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September 29th 2011 print

Peter Smith

How Julia jilted Oz

I doubt that any comparable precedence for this political double-dealing could be found in Australia’s past. Tinpot is too flattering a word to describe the Prime Minister and the Government she leads.


A breach of promise of unparalleled scale


In dealing with the debilitating carbon tax legislation we should not forget, or allow to be forgotten, the political chicanery in its wake.

“There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”. Pretty categorical; not much wriggle room there. The Prime Minister has tried to wriggle. Everyone knew, she has told us, of her intention to introduce emissions trading. The problem with this is that she didn’t only say what she wouldn’t do as leader, to complete the story, she said what she would do and without caveat.

This is what she said on 23 July four weeks before the last election in a speech titled: “Moving forward together on climate change”.

I will honour my commitment to building a consensus that is informed by the facts, tested by robust debate and concluded through common sense and open-mindedness.

Bravo! And she continued:

This should not just be a debate between experts. It must be a real debate involving many real Australians…And so today I announce that if we are re-elected, I will develop…a Citizens’ Assembly to examine over 12 months the evidence on climate change, the case for action and the possible consequences of introducing a market-based approach to limiting and reducing carbon emissions…Their work would be supported with evidence, analysis and access to the views and positions of a wide range of advocates…Put simply, I believe in the skills, capacity, decency and plain common sense of Australians…And if I am wrong, and that group of Australians is not persuaded of the case for change then that should be a clear warning bell that our community has not been persuaded as deeply as required about the need for transformational change…I will act when the Australian economy is ready and when the Australian people are ready.

Again bravo! Yet one year after the election and without the Citizens’ Assembly, without the views and positions of a wide range of advocates, without the evidence and analysis, without benefit of the skills, capacity, decency and common sense of Australians, without 12 months of robust debate, and without evidence of community consensus, the PM is “moving forward”.

Debates move on and there is now little reference made to the aborted Citizens’ Assembly. Is it just one more broken political promise in a line stretching back to the dawn of politics? This would grossly understate the sheer and unparalleled scale of Ms Gillard’s breach of promise to the Australian people. I consulted a gallery of ten broken political promises, of which Ms Gillard’s is one, put together by The Australian. In fact there is only nine, but that is by the way. Presumably The Australian came up with the most egregious. How do they compare?

Two are nothing more than internecine squabbles between Hawke and Keating and then Howard and Costello about promises to pass the baton of leadership. One goes back to Menzies, in 1965, apparently saying that the United States had requested help in Vietnam rather than Australia had volunteered it. Unfortunate though this may have been, it does not constitute a broken promise. We have Rudd shelving his carbon reduction legislation; Howard introducing a GST when years earlier he had said he would not; and Hawke’s hapless pledge to end child poverty. None of these three amount to much. Deferring something as Rudd did, under political pressure, after his legislation was voted down is hardly breaking a promise. Howard went to an election with his GST; and Hawke’s so-called promise was never taken seriously. This leaves the final two: Keating in 1993 promising his L-A-W tax cuts and Howard promising no new taxes in 1996. These are the kinds of broken promises that do go back to the dawn of politics. Regrettable though they are; we kind of expect them – they are usually excused on the basis of forced circumstances – and, importantly, whatever additional taxation results, can be undone at a later point without too much disruption.

When you think about it, except for one entry, the list that The Australian has put together is not nearly meaty enough to justify the scurrilous reputation of politicians for breaking promises. They would have to do much worse to deserve their reputation – enter Ms Gillard.

Ms Gillard both promised not to do something and, then, made this promise watertight by promising to do something else. That, though, is by no means the most of it. She intends putting in place something of extraordinary scope and complexity that will be all but impossible to undo.

The proposed legislation will create twelve new entities variously described as: regulator, authority, program, package, plan, corporation, agency, fund and council. The Productivity Commission will have a new role, effectively bringing the number to thirteen. Many additional public servants will be needed to oversee and administer these entities. Valuable “Australian carbon credit units” will be given away to form a large liability of the Commonwealth. Money will be doled out to renewable energy companies ($10 billion), as established Australian companies are forced out of business by carbon dioxide pricing, or are forced into costly adaption and/or downsizing. A new array of industry subsidies, selective personal taxation cuts and welfare benefits will be put in place as the carbon tax revenue is churned.

The legislation is making changes of great moment and effective permanency under no pressure of circumstances; and contrary to clear and explicit commitments which were almost certainly instrumental in winning a very narrow election.

Without doubt this broken promise outdoes all the rest put together. It is not short of incredible that an Australian government would put something of this magnitude and consequence in place, against its explicit promises, without taking it to an election. It brings our political processes into disrepute and calls into question the trust we should have in them. I doubt that any comparable precedence for this political double-dealing could be found in Australia’s past. Tinpot is too flattering a word to describe the Prime Minister and the Government she leads.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics