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Australian conservatives get gift opportunity: wreck it

Australian conservatives implode — the suppressed majority rebel

In an extraordinary development, it’s now publicly known and beyond any doubt that most of our conservative’s in opposition do not want an ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) before Copenhagen.

But our opposition leader wants an ETS, and has put his job on the line to get it. The Government wants to start negotiations in a week, or else they will “dissolve parliament” (which is not quite as scary as it sounds).

It’s not obvious which way this will go. One state conservative branch has called the bluff, and The Nationals (the junior partners in conservative politics) have made it clear they will not vote for the ETS. The main conservative party in Australia is fracturing because intimidation and bullying has suppressed real opinions.

No one is debating the science. Instead, the government bullies the opposition with election threats, and  the opposition leader responds by bullying the opposition too. This is not what democracy was supposed to be.

This is an international version of my shorter local OnLineOpinion Commentary

Revealed — the silent majority

Photo: Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull

News of the dissent among the Liberal Party was front page news ten days ago. The shock is not that the ETS is so widely unpopular, but that anyone has thought to ask our elected representatives their opinions, that those representatives felt comfortable admitting them, and that it was all acknowledged on the front page of The Australian newspaper. Journalist Peter van Onselen phoned all 59 backbenchers from our major opposition party, the Liberals (who are decidedly not liberal in the US sense of the word), and discovered that nearly 80% of them are opposed to negotiating amendments to the ETS ahead of Copenhagen.

The fake veneer that Liberal Party skeptics are a “rare minority” has been exposed for all to see.

The fake veneer that Liberal Party skeptics are a “rare minority” has been exposed for all to see.  This matters. Suddenly it’s out in the open that most conservative politicians don’t think we should launch ourselves onto the path that the U.N. dictates. Suddenly skeptical M.P.s on the conservative side have been shifted from the leper colony to the commons. The critical mass has moved–at least on the opposition side. I’d like to see the same survey done for the ruling party.

[Side Note: It's unlikely anyone would survey the Labor Party parliamentarians. We know which way they will all vote, even if we have no clue what they think. Unlike the U.S., in Australia it's very rare for politicians to vote against their own party on any topic. Government ministers are drawn only from Parliament, so if you're ambitious you have to do what your party tells you. Party politics runs very strong here, especially on the "left".]

The Leader ignores his team

Unfortunately the minority of the Liberal Party that don’t feel so skeptical includes the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull. Faced with such a divide in his party, he did what any reasonable democratic consensus-loving leader would do: he told his party room what to think. (Thus showing that the consensus of a UN committee matters, but not the consensus in our elected representatives. Why do we bother voting?) Malcolm Turnbull put it all on the line last Friday, stating that his leadership depends on the party agreeing with him — and ordering them to be “disciplined”. If only he had asked for disciplined thinking, instead of disciplined obedience. [Source: ABC News.]

If only he had asked for disciplined thinking, instead of disciplined obedience

A true leader would win over his members with reason, not with threats. He would dig into the evidence and convince them, persuade them, and possibly inspire them. Turnbull may be a passionate man who is willing to stand behind his principles, but this is an arrogant move that ignores the opinions, experience, and intellect of his team. Rather than taking the longer harder route, he’s gambling that he can bully them into agreeing. That said: It may work. There is no obvious successor to Turnbull, and the bullying-tactic has a track record of success (witness the UN and the Labor Party).

The follow-on from the news that most Liberals don’t want to make an early ETS deal is that the West Australian branch is now demanding Turnbull drop his plan to negotiate. Revolt is in the air.  [Source: The Australian]

The Rudd government is going out of its way to wreck the economy.  Note to Opposition: it’s your job to oppose.

Here’s the state of play in Australia

Our Government needs votes from the Opposition (or the Greens and all the independents) to get the ETS legislation passed in the Senate. Our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, wants to make Australia a “leader”–a symbolic example for the world. He’s tried once to get the ETS legislation through the Senate, and if he tries again by the end of October and fails he will have the legal right to dissolve our government and call a double dissolution–a full election of all members of parliament, both houses. It’s a fairly big deal. The Minister of Climate Change, Penny Wong, has imposed a deadline of October 20 for the start of negotiations on the ETS. [Source: The Australian]
Photo: Kevin Rudd

Right now, with polls supporting the Government decisively (around 58% to 42% on a two party basis), that’s a threat the Government can wield. Will the opposition capitulate? If they don’t–they may face an election they would be almost guaranteed to lose, and the possibility they would lose members. On the other hand, now that everyone knows they don’t believe in the ETS, if they do pass it, they send the message that they are so weak and so spineless that they would pass major legislation for Australia that they don’t agree with, but are too disorganised, demoralised or weak too oppose. It’s a statement that surely rates as one of the most unprincipled loser-lines of any democracy. Shouldn’t their focus be on What’s best for The Nation, not What’s best for The Party?

Voters, by the way, don’t want an early election, which takes the shine off the Government gambit.  [Source: The Australian] And polls on the importance of climate change in Australia are falling 10 points a years.

Liberals saw the high road: missed it

Suppression of opinion has weakened and divided the Liberals.

The saddest point of this is that Malcolm Turnbull has missed an opportunity to take the high ground, and he’s also missed the chance to learn from his own party. Had he sat down with his team and asked them without prejudice what they thought, he would have discovered long ago that they had deep reservations. Then, in an ideal democracy, our opposition party would have sought reasons to reconcile their position through open debate. It would have made them so much stronger. Suppression of opinion has weakened and divided the Liberals. Free speech would have helped them rise above. A real inquiry into the reasons so many people are unenthused about (or downright suspicious of) the ETS would have eventually turned up the facts that there are thousands of scientists with legitimate concerns about the science, and that there is a massive monied vested interest in promoting this crisis. [See Climate Money]

Then there’s the kicker that, even using exaggerated IPCC numbers, anything we do to reduce CO2 has an unmeasurably small effect on the climate.

Graphic: carbon creditLurking in the background is the wafting smell of financial smarty-pants types making billions from a trading scheme that will be impossible to unwind.  A tax is bad, but at least we can vote those guys out, unlike say the guys in Goldman-Sachs.

Armed with better information the Liberals would not be floundering. They would not be a party without a plan.

Where has Australia’s major conservative party gone? Shouldn’t it defend free speech, both in the nation’s media and in it’s own party room? Suppression and censorship are not the path to a strong nation or a strong party. As long as opinions are ignored, the Coalition will remain fractured, indecisive, and weak.

….

If anyone from either side of politics wants copies of The Skeptics Handbook to help facilitate discussions, email me joanne AT joannenova.com.au!



* The bare basics of Australian politics (for-those-who-are-not-that-interested)

We have two major parties. The current government is the ALP (Labor Party) the more “liberal” of the two (in the US sense of the word). The opposition is The Liberal Party (the more conservative), who team up with the National Party (who are even more conservative) to form “The Coalition”. The two parties in Coalition usually get along well, but on occasions – like the ETS – they are separate parties.

In opposition: Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the Coalition (which means “Liberals and Nationals”). “Right” aligned – traditionally supported by business, farmers, country folk.

In government: Kevin Rudd, Labor Party (ALP) – “Left” aligned – supported by Unions, built by workers, staffed by professional white collar workers.

LINKS

Polling news [tvnz]

Australian Senate information [wiki]

Rules of Double Dissolutions (there has only ever been one… google “Gough Whitlam”)

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25 comments to Australian conservatives get gift opportunity: wreck it

  • #
    Denny

    Ok, thank you Joanne for explaining in detail how your Government works in the Capital..but my questions on the other post and thread still stand…Keep up the “Great Job” that you do? You have to help stop this “Freight Train” in Washington.

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    allen mcmahon

    An early election is no big threat. Whether an election is held in the next few months or a year or so the Liberal party will lose, they have to much ground to make up.

    Given the effects of emission trading in UK, emissions up and prices up New Labor is electoral poison. With an ETS we can expect the same fate for Labor in Australia.
    Opposing an ETS and supporting Nuclear power would be smart policy. Perhaps its time for the ‘mad monk’.

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  • #
    CyberForester

    Would “dissolving Parliament” emit any Greenhouse Gases?

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    MattB

    Jo you make an interesting leap of faith in assuming that the 80% of the coalition who want to delay until after Coppenhagen are “skeptics”. The reality is that both sides are playing politics with an important issue, and wanting to delay until after Coppenhagen is simply the other side of the wedge from passing one before Coppenhagen.

    For example if I were a member of the opposition and you surveyed me you’d find I sat in your 80%, but I don’t think I’m a skeptic.

    The ALP have the Coalition by the proverbials on this one – regardless of pre-or post Coppenhagen right now they are delighting in watching Turnbull stuggle with leadership and his party publically demonstrate total disunity.

    It may not be good science, or have anything to do with science, but it is excellent politics.

    And Allen in #2… if we went with nuclear power an ETS would still be a very useful tool, and indeed nukes would significantly lower demand (and therefore costs) of carbon on the market. I’d like to believe that an ETS will precipitate a more sensible approach to nuclear power, but it could also mean that those who have invested in carbon lobby heavily to stop nuclear from devaluing their investment.

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  • #

    MattB @ 4: it is excellent politics.

    Interesting. You view making the most stupid possible series of decisions that could be made in the circumstance as “excellent politics.”

    The relevant fundamental principles are as follows.

    All choices have both unavoidable and unintended consequences.

    All centralized power and control of complex systems fail catastrophically.

    The above is under the control of Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety:

    “The larger the variety of actions available to a control system, the larger the variety of perturbations it is able to compensate.”

    You have no choice in this no matter what the politics.

    Why?

    Reality is real no matter what you or how many others pretend it to be otherwise.

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    allen mcmahon

    Matt
    I can understand why an ETS is useful at the government level, revenue, appeasing the green lobby, perceived action on CC but what do we get out of it. An increase in the cost of power, goods and services, and reduced economic efficiency hardly seems beneficial.

    Despite an ETS in the EU emissions rose 3%. Kyoto despite and estimated cost of $150 billion has provided no discernible environmental benefit.

    Where is the up side?

    On the home front Rudd s climate policy is hypocritical. While he pontificates about CC coal exports are forecast rise 40% by 2020.

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  • #
    Tel

    What I love best of all is Bob Brown (leader of the Australian Federal Green Party) who is waving his hands at Kevin Rudd, saying “Hey, maybe you could talk to us about supporting your ETS policy” and Rudd is saying, “Negotiate with a Greenie? No way! I’m taking my Climate Change policy to the conservatives instead.”

    Rudd loves the publicity that AGW brings him, but deep down he doesn’t believe a bar of it, and he would rather deal with other pragmatic liars (e.g. Turnbull) rather than a true believer who might expect genuine results.

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  • #
    Anne-Kit Littler

    On a more positive note -

    Daily Mail today:

    Whatever happened to Global Warming?

    And here’s the BBC [??!! wonders never cease ...]:

    What happened to Global Warming?

    What’s happening – are the mainstream media finally catching up?

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  • #
    Tel

    You view making the most stupid possible series of decisions that could be made in the circumstance as “excellent politics.”

    That is indeed how Australian politics operates. I often feel a nagging notion that it would be a good thing if I tried to do something to improve this situation, but the problem with designing a foolproof system is the incredible cunning and ingenuity of fools.

    On the whole, UK politics and US politics also deliver their fair share of stupid.

    All centralized power and control of complex systems fail catastrophically.

    Failure is opportunity in politics.

    “Never let a good crisis go to waste” – said Rahm Emanuel

    I’ll hasten to add that catastrophic events are common to complex systems of all types, decentralised ones too. The very concepts of “success” and “failure” imply a certain point of view. A system is what it is, and does what it does. Your moral compass equates stupidity with failure (and mine does too for that matter) but the cold clockwork of cause and effect cares for neither morality nor intelligence.

    Besides, if a disaster didn’t come around now and then all by itself… why then it would be necessary to invent one!

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  • #
    MattB

    Lionell – if those decisions make you surge in ratings and send your opposition in to factions who can’t stop fighting with eachother and undermining their leader… then yes it is great politics indeed.

    YOu can see an almost identical event here in WA with the trading hours debate. It is beautiful and cringeworthy at the same time.

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  • #

    No Matt. If one team dies during the game, the other team wins by default.

    Turnbull needs to rise above, seriously quiz his own team to find out why they aren’t enthusiastic… help them find the words, the explanations, or whatever it is so that most of the leadership and party reach an understanding. Either he convinces them with reason or they convince him. Either way the party pulls together.

    It’s hard to be a statesman. But someone in the opposition needs to do it.

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  • #

    MattB,

    In case you don’t recognize the word “statesman”, that is a public figure who focuses on long term results that are positive for the body politic. He understands there are short term pains that must be overcome to reach the long run in good shape and alive. The long run is measured in generations.

    A “politician” who is doing your kind of “great politics” is focused on the short term. He gets his results today that buys him a little bit of time to work to get more short term results. His event horizon shrinks from the next election, to the next year, to the next quarter, to the next month, to the next week, to tomorrow morning, and finally to the next few moments. Ultimately, it is scrambling for the sake of scrambling and he runs out of time to buy a little bit more time. See current politics as usual for an informative case in point.

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  • #
    CyberForester

    “His event horizon shrinks from the next election, to the next year, to the next quarter, to the next month, to the next week, to tomorrow morning, and finally to the next few moments.”

    And as the polis in NZ keep telling us “A week is a long time in politics.” Hung by their own confession. They aren’t even thinking as “long-term” as the next election.

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    Matt Buckels

    Lionell for some reason you see my words as support for short termism in politics?

    But actually, I tend to think the politician who is acting on a 50 year event horzon over global warming trumps one who is focussed on populism pre/post copenhagen with no long term vision for the shift from carbon.

    Lol try and find a statesman in the COalition… they are not even sure who will be leader next week let alone their policies.

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    Matt Buckels @ 14: Lionell for some reason you see my words as support for short termism in politics?

    You are not openly advocating it but that is the result of what you advocate.

    The “smart” politicians are actually going for the short run. Especially the one’s who are “acting on a 50 year event horizon over global warming”. Man caused global warming is a total scam. There is and can be no such thing. Its designed to extract as much short term cash from and power and control over the populace as possible. Such a scam is doomed to failure, both in the short and long run. The reason is that it will put the economy into an accelerating nose dive. Then, when We the People have nothing to lose, watch out. All hell will break lose over all those “smart” politicians and “friends” of the environment. The Tea Parties will be dancing in the park by comparison.

    What you don’t understand is that reality is real. Things are what they are. They can do only what they can do. Your words, wishes, hopes, dreams, fantasies, and whims have no impact on anything but you. You can dance, prance, assert, assume, and consensus all you wish. Only what actually is, is all that counts.

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    Cyberforester

    “Such a scam is doomed to failure, both in the short and long run.”

    I’d like to believe you are right Lionell, but the problem is that politicians from all over the political spectrum see the opportunity to scam the public with this one. So, for example in New Zealand, we could see consensus across the House to the extent that even if we ditched the current ruling party, the other lot won’t back out the legislation. It will become entrenched and the populace will be relegated to pauper class.

    Meanwhile the vested interests of the politicians, business creatures and banks are lining up to, well, line their pockets. Even when we are huddled round a fire freezing in February those who are making a rake off on the scam are going to say, “Well, this was within the range of outcomes predicted by the models.”

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  • #
    MattB

    If you guys think that many in the Coalition’s opposition to an ETS is all about sincere scientific scepticism, and not about political opportunism to pander to their core support group, then you are crackers. The appeal to wait until after Coppenhagen is simply the step that creates a point of difference between the government, and hopefully appeals to sceptics and to those who believe but think waiting is the best thing to do.

    It is all about short term politics, sorry.

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    Bruce

    Matt B,

    “If you think that many in the Coalition’s opposition to an ETS is all about sincere scientific sceptism and not about political opportunism…”

    Have a look at the following web page for Australian screenings of “Not Evil Just Wrong” and see how many Liberal party organisations are hosts.

    http://www.noteviljustwrong.com/blog/general/224-not-evil-in-australia

    Looks like healthy sceptism by the Liberal party to me.

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  • #

    Matt, In the long term when the big money making scam and junket is exposed for what it is: vacuous science pushed by naive greens and for the benefit of giant finance houses; how do you suppose the public will feel?

    Cheated?

    Will they be grateful that the greens and labor party had good intentions but didn’t bother to check the science? (The libs are still missing this opportunity to embarrass labor by asking for the evidence). Will they feel enthused about having leaders who mistakenly assumed that unaudited unelected committees in geneva have our national interest at heart?

    Will they vote for gullible power grabbers?

    I can’t see a track record of “falling for a major scam” as being good for any party. Politicians on all sides are letting the country down.

    I happen to know of liberal and labor M.P. skeptics, who I won’t name. They can’t speak out because of the strong party based system we have. People on both sides are hoping this will be exposed.

    The news is spreading. It will shock you with it’s speed when it finally falls over.

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  • #
    Dean Turner

    I certainly hope you are right, Joanne.

    I just finished watching Catalyst on TV and I am always disturbed by the one sided nature of the media. The reporter did not once raise any concerns about actual evidence to support the claims being made (in this case by Professor Will Steffen). It is merely assumed that the science is rock solid.

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    allen mcmahon

    Matt
    If you think Rudd & co are looking at the next 50 years you are wrong. Polling on CC suggest that middle Australia is becoming more skeptical. If, as appears likely, the cooling trend is maintained over the next few years public sentiment will see Labor dump CC policy. Like it or not political opportunism will as usual prevail.

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  • #
    Tel

    Might as well add here to the evidence that political opportunism trumps common sense:

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-bigtvs14-2009oct14,0,4908205.story

    Of course, taking decisions away from households is acceptable on all sides of politics.

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    Denny

    Tel:

    Might as well add here to the evidence that political opportunism trumps common sense:

    Of course, taking decisions away from households is acceptable on all sides of politics.

    Tel, very good point! The LA Times is Alarmist as papers can get…Of course, California is “always” to break open “opportunities” as being the First state to approve something “Environmental”. It’s also interesting to notice that these policies are “biting back”. Their economy is a shambles….The Governor is giving the State employees “IOU Slips” for payment! Businesses are leaving because of the States oppression upon them in Taxes, Regulations. I’m glad I do not live out there…Their policies towards the State have been hurting bussiness for some time now.

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    Ray Hibbard

    Tel: 9
    That is indeed how Australian politics operates. I often feel a nagging notion that it would be a good thing if I tried to do something to improve this situation, but the problem with designing a foolproof system is the incredible cunning and ingenuity of fools.

    Thanks Tel I needed that.

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  • #
    Steve Meikle

    It does seem that political conservatives are more skeptical about AGW then leftists. Our conservative party here (NZ) was asked about their belief. they couldn’t say they denied AGW but the way they hedged their answers made it clear they did not believe but wer toeing the party line.

    All of this is odd, however. I am a lifelong leftist who opposes AGW on rational grounds.

    Much resentment is rising here at the proposed carbon taxes that will cost an average family (if memory serves correctly) $3000 a year

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