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February 13th 2012 print

Peter Smith

Bypassing the elites

Even now, with the legislation passed, the carbon tax can be undone, if the elites in the Labor movement, particularly the elite union bosses, can be bypassed.

I am not sure that any of us have really caught up with the despotic fiasco that presently defines government in Australia.

I am not talking here about serial incompetence. We have had that before, if never to the same protracted extent (when everything attempted has turned into dross). I am talking about a determination, captured in the carbon tax, to completely ignore; in fact to spurn, public opinion in prosecuting a momentous change to the way the nation conducts its economic and industrial affairs.

When Rick Santorum won the Republican primaries in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota last week he rhetorically asked President Obama whether he was listening to the people. Of course he said he wouldn’t be because he belonged to the Washington elite who knew what was good for people without the need to ask them. Substitute Canberra for Washington and the same speech has resonance here.

So what, you might say, hasn’t this always been the case? I don’t think it has. In my experience, Australian governments have generally paid close attention to public opinion. Howard’s ear must have been burning most of the time so receptive was he to public opinion.

We are now, as we have never been before to the same extent, in the hands of the left-wing elite. And like rabid dogs close to put-down they are becoming more unhinged by the minute. The apparent inevitability of defeat at the next election has emboldened rather than cowed them.

They are intent on churning revenue from the nationally debilitating, jobs-destroying, carbon tax into so many complex compensatory measures for both individuals and businesses that it will be all but impossible to unravel. And, when repeal of the legislation is suggested they bay in unison, aided and abetted, by the ABC and sundry hack commentators, about pensioners losing their compensation. How can they get away with this? I don’t know. A compliant media might be one reason. Sadly we don’t have a media producing headline after headline thundering about this unique betrayal in Australian public life.

How did it reach this point? It isn’t because the Labor Party is in power. It would not be happening under Hawke or Keating. Whenever public life degenerates, as for any misadventure, look for a combination of adverse factors working together. In this case we have a combination of weakness, self-serving mediocrity, and ideological zealotry.

With past incompetency and duplicity weighing her down, owing fealty to Bob Brown, assorted independents and now to Slipper, and Rudd waiting to pounce, the Prime Minister is barely clinging to her position. And it shows in her over-the-top performances in parliament and outside. According to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is “disgusting” in echoing the managing director of Alcoa by suggesting that the carbon tax will make matters worse for the aluminium industry. Apparently it is not disgusting to deliberately put people out of work only to comment on it.

For self-serving mediocrity we must look no further than Windsor, Oakeshott and Wilkie. How in the world did the Australian government become beholden to this trio? Would Abbott and the Coalition have succumbed? Perhaps it is better for them not to have been given the opportunity to find out; though in all probability we would have had another election by now. The fact that Windsor and Oakeshott acted in complete discord with the vast majority of their constituents in supporting a Labor government, so soon after being elected, is in itself a new low in Australian public life. It is not surprising therefore that they are part of the complicit factors in the carbon tax betrayal.

Bob Brown and his watermelon comrades of course provide the zealotry of the left-wing environmental kind. But, why were they not marginalised when they had nowhere to go but to support a Labor government? This comes right back again to the weakness of the Prime Minister or perhaps, at that early stage, to her own political predilection, as evidenced in her radical past?

Even now, with the legislation passed, the carbon tax can be undone, if the elites in the Labor movement, particularly the elite union bosses, can be bypassed. Howard knew how to appeal directly to blue collar voters. Union bosses don’t give a fig about jobs except their own. Why else would they support measures to put their members’ jobs at risk in some pyrrhic joust at making Australia the world leader in carbon pricing?

The carbon tax will put people out of work. It is patently ridiculous for Australian industry, already under pressure because of a high dollar and dependent on cheap fossil fuels, to be penalised in this way. Ordinary people of commonsense have more than enough wisdom to see this, and through the agenda of the elites. Abbott and company should appeal to them directly and often. Maybe they can borrow something from the grass-roots campaigning employed by Rick Santorum in bypassing the mainstream media and appealing directly to voters; face-to-face in hundreds of town hall and factory floor meetings.

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