12 long months of Gillard

A new leader but what has changed in the Labor Government?

When Julia Gillard knifed former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in the back, she said this was necessary because his Government had lost its way and a change of leadership was the best way to get back on track.

So, apart from replacing a procrastinating policy wonk with a policy knee-jerker (as witnessed by Gillard’s flip-flopping on a solution for the asylum seeker issue and her blanket six-month minimum ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia responding to a program on ABC TV) I would suggest not a lot has changed.

Social engineering (dressed up as “reform”) still underpins a Labor strategy which is driving Australia towards becoming a nation of dependents. Nation building supported by heightened productivity, global competitiveness and job creation form a lance of political correctness hurled at anyone who dares to question the legitimacy of the Labor Government’s policy assumptions.

On this front, nothing has changed since Labor won office in 2007 regardless of a change at the top. Rudd brushed aside as ill-informed criticism of his Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, his version of an emission trading platform, and carted it off to the Copenhagen save the planet from global warming conference at the end of 2009 where it hit the wall in a very undignified fashion.

Rudd finally pulled the pin on this and after he was put to the political sword Gillard announced that no government she led would introduce a carbon tax. She was clearly not counting on having to do a deal, to save Labor’s hide, with the Greens who would like to see the coal mining industry shut down as soon as possible and, coincidentally, want a total ban on Australia’s live animal export industry.

As a result, a carbon tax is well and truly back on the table with its critics demonised for showing callous indifference to the plight of the country from the effects of unchecked climate change driven by the impact of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. The simple fact is that a tax is a tax; but apparently this is not so if it comes in the guise of an environmental measure.

Meanwhile a fundamental catch-cry in the Government’s mantra is that unless its nation building policies are accepted, Australia will be left behind the rest of the world. Or as Professor Ross Garnaut, the Government’s climate change spear carrier, put it to the National Press Club when painting the carbon tax debate as a clash between old policy culture and the national interest: “ I don’t support the argument that we are a country of pissants.” Is this then the pit into which those who publicly contradict this Government policy should be cast? And should it be reserved exclusively for those who don’t share Labor’s view on climate change or be widened to accommodate those who don’t embrace the Government’s broad policy paradigm?

This seems to be the case because, at almost every turn, we are being warned that failure to back the Government’s reform agenda will condemn us to being the intellectual trash of the developed world.

Stressing that we must act now to put a price on pollution Treasurer Wayne Swan told the National Press Club on June 7 that failure to do this would allow Australia to become a technological wasteland. “If we delay the rest of the world will impose a penalty on our exports,” he warned.

Attacking the Opposition’s direct action alternative to its carbon tax policy Swan and Gillard say that the Government is having to contend with scaremongering and the sort of fear campaign that the Hawke and Keating Government faced when it introduced economic reforms during the 1980s. “We are doing our best to counter this,” Swan argues. What he doesn’t say is that the Rudd and now Gillard Government have been waging their own scare campaigns to spook the electorate into believing that an emissions trading scheme is the only way to avoid an environmental Armageddon. This was displayed no more clearly than in a 2009 speech by the current Environment Minister Greg Combet who, at the time, was Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change Penny Wong.

Supporting Labor’s CPRS legislation Combet said the fact that human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases were responsible for the majority of global warming was beyond doubt. Failure to act immediately would have serious consequences for society, the economy and the environment. “The challenge is serious and there is not excuse for inaction,” he said.

Combet then went on to detail the devastating impact of flood, fire and pestilence which would be a direct result of failing to act now. The global average atmospheric temperature could rise by up to 6 degrees above 1990 levels by the end of the century. These temperature changes would be accompanied by significant and ongoing rises in sea levels along with heatwaves, bushfires and droughts. Disruptions to our ecosystems would mean the extinction of many species, disease threats as well as social and geopolitical destabilisation. And so it goes on.

Meanwhile the Government is using a similar policy strategy to support the rollout of its multi billion dollar National Broadband Network. We are told that this taxpayer funded expenditure is more than justified because we are currently lagging well behind competitor economies in network readiness. Ensuring that Australia becomes a leading digital economy will contribute to the country’s productivity, maintain our global competitiveness and improve our social wellbeing, according to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

The fact that the Government is creating a massive communications monopoly with a mandatory fibre connection to every premises in the country making it the nation’s content gatekeeper is a small price to pay for progress.

A brave new world of tele-health, tele-working and tele-education, tele-everything it seems, awaits us. Only the knockers stand in the way of this information super highway and they will be run over by enthusiastic consumer support. But little is being said about the fact that the network so far has less than 600 subscribers and they are being fully subsidised by the Government.

Conroy argues that an NBN-empowered digital economy will improve Australia’s sustainability by encouraging more efficient use of water, energy, transport and infrastructure reducing current and projected levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Better use of existing infrastructure and the increased adoption of teleworking will reduce the pressure for new infrastructure projects, for example. This is a long bow indeed and ignores the desire for greater mobility in communications particularly by younger people. This suggests that the best interests of nation building will be served through social exclusion not inclusion.

It is one thing to talk about a smarter use of technology but surely all of this just means that the NBN at its peak would put enormous pressure on the country’s already strained electricity generating grid which is largely coal fired. If the Greens get their way and a carbon tax successfully drives down the investment in coal powered energy what will feed a ravenously hungry NBN — wind farm turbines, solar power, wave farming or a combination of these alternative energy sources? The Greens are letting this and already steeply rising electricity prices go through to the keeper along with the fact that a large proportion of the cabling for the NBN will be above ground — something they apparently do not find environmentally unfriendly.

In February 2009 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd thundered that only the then Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was standing in the road of his $42 billion economic recovery package. “I tell Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Party to get out of the road.”

Last year, while he was still Prime Minister, Rudd gave the same message to the new Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, whom he accused of being obstructionist by not supporting his policies.

Gillard and Swan are now using a similar tactic against Abbott over their backflip on a carbon tax. They are, in fact, branding Abbott with the line which Groucho Marx made famous in the movie Horse Feathers: “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

But there is no reason why Abbott should cooperate with Government policy merely because to do otherwise would leave him vulnerable to claims that he is acting against the national interest.

Abbott would be remiss in his responsibilities as Opposition Leader if he did not ask for all the details of Labor’s policies to be put on the table before he made a decision particularly in the wake of the string of appalling, ill-considered, policy initiatives which have already cost the electorate millions of dollars and enormous physical and emotional suffering.

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