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November 28th 2009 print

David Flint

ETS support is turning

Opinion is never set in aspic, as Fightback, Cheryl Kernot’s defection and the initial reaction to referendum proposals demonstrate. Scientific fraud, predictions not coming true and a strong and principled Liberal leader- not Joe Hockey - will see to this.

To the extent that it is accurate, and that is not always the case, an opinion poll is no more than a snapshot of opinion at one particular point in time. The opinion it registers is of course not set in aspic. Surely everyone realises this?

But the front page of The Weekend Australian (28/29 November) reports otherwise. The newspaper relies on an opinion poll in September that 71% of city voters and 61% of rural voters support an ETS. Does it really think that this support will hold after the revelations of fraud among some climate scientists, that the climate is not as predicted by what is laughingly called “the” science, and when the people are allowed to exercise an informed vote.

Because of the delinquency of much of the media – The Australian performs better than most – few understand what the ETS will and won’t do. Most seem to think it will do something positive, without significant personal cost, about such things as the Barrier Reef, pollution generally, polar bears, and bushfires. As pollster Rod Cameron says, once the people know what it will cost and what it will actually do, support will evaporate across the political spectrum.

Polling in the Queensland marginal electorates  poll shows opposition to an ETS is already greater than support; this will spread – if it has not already- and it will grow. The Sunday Telegraph Galaxy Poll (29/11) confirms this trend, with 60% (50% of Labor voters) wanting the ETS delayed until after Copenhagen, and 80% (73% of Labor voters) saying they need more information.

Just remember the initial reaction to Fightback, Cheryl Kernot’s defection to Labor or to the Hawke government referendum proposals. They show that public opinion is not fixed and can change and swing in the opposite direction. This is particularly so under a formidable political opponent- the sort of person who should lead the Liberal Party from next week.  

So to say “Libs facing election rort”, as The Weekend Australian declares  on the front page,  is not news. It is just an opinion which serves Mr. Turnbull’s campign to remain Leader.

The ETS is to have such a momentous effect on the economy, and take away an enormous part of our freedom, that it must be fully explained in the court of public opinion.

If the Liberal Party is to remain true to its principles, it could only accept such a regime if it could be justified to be overwhelmingly in the public interest. It would have to be something as serious as war, which as we know justifies the suspension of freedoms including property rights normally applicable in peacetime.

It is untrue to say the ETS is market driven; it creates a fictional market and empowers politicians and bureaucrats to churn vast amounts of money to reward those whom they wish to reward, to the profit of a new class of rent takers and assorted carpetbaggers.  It will be massively corrupt; it is the antithesis to private enterprise. It will transfer funds to other countries much of which will be wasted on armaments and in corrupt practices.

As Senator Minchin says it is an abomination.

It is something which is an ideal subject for a referendum where all the details are on the table before the people vote. That would ensure the government must provide a cost-benefit analysis which can be readily comprehended. If the ETS has such widespread support, and is so in the public interest, why doesn’t the government, and the mainstream media, propose such a solution?

In any event, referendum or election,  a strong leader of the opposition dedicated to Liberal principles should be able to swing public opinion against the ETS. The ETS could become a greater turn off than Fightback was in 1993, and the GST almost was in 1998. And remember, a strong leader will argue – persuasively – that the deleterious impact of the ETS will be monumentally greater than either of these.

If Malcolm Turnbull goes, as is likely, the Liberal Party would be foolish not to choose his successor from those who have had the moral courage and adherence to Liberal principle to fight against the ETS – including those who have resigned their positions.

The choice is between former senior ministers opposed to the ETS, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz. (As Malcolm Mackerras has cogently argued, there is really no obstacle to leadership from the Senate.)  And a senior position should be given to Senator Bernardi- he has proved himself a highly principled and persuasive communicator, both written and oral.

How foolish it would be to think Joe Hockey could possibly make the party electable. He could not argue with any conviction against the ETS.  He will always be seen a collaborator, more affable than the others, in the Rudd-Turnbull scheme for an ETS.