Thursday, 27 September 2007

Climate change political reality vs Fluffy, low-impact promises

The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen nails the smoke and mirrors aspect of federal Labor's climate change policy. The situation in Australia is no different to other countries around the world that are seeing politicians promise little to no impact of their climate change policies whereas the reality is a lot different.
WHAT is it about climate change that attracts charlatans? While the focus has been on the Howard Government these past few days, what about the political snake-oil salesmen who would have you believe that we can reduce carbon emissions and fix global warming in the near term?

That we can pull it off without noticeable economic or political pain and without worrying about what developing countries do. All bunkum. But you wouldn’t know that just by listening to the siren songs of the federal ALP or the Greens. They tell us breezily we can have it all, no worries. Where is the probing, sceptical media when these sorts of porkies are told?

Labor’s climate change policy represents the sort of brazen deception that Hugh Mackay would have no hesitation labelling “shameless mendacity” had it been offered up by the Liberal Party. But because Mackay and his progressive friends are barracking for Kevin 07, they have gone missing in action on the issue of what an ALP government can, and will, deliver on climate change.

A couple of striking recent developments in NSW tell us what a real live ALP government would be forced to do if it got its hands on the levers of power. It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the cuddly, idealistic promises of the Kevin 07 campaign. Federal Labor is hoping nobody will notice the yawning gap between what can be delivered on climate change without passing through the public’s pain barrier and what Peter Garrett and co are holding out to us.

Which is why we ought to take a close look at NSW, where this problem is writ large. The NSW Iemma Government is acutely aware of the chasm between reality and spin because it actually holds the reins of government.

Exhibit one from the NSW Government reality file is Moolarben. A few weeks ago, the NSW Government approved the development of a massive new coal mine at Moolarben near Mudgee despite loud protests from environmental and residents groups. Moolarben is huge. The Sydney Morning Herald reported it would produce 504 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 168 million more cars on the roads and almost as much climate change pollution as Australia generates in a year. If you’re a climate change purist, this is surely a disaster. But the iron law of political reality meant it had to be approved. A cleaner environment tomorrow is no substitute, electorally speaking, for jobs and prosperity today.
As Tasmanian forestry unions taught us at the previous election, the first duty of any Labor government is to preserve and enhance the jobs of union members. Utopian promises of a clean, green environment free of coal mines and timber workers must always surrender to reality.

This is one reason that those telling you it is possible to have meaningful and binding international targets on carbon emission in the near term are practising a fraud. If the NSW Government cannot say no to the jobs generated by the coal industry, can we realistically expect developing countries such as China to do so?

And any scheme that imposes real and effective targets on developed countries but not on developing countries is no more than a scheme to export jobs from Australia to China. Now, Bob Brown and Garrett may have no objection to that. But the hard heads in the ALP know better.

Exhibit two from the NSW school of practical political reality. The NSW Labor Government realises that NSW needs at least one large new power station to “keep the lights on”, to quote Premier Morris Iemma. But as Tony Owen told the Government in his report, it cannot afford to have one without privatising the NSW electricity retailing sector at a minimum, and probably also the generation sector as well.

Herein lies not one but two delicious ironies. Privatising the power industry in order to fund a new power station, inevitably coal-fired, shatters two sacred tenets of the left-wing faith. Thou shalt not privatise. Thou shalt not build more coal-fired power stations.

The need to preserve the jobs of electricity workers, no matter what the cost, will likely mean privatisation will fail because the unions will oppose it, just as they did when former premier Bob Carr and his treasurer Michael Egan went down that path in 1997. Already the unions who pull the NSW Government’s strings have vetoed privatisation.

Interestingly, according to reports in The Daily Telegraph, they have done an unholy deal with the NSW Government to keep any dispute between them quiet until after the federal election. Similarly, if NSW needs a coal-fired power station to keep the lights on, they will get one. At public expense. No matter what climate change commandments are broken in the process. Union jobs will always outrank the cost to the public and certainly trump a clean atmosphere.

The hard men from Labor’s NSW Right faction learned those lessons of practical politics along with their two-times tables. And the key lesson for voters is that federal ALP is run by such practical men today. Men such as Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan. They know, though they are not saying, that Garrett, Anthony Albanese and ALP promises of a clean, green tomorrow are all just flim-flam election material. They know that, pre-election, the vast gap between what they promise on climate change and what an ALP government can actually deliver needs to be filled with a combination of smoke, mirrors and lies.

Should Labor win the federal election, these childish stunts will stop and the real business of governing will begin. Perhaps we should be grateful: adhering to idealistic targets, butchering the coal industry and banning electric hot-water systems will simply impoverish Australians and send jobs offshore without making a jot of difference to world carbon levels or global warming.

If we think the Chinese are going to stop opening new coal-fired power stations because we veto new Moolarbens and won’t sell them coal, we have a shaky grip on reality.

So the realpolitik of the ALP hard heads is infinitely to be preferred to the Pollyanna-type views of the dreamers who write the campaign ads and the jingles about clean green futures.

But it would be nice to think that when this inevitable deceit is practised upon us, it would be fearlessly exposed. To think that the left-wing faithful, the artists, poets, actors and playwrights will complain about a lack of public decency in public life, led by Mackay, excoriating the mendacious in public office. To think the intelligentsia will moan about being lied to and write books titled, Not Happy, Kev.

Not likely. I guess that’s my own utopian fantasy. But don’t say you weren’t warned.

Over to you...

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