Former Leader of the Australian Labor Party (in opposition) Mark Latham laments his former party’s failure to promote their position on climate change and carbon [dioxide] taxation. He doesn’t seem to realize it isn’t Labor’s position any more but rather that of the Greens that Labor capitulated to in order to cling to power in a minority government. In fact Labor may now realize it is their blue-collar union base that will be harmed most by dioxycarbophobia and climate hysteria.
In the mechanics of column writing, one usually focuses on the big happenings of national politics: a scandal, a ballot, a policy announcement.
Yet frequently in public life, the things that do not happen are just as significant. The sins of omission determine political outcomes, no less than the sins of emission.
In applying this analysis to Wayne Swan’s budget speech two days ago, I was struck by his reluctance to talk about climate change. The budget is the Treasurer’s night of nights, with a large and attentive national audience.
This year it was a chance to explain the need for greenhouse gas abatement and to justify Labor’s carbon tax – in effect, providing after-sales service on the biggest issue in Australian politics.
Yet Swan was largely mute on this subject, mentioning briefly “the price on carbon pollution” but failing to even utter the words “carbon tax” or “climate change”. This is not how a fighting political party handles the big picture.
It confirms Paul Keating’s critique of the ALP: it suffers from a paucity of crusaders; politicians willing to campaign relentlessly on their policy convictions. Driven by polls and media spin, the modern style is for Labor MPs to shield themselves from unpopular issues. They have given up on the art of public persuasion, most notably on the dangers of climate change.
Under Tony Abbott’s leadership, the opposition has swarmed over the carbon tax, running a cheap-jack scare campaign, with little rebuttal from the ALP. As the government has run from this debate, the community’s concern for global warming has fallen away.
Climate change has become the issue that dare not speak its name in Labor circles, even in the Treasurer’s biggest speech of the year.
Another example of the government’s surrender has been the performance of the Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet. He has become the invisible man of the national debate.