As the politicians prepare for this year’s federal election, Liberal attack dog Tony Abbott has pulled the mainstream political debate to the right. But it is only Rudd’s right-wing agenda that has allowed this.
Abbott’s leadership takes the Liberals back to the radical conservatism of Howard, after Malcolm Turbull’s attempt to distance them from the Howard legacy. Abbott panders to the climate sceptics, pines for the “numerous economic benefits” of WorkChoices and has been willing to stoke racism by bashing refugees.
Even if Abbott is not prepared to openly repeat his famous quip that climate change is “absolute crap” he is happy to send out signals to the sceptics that he’s onside—like meeting notorious climate sceptic Lord Monckton during his tour.
The climate debate is now framed around how best to deliver Rudd’s pathetic target of 5 per cent emissions reductions. Abbott is proposing just $1 billion a year, to be spent on domestic offsets like paying farmers to plant trees.
But it is Rudd’s refusal to contemplate a serious climate policy that has allowed this. He is the one that refused to go beyond a 5 per cent reduction target, and bent over backwards to appease polluting industries with the CPRS.
There is no talk of the solutions we need—like reordering government spending priorities to put billions into building solar power stations. Neither Abbott’s nor Rudd’s plan raises the question of how Australia will transition away from dependence on coal—in fact they both want this dependence to continue.
Abbott has confidently returned to the worst of Howard’s racist refugee bashing, declaring he’d tow asylum boats back out to sea rather than let them land. Just before Australia Day he again tried to stir up racism, claiming, “Some recent immigrants seem resistant to Australian notions of equality”, echoing the racist Howard government attacks on Muslims.
Here again Rudd had prepared the ground with his own carbon copy of Howard’s refugee policies, the “Indonesian solution”. Rudd too wants to stop refugee boats reaching Australia, by working in concert with the Indonesian navy.
The same is true over the economy, where Rudd has promised a neo-liberal diet of spending restraint. In a series of speeches in January he vowed to keep government spending increases to only 2 per cent a year, and criticised the Howard government for overspending.
Many people are spooked by Abbott’s rise in the polls and believe that the campaigns should go quiet in case any criticism of Rudd is to Abbott’s advantage. But in order to shift the debate, there is a need for opposition to Rudd from the left—and for a clear alternative. This would put pressure on him not to slide further to the right in trying to outdo the Liberals. Such opposition is weaker than it should be.
The climate movement has failed to campaign strongly against the CPRS, largely abstaining from the debate.
The Greens have said the right things when it comes to refugees, and have staunchly opposed the CPRS.
But their ability to articulate an alternative to Rudd’s policies has been hindered by their orientation on parliamentary deal making. All through the CPRS debate they have looked to strike a deal with Rudd to pass his legislation.
A weakness amongst both is their support for some form of emissions trading, which leads them to hope to amend Rudd’s scheme, rather than campaigning to oppose it. The left needs to agitate inside the climate movement, and over other issues, to build political clarity about the alternative to Rudd’s policies, and to construct a movement able to confidently oppose him on the streets.