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Australian conservatives get gift opportunity: wreck it

Posted By Joanne Nova On October 13, 2009 @ 2:29 pm In AGW socio-political,Global Warming | Comments Disabled

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.


Polling news [tvnz]

Australian Senate information [wiki]

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

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