vegetables, but I do. I have no idea how a car engine actually works, but this does not stop me from driving my car. I don't even know how wine is made, but I drink it. The fact is, I have sufficient confidence that there are people - the people directly involved with these things - who know what they are talking about. How on earth so many people have managed to get so off track when it comes to adopting a position on climate change is very, very disturbing. But let's just set that aside, and conclude that if you're a climate change denier - which you are if don't acknowledge the role of humanity in changing our climate - then you're an idiot. (Or at the very least, you've adopted an idiotic position.) Sorry to be snippy, but it just seems quicker. And let's face it, climate change deniers probably aren't reading this site, are they?

I can only assume that the media's desire to misrepresent information in favour of an unrepresentative conflict has made it easier for so many to adopt so unsound a position. If you took a cursory glance at the media over the last few years - and I'm not just talking about the Murdoch Press - you'll have likely encountered an alarmingly disproportionate representation of views that challenge the accepted scientific wisdom that our climate is changing, and that we are major contributors to this. This is irresponsible journalism. Lord only knows when and why a consensus opinion became un-newsworthy; because it is, after all, of sufficient rarity to score novelty value points at least. But no - conflict is what sells, so that's what we get. Conflict seems to be the junk food of the media, and for far too many, it has become an unquestioned staple in their diets. In no one's language can this be good for you.

It is from within this particular media environment that Tony Abbott has weaponised the stupidity and hostility of his electorate. Absolutely nothing that Abbott is offering in his attacks on Gillard has any credence whatsoever. If you think Gillard lied, I suppose you're entitled to your opinion, but in my humble opinion, she didn't. She had her mind changed for her by the composition of her minority government. I think it can safely be assumed that when Gillard made her election promises and Abbott made his, both were talking from the point of view of assuming that they would be able to govern in their respective rights. I think anyone who is so caught up on the notion that Gillard lied would likely never have voted for her anyway. But those who might have are in danger of privileging (hypocritical) principle over practice, which, as everyone should know, is the arse-about way of looking at things.

When science and economics are both on the side of Gillard's plan, surely to side with Abbott is to be backing the wrong horse. It's all well and good to resent the notion of having to pay for addressing the negative impacts of climate change, but it's a childish reaction, not unlike the pouting petulance one might expect from a child who's been told to tidy his or her room. A shift to a more sustainable energy future was always going to require market mechanisms to work. And pricing carbon is the only logical way to do it. Which, by the way, is why it is not a tax. If I charge you for dumping rubbish - I'm not taxing you, I'm imposing a cost on you. That Gillard conceded this rather petty debate of nomenclature was admirable, in that she's right; the name hardly matters. But it's certainly a sign of the deep resentment being directed towards her in the electorate that she's been pilloried relentlessly for a rare moment (for any politician) of common sense.

And the bile being directed towards her is staggering. Personally, I don't care for her voice that much, but I actually think she can speak very well. But that's about it. And it seems to me that the majority of vitriol aimed in her direction is personal, rather than evidential. Accusations that her Government is a disastrous failure simply don't stack up. She's lead, in spite of Abbott's pointless hectoring, a minority Government with success for more than a year. Mistakes prior to the most recent election (which are debatable in themselves) are surely past their use-by dates. (After all, that's what an election really is.)

So from where does all this bile come? Is the Right really so petty and self-involved that it has confused the political orientation implied in its name with its subjective worth? The opposite of the Right is the Left, not the Wrong; no matter how big your ego, or your sense of self-importance. If I thought that the Gillard Government really was stuffing things up, I'd say so; I'm not a blind, dyed-in-the-wool Leftie who will not call a fault when I see it. And so far, all the so-called faults that are being bandied about are little more than fear-based beat-ups. The asylum-seeker debate was a crock of shit, which it tends to be each and every time it's get raised (by the Right) in this country. And virtually every other bill - and there's been more than one hundred - passed by this Government since the '10 election has been passed with support (or at least, no objection) from the Opposition. Hardly a sign of overwhelming failure or dysfunction.

Thus, I can only assume that a sizeable portion of Australia has come to favour a cult of personality - or at the very worst, of character assassination. Has the media stoked this fire? Absolutely. But no one has stoked it more than Tony Abbott, who was always going to have to rely on a triumph of style over substance to convince anyone at all that he's an electable proposition.

Put another way, if you don't like Gillard personally, that's fine; but if that's your sole reason for not voting for her, then you're a bloody idiot. Because when it comes down to it, politicians should be judged on what they do, rather than what they say, or how they say it. I mean, the Right-wing reactionaries are carping at Gillard for lying, whilst simultaneously regurgitating Abbott's "great big new tax" bullshit spin. Irony, much? Not one of the claims made against Gillard that I've read contains anything more than personal vitriol. She's trying to govern, and if her sole ambition was to stay in power beyond 2013, then surely there are easier ways to do it than the path she's chosen.

I mean, the accusation of wealth redistribution are bit heavy-handed, aren't they? A stupid woman on the ABC's website the other day was complaining that a senior on $30k a year was going to receive nearly a thousand dollars in compensation, despite only incurring an increase in yearly costs of around two hundred dollars. And because of this, she was going to vote Liberal. I think when you're more worried about the compensation than the notion of a senior living on $30k a year, you were always going to vote liberal. The fact is, this system is designed to make it more expensive to pollute. In the short term, polluters are likely to want to pass these costs on. But as alternatives are found, it becomes financially unwise to continue to offer goods and services at uncompetitive prices. It really is the kind of stuff Year 11 Economics students could get their head around.

Politicians, whether we like them or not, deserve a chance to do their jobs. If they fuck up, we get to vote them out. Every three years - not when we feel like it. The very notion of poll-driven policy is absolutely abhorrent to me, because it is surely the antithesis of the kind of long-term thinking necessary for governance. But that's the climate we're currently creating for our politicians. No wonder Abbott's doing well. He never utters (or thinks) a thought that can't fit into a tweet. That's not leadership, it's playing with matches. And if the populace ever falls for his shtick at an election, then we deserve all we get.

Gillard's got my support. I don't like everything she says or does, but no one in their right mind should use an individual and idealised version of his or her perfect politician as the sole yardstick for determining the success or failure of a leader. It is binarily facile to do so. And whether people like it or not, she'll be leading the government at the time of the next election. I hope she wins. If she does, it'll be a triumph for her, which, given the pasting she's going to cop between now and then, will be thoroughly deserved.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. For the most part I agree with what you are saying.

    The thing that perplexes me most about the lying argument is that if a politician expresses an opinion, under any circumstance, then they are beholden to what ever they said until eternity -which is rediculous. Let's for a minute think that Julia Gillard decided to abide by what she originally said all the while thinking that the carbon tax is best for the country. Is that the way to lead? To sit on your hands because you expressed an alternate opinion in the past. Clearly not. As you have pointed out, as circumstances change then so do your opinions and therefore your plans change. That is how the real world works.

    Futhermore, I don't think that there is anyone in this debate that has changed their position more then Tony Abbott. He has morphed from a sceptic to accepting climate change. He also agreed with an ETS under the Howard Government, he then was on record as saying that a carbon tax is the preferred pricing mechanism (when an ETS was the Rudd Government's policy) and now is pushing the direct action idea. Flip flopping on steroids.

    PK nailed it when he said: "Tony’s got to have the political judo chop". Gold.