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August 08th 2009 print

John Hyde

ETS Forum – The “Save Our Seats” strategy

By asking three succinct questions regarding climate change, and exposing the Minister’s inability to answer them, Fielding’s actions have given many politicians within all parties cause for pause.


The effect of the Emissions Trading Policy on the Liberal Party 


Some whose tendency is to predict the dramatic in public affairs see another right wing, conservative, even genuinely liberal political group, arising out of present divisions in Coalition ranks concerning emissions trading. 

I don’t think so. They forget the record. 

Although the issue may be the final straw that costs Turnbull his leadership, the Liberal Party itself is remarkably resilient. It has survived, without actual division, the tariff debate, the silly Joh  for Canberra push, Pauline Hanson, the Gorton-Fraser enmity, the rise within its ranks of the Dries, McMahon’s inadequacy, the Vietnam war and several other notorious personal and policy disagreements. 

If the Liberal Party were to divide, which I don’t think likely in the foreseeable future, it would be for the more deep seated reason that it lacks guiding and inspiring philosophical underpinning. 

With a few notable and worthy exceptions, for a long time now, most of the members of the Liberal Party have believed in little, and thought of little, beyond winning the next election. How they might equip themselves to govern well should they win it, has not troubled their minds or their consciences. 

The Save Our Seats (SOS) brigade dominate the Coalition Party Room and it suits people in authority to find hobgoblins from which they will save us. Perhaps that has always been the case, perhaps it is in the very nature of all democratic politics; anyway, the Western World over, it is the situation that political trading on the public fear of global warming forms one such hobgoblin. 

Don Chip did manage to form the Democrats around a soft liberal philosophy. Although not quite my preference, those early Democrats did believe in something and the underpinning of his party was not a policy but a philosophy.

Chip was, however, unable to control his party and his soft liberals became the ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ who did not even believe in arithmetic, a character attribute that today has been taken over by the Greens. If an equivalent of  Don Chip exists today, he/she has had little media attention, and anyway forming a new political party is an extremely difficult task. 

Nevertheless, every so often, not always in response to a crisis, people arise within existing political structures who offer effective leadership. As Max Weber observed, politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.  

By persistent argument it is possible to change what people believe and, which is just as important in the parliaments, shame people who adopt positions they don’t believe in.

Dennis Jensen has been doing just that from within the Liberal Party. I think his approach is tactically the correct one and, what is more, it is one protected by the traditions of his party and parliament; neither Turnbull nor the SOS dare be seen to silence him. 

Outside of the Liberal Party, Barnaby Joyce, speaking on behalf of all the nationals, is trenchantly opposing the introduction of any emissions trading scheme, on the grounds that there will be no positive effect on the environment but definitely horrendous economic damage in both the cities and, especially, the bush. 

Unarguably, however, the politician who has most effectively shown that Climate Minister Wong has no science clothes in which to dress her emissions trading legislation is independent Family First Senator, Steve Fielding. By asking three succinct questions regarding climate change, and exposing the Minister’s inability to answer them, Fielding’s actions have given many politicians within all parties cause for pause. 

The emissions trading scheme can be stopped or made-less-damaging only by rational argument based upon the scientific evidence.  My fear is, however, that it will not be halted until much unnecessary injury has been inflicted on the world economy. For Australia’s part, if the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme becomes law  it will inflict grave damage onto the Australian economy through loss of competitive advantage to nations that choose  not to so hinder themselves. 

It saddens me that, come that day, the Liberal Party will not be able to say that it opposed wrong-headed policy but instead sought to gain  whatever political advantage it could. 

As with nearly every policy debate, there is no short cut to victory in this one. The argument must be won