Originally posted on http://www.thepunch.com.au
On Friday, Gillard announced Labor’s climate change policy in the lead up to the election. She announced her intentions to create a citizens assembly to evaluate the evidence for climate change and confirmed that an interim price on carbon would not be considered by the Labor government at least until 2012.
Ironically, she announced this somewhat vacuous, indecisive plan at the University of Queensland – theoretically a place for young people to “move forward” and a place of long-term sustainable innovation. Furthermore, she made this announcement to an audience of young people. Young people, who have a stake in their government taking decisive action on climate change to protect their futures.
I am all for community consensus when it means taking practical and tangible steps to ensure that the interests of stakeholders are respected in decision-making processes.
I am all for community consensus when it means bringing together and consolidating the ideas of diverse groups of people so that a cohesive and inclusive plan can be exacted.
I am all for community consensus when it comes about because of strong political leadership and a genuine desire to consult the people who the policy will affect.
The problem is when ‘consensus’ becomes synonymous with delay and a ‘citizens committee’ is bizarrely deemed necessary to represent the views of a minority who don’t believe in established scientific fact, or are not concerned with preserving our planet for future generations.
Gillard has explained her unusual move to establish a citizen’s assembly by emphasising the need to foster a consensus amongst the public on the course of action taken deal with climate change.
It is unclear, however, why Gillard thinks that a consensus is lacking. 70% of Australians are convinced that climate change is happening and is man-made (according to Newspoll and CSIRO polling). It’s reasonable to say that having established that the earth is heating up, the Australian public is looking to their leaders to try and stop the process before the consequences are too great. Establishing a committee to determine what is already agreed upon seems like yet another time-wasting and patience-trying exercise in political manipulation.
Despite public hope, Gillard also confirmed that Labor will not be reconsidering its refusal to put a price on carbon; and furthermore will not review the decisions made until 2012 (meaning that any sustainable reform will most likely be put off until the next election in 2013).
Furthermore, Gillard’s resistance to implementing a price on carbon is estranging an increasingly disillusioned portion of the population who understand the necessity of long term and sustainable industry reform. All of Abbott’s hyperbolic talk of a Great Big New Tax has given Gillard the perfect platform to get away with avoiding any sort of assertive leadership. These fear mongering tactics mean that once again we are put on hold when it comes to sustainably shifting our economy away from carbon and towards renewables in a way that holds big polluters accountable for the waste they generate.
To be fair, Gillard’s announcement wasn’t all citizens committees and hot air. She did commit $1 billion to connecting renewable energy projects to the grid and established that higher standards would have to be met before new coal power stations could be built (of course this does not apply to the 15 new coal stations that are already in the works). It seems though that her policy announcement neither offered the public new and well thought out information, or even fostered the feel good inclusiveness she seemed to be aiming for.
The Australian public don’t feel respected or consulted. They have been patronised and sidelined as election pressure and political whim dictate policy decision.
The big business to whom Gillard recently pandered when whittling down the mining tax, aren’t jumping for joy either, as once again they are left in the dark. They still don’t know whether to prepare for an eventual carbon tax, or for how long their unsustainable production of pollutants will be safe from intervention.
Gillard stepped up as Rudd stepped out and had an opportunity to “get the Labor party back on track”. Instead she has procrastinated and manipulated and avoided demonstrating any of the leadership that we’d hope is in the job description for being Prime Minister.
Gillard is rapidly throwing away her chances of catching any of the progressive voters who once aligned themselves with Labor.