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PM’s ghost has come back to haunt

30 July 2011 3 Comments

THE ghost of “Real Julia” has returned to haunt the Prime Minister, who continues to struggle with her credibility.

If we cast our minds back to last year’s election campaign, the response to the “Real Julia” announcement was that the public wondered whether they had only seen a “Fake Julia” up to that time.

This is the crux of Julia Gillard’s struggle for authority.

This week, the Australian Financial Review claimed, as it now seems wrongly, that when she was deputy prime minister Gillard wrote a formal paper to a cabinet committee, entitled The Bipartisan Solution, in which she argued against a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme. Yet this potentially explosive revelation only served to muddy the waters regarding Gillard and her attitude to the carbon tax.

The reality is that the Australian people cannot be sure that Gillard honestly believes her own statements and there is the deep suspicion that her sole motivation is to derive short-term political benefit. Take for example the triumphant tone of the original joint press conference announcing the carbon tax with Greens leader Bob Brown sharing equal billing in the Prime Minister’s courtyard.

This was not a sombre occasion announcing a complex policy that was anticipated to be a difficult decision. The fact that the carbon tax debate has proven to be so negative is more a testament to Gillard’s flawed political judgment and poor communication skills than evidence of policy courage.

There are dire consequences for Labor if the belief becomes entrenched, and it may already be so, that the Prime Minister is not telling the entire truth about the impacts of her carbon tax.

In response to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s repeated claims about job losses in the coal mining sector, the Prime Minister has resorted to saying that coal mining has a “bright future” and that mining jobs are safe. This claim is laughable because the entire basis of a carbon tax is to make coal more expensive and to make competing technologies more affordable.

As the carbon tax increases over time, the ultimate outcome is that coal is eventually replaced by cleaner technologies. There is no other way for the government to meet its target of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.

The Prime Minister understands this, yet continues to make the deliberately misleading claim that coal jobs are safe.

Labor’s partner in this crusade, the Greens, have argued at length for an end to mining coal – not only for domestic use, but also for export.

A recent analysis by RMIT economists Sinclair Davidson and Ashton De Silva of Greens’ policies towards the coal industry shows that if implemented, 200,000 jobs would be lost and $29 billion would be taken out of the economy.

Gillard has yet to explain the implications of Ross Garnaut’s warning in his March 2011 paper that the federal government will need to provide what he termed “targeted structural adjustment assistance for any regions that are vulnerable to large-scale loss of livelihood as a result of the implementation of a carbon price”.

If coal industry jobs are secure, according to Gillard, the government needs urgently to clarify which regions are vulnerable to mass job losses.

The truth is that Garnaut must have been referring to employment in carbon-intensive industries and there are few industries more carbon-intensive than coal mining and energy.

Gillard also continues to infer that China is reducing its emissions, in order to support her claim that Australia needs to act so as not to be left behind. Once again, the Prime Minister makes these statements fully aware they are simply untrue.

China is undergoing an accelerated version of the industrial revolution experienced in Western nations over the past 200 years or so. And while its economy has grown enormously in recent years, it remains a nation struggling to support a vast and relatively poor population.

China’s GDP was estimated last year at just over $7000 a person, compared to the GDP of the US of $47,000 a person and Australia at more than $41,000 a person.

As Chinese representatives stated at the Copenhagen climate change conference, Western nations have based their economic development on carbon emissions produced over many years, while China’s increase in emissions has occurred more rapidly, but over a relatively shorter timeframe.

China can also argue strongly that a significant proportion of its growth in emissions is due to consumer demand in other countries.

Gillard has also used the European Emissions Trading System as an example of other nations taking action on climate change. But this scheme was subject to an enormous ongoing fraud that cost European Union taxpayers an estimated $6 billion, and has also proven ineffective in reducing global emissions.

A 2010 report by researchers at the Carnegie Institution of Washington found that emissions in developed countries have effectively been outsourced to other countries, as manufacturing relocated. One of the researchers, Steven Davis, explains: “Just like the electricity that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan, and the US cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China.” This undermines another claim of the Labor government that emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries can be adequately compensated.

The EU scheme has been criticised for being overly generous towards many of its industries and is regarded as having a much lesser impact than Gillard’s proposed carbon tax, yet it continues to export its emissions to China.

Arguably the greatest impact in Australia will be on small business manufacturing, which receives no compensation under Labor’s policy.

Small business manufacturers face the double whammy of the increasing value of the Australian dollar and a carbon tax. Many are reporting that the carbon tax will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back and will put thousands of Australian jobs at risk.

Yet another issue undermining her credibility is that Gillard has sought the high moral ground in this debate with claims of environmental Armageddon for Kakadu and the Barrier Reef without a carbon tax.

Her policy shows that Australia’s emissions will continue to rise under her carbon tax, which is why she refuses to detail the impact of her policy on the climate or on global temperatures.

There are good reasons for reducing global emissions and the world debated those reasons at Copenhagen in late 2009.

Political leaders across the world should be honest with their voting public and tell them that, in the absence of a binding global agreement, individual actions of nations, particularly smaller nations, are meaningless.

Australia should be part of any global agreement that is reached and we should take every reasonable step to protect the environment.

However, we should not commit economic suicide for zero environmental benefit.

Ross Fitzgerald, an emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, is the author of 34 books, most recently his memoir My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey and the co-authored biographies Alan (“The Red Fox”) Reid and Austen Tayshus: Merchant of Menace.

The Weekend Australian

July 30 – 31, 2011


  • David Humphries said:

    Playing the long game rarely ends well

    As Mike Rann has proved, political leaders are hard pressed to choose their exit, writes writes David Humphries.

    Perhaps it’s because he could see himself in Mike Rann that Bob Carr – six years this week out of the daily mire of politics – should so promptly and emphatically come to the rhetorical defence of his old mate, the besieged premier of South Australia.

    After all, each led their parts of the Labor turf for 17 years, having been handed the proverbial sandwich by party heavyweights in the wake of electoral disaster. Each squeezed into a premiership and went on to consolidate thumping parliamentary majorities. Each was middle of the road, each put heavy emphasis on entrenching green credentials when powerful Labor colleagues objected and each held the premier’s reins for 10 years or thereabouts, although the Rann decade is seven months short of complete.

    Little wonder, then, that an ego as healthy as Carr’s would assert that Rann was entitled to special privilege. ”Going at a time of his choosing should have been seen as his right,” Carr blogged this week. ”He should have been afforded the dignity of going without any expression of impatience from his colleagues.”

    But Carr has been around long enough and studied political history thoroughly enough to know his words, though loyal, are the stuff of piffle. In most walks of life, few get to be masters or mistresses of their destinies and political leaders are no exception. Indeed, they may be the exemplar of the rule.

    Despite what Labor fantasists claim about their roles in the undoing of Carr, he chose the timing of his departure, telling confidantes before the 2003 election of his intention to subsequently pull the plug. Carr was an exception – along with Neville Wran and Robert Askin – one of maybe five NSW postwar premiers afforded the luxury of deciding their own departures.

    And NSW has been generous. Federally, for instance, just two of our 27 prime ministers got to go on their terms. Apart from our first, the reluctant Edmund Barton, who sought solace on the High Court bench, and our longest serving, Robert Menzies, the rest have died in office, been overthrown in palace coups, voted out by the people or moved aside as caretakers.

    Why is this so? Because politicians are human, albeit with unusually liberal sprinklings of ego and ambition. They overstay their time because, like John Howard, they’re convinced their poor polling is an aberration or, like Howard, they’ve recovered from misfortune previously and are convinced they can do it again.

    They get caught in political cycles that dictate it’s more dangerous to the greater cause to jump than to stand and face the music. Like Jeff Kennett, they’re ambushed by voters who sneak up on them, pipped at the post on their intended glory lap.

    Like Bob Hawke, they plot their departure only to renege on undertakings because they resent their anointed successor and insist their credentials are superior. Self-respect is never far from the mix. After all, they need some motive for entering the ring in the first place. No boxer reached Madison Square Garden suspecting they’d be KO’d at the first bell.

    ”You have to have more than a modicum of self belief,” says Ross Fitzgerald, an author of many political biographies and a student of contemporary politics. ”Most of them massively overstate their self worth, and have little appreciation of the real world, particularly now, because their lives have been absorbed since youth in political machination,” adds the emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, his finger pointed in Julia Gillard’s direction.

    Sydney Morning Herald, August 6, 2011, News/Review, p 14.

  • Kim Landers said:

    ABC News 24 (National Australia)
    Afternoon Live – 01/09/2011 – 04:09 PM
    Kim Landers
    Station Ph: 02 8333 3685

    Ross Fitzgerald, Professor, Griffith University, says the Gillard government is the most incompetent since Billy McMahon in the Liberal Party government. Landers says Graham Richardson has predicted Julia Gillard, Australian Prime Minister, will be finished before the next election. Fitzgerald says many people said the Malaysian solution was a deeply problematic area. Fitzgerald says it would be very tricky for the Labor Party to get rid of Gillard after they already got rid of Kevin Rudd, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs. Fitzgerald says Tony Abbott, Federal Opposition Leader, has been a tremendously effective opposition leader and a very smart man.
    4BC (Brisbane)
    Greg Cary Morning Show – 01/09/2011 – 10:24 AM
    Greg Cary
    Station Ph: 07 3908 8200

    Cary says Gold Coast Bulletin writer Peter Cameron has stated Labor figures have approached Peter Beattie to make a run at the Federal seat of Brisbane, but Cary doesn’t believe Beattie will do it. Ross Fitzgerald, Historian and friend of Peter Beattie, has suggested this also. He believes Beattie’s talents are wasted, and it would be an excellent idea for him to go into federal politics, as he is a good leader and the Labor Party is ‘in utter shambles.’ Fitzgerald says Julia Gillard has ‘proved herself incompetent.’ He says people with prime ministerial ambitions such as Bill Shorten and Greg Combet ‘may be a little bit miffed,’ but that is par for the course. Fitzgerald recalls Beattie’s time as Qld Premier, noting Beattie’s focus on infrastructure spending, his maintenance of a triple-A credit rating, and Beattie’s willingness to admit when he was wrong. Fitzgerald says Anna Bligh ‘squandered her inheritance’ from Beattie. Fitzgerald says the Smart State program and a reduction in the unemployment rate showed Beattie was a successful Premier. He believes Beattie will choose to run for the Senate. Cary says Beattie was a good Premier.
    © Media Monitors 2011

    Interviewees: Ross Fitzgerald, Historian
    Duration: 5:05

  • Alan Jones said:

    2GB (Sydney)
    Breakfast – 02/09/2011 – 07:23 AM
    Alan Jones
    Producer Mr Paul Christenson 02 8570 0000

    Asked about PM Gillard’s position, Fitzgerald says that the Govt is pathetic, inept and incompetent and the PM, Julia Gillard, wants to blame everyone else for her problems including the High Court. Fitzgerald says the Attorney-General has been forced to say the Labor Party respects the HIgh Court. Fitzgerald says the PM’s statements appear to be at variance with that. Jones asks what would have happened had Liberal figures like Abbott, Howard or Turnbull attacked the High Court and Robert French. Fitzgerald says there would be a media uproar. Jones notes Fitzgerald has recently written about a growing sovereign risk problem under Labor and Fitzgerald says it is a problem and the Govt is adrift, inept and humiliated. Jones notes Fitzgerald is an authority on the history of the Labor Party. Jones says the public has no redress about Labor still being in charge. Fitzgerald agrees that democracy is the issue and he says the three independents need to consider their support for the Gillard Govt. Jones and Fitzgerald discuss the Govt’s impact on Australian relations with other countries like Indonesia before Fitzgerald recalls Gillard saying the East Timor deal was virtually done. Asked where we go from here, Fitzgerald says we need a general election. Fitzgerald notes at the next election, Independents Oakeshott and Windsor will not be re-elected. Jones says they are putting their personal interest ahead of the national interest. Jones thanks Fitzgerald.
    © Media Monitors 2011

    Interviewees: Ross Fitzgerald, Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University
    Duration: 3:36

    2GB (Sydney)
    Breakfast – 02/09/2011 – 07:20 AM
    Alan Jones
    Producer Mr Paul Christenson 02 8570 0000

    Jones is discussing the High Court decision on the Malaysian plan. Jones talks to Ross Fitzgerald, Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University and author of 34 books. Fitzgerald says the Gillard Govt is utterly humiliated and he argues this is a more incompetent Govt than that of the Liberal Billy McMahon. Fitzgerald says everything PM Gillard has touched has turned to ashes. Jones reads Graham Richardson’s criticism of the Malaysian deal and Fitzgerald agrees before noting East Timor was touted as being a done deal but it has not worked. Fitzgerald says the PM has been utterly incompetent in many areas.Fitzgerald asks if it would be worse if Labor got rid of her. Jones puts more of Richardson’s criticism before Jones argues that if the High Court or a similar body reviewed other policies including the carbon tax, Grocery Watch and Fuel Watch, they would have been as scarifying of the Govt as the High Court has been on the Malaysia issue. Fitzgerald agrees and says he has been writing about such issues in The Weekend Australian. Fitzgerald gives PM Gillard none out of 100 but says she seems to blame everyone but herself. Fitzgerald notes there were questions about the Malaysian solution. Fitzgerald agrees with Richardson that the flow of Labor blood cannot be staunched and he says it is a shame there will be no quick election. Jones says the Immigration minister, Chris Bowen is a metaphor for modern Labor Govts, with no life experiences. Jones says he should have resigned and Fitzgerald agrees. Jones asks about suggestions Gillard should weigh up leaving. Fitzgerald argues many Labor people agree with that and he notes a Gold Coast Bulletin article recently suggested Peter Beattie be co-opted for the next election.
    © Media Monitors 2011

    Interviewees: Ross Fitzgerald, Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University

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