Early Election?


Clearly one of the questions that must face any democratic government hanging on to power by virtue of an awkward coalition of disagreement is that of when to return to the people.

The Gillard/Brown Government came to office about 50 weeks ago and so presumably sometime in the next 110 weeks we will return to our voting stations to again make our mark on a piece of paper and allow our voice to be heard again. It is in fact 52 weeks ago that Julia announced ‘there will be no carbon tax under a Government I lead’

Did Julia lie? Such an accusation seems a little harsh – even for me. I suspect had Julia managed to hold office without the compromise she ultimately faced she would have held true to her word. However circumstances changed and so she has had to recant on the undertaking she gave to the people. Given the intricacies of the current position, I suspect it would be true to say that she does not have an unfettered leadership; in fact it appears to be running very close to a power sharing agreement with the Greens.

What did Julia mean then? At the time of utterance I believe that Julia intended (and I believe it is reasonable to assume that Julia intended) to be loyal to the ALP platform and move to a free market carbon credits trading scheme where the price of carbon then becomes set by the market. When you account for the Party Platform I think is fair to say that Julia was telling the truth – just not perhaps the whole truth. Some would argue, and I believe, that this position is certainly taken by key advisors, that the most efficient way to move from the current situation to a market based carbon credits system is through a taxation phase.

The possible problems with this approach include the notion fondly held by many that a government addicted to revenue and will need to replace any revenue sourced from a Carbon Tax by some other scheme. Not only that there is also the real possibility that we will need a Carbon Branch of the ATO if not it’s own department to manage, monitor and police the new regime, and 1000 Public Sector Employees won’t come cheap and it will need to be paid for somehow.

I am not sure what evidence there is to demonstrate that this approach will actually reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, however there are those that argue that by placing a financial incentive in place the outcome is logical. I fear we may not get what we are paying for, but that may be another question.

Why having gone to an election with one clear statement does Julia not want to return to let the people have a say? Perhaps because it is clear that if an election were held at the moment she would be extremely unlikely to be returned to office. It is also true to say that the Greens almost certainly do not want another election at the moment. Their image has quite possibly suffered at the moment as a result of the way they are perceived to have handled themselves in this situation. Rob Oakshot probably feels like he needs some time to repair his relationship with the people of Port Macquarie as well, as many of them were less than impressed by the agreement he was party to that gave Julia the gong, and Rob the microphone. For many of the distinctly conservative side of politics supporters of Oakeshott they felt he was sleeping with the enemy.

So why not have a referendum? That is one way the people get to have a say, and can give a mandate to the change in policy, which it would seem that Julia does not have a mandate to implement. Whilst she has found the political will to implement it, she certainly does not (by any fair understanding of democracy) have the moral authority to act on it. A referendum would clear that up. One must conclude that the reason for not having a referendum is that conceivable possibility that they would not get the nod from the Australian people. If the people had expressed their mind in a referendum, or even some other means of gauging it, one wonders if Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie, could then support the legislation, which would therefore fail.

Bob Brown as Leader of the Greens is clearly having his day in the Sun. He has Julia just where he wants her, desperate and dateless, and she has to pretty much do what he says or fails to govern. Many of those who watch think that Bob is packing the powder for Julia to fire and that he is also calling the shots.

Julia holds a majority in the Lower House of 1 vote only. That means on the day of the vote every member of her allegiance must be in the house and voting, no sickies, no OS junkets, no excuses, and no-one wavering. Every member of her team will need to be, on deck and voting, amendment by amendment, division by division. One must assume on the strength of Tony Abbot’s expressed opposition to the tax the bill will not get an easy passage through the house.

It is the slenderness of her majority that has to cause alarm in Government circles. The member for Dobel is in trouble for loose use of a Union credit card, and if he does jail for it, we may have a bi-election which would probably change Government. If any Government members get sick or have serious family issues etc., we run the risk.

A change of Government on this basis does not achieve a meaningful result, just another set of negotiations and another government, another leader and still no real majority, just the addition of a hostile senate. The upside would be fewer plans for major economic reform without a mandate, but hardly a better option for Australia.

Ultimately we would be better served I believe by an early general election, and hopefully the Australian people willing, a clear result.

Faced with such a choice at the moment I suspect that the two major parties would do better and the Greens and the independents would suffer a setback. It seems our experience of minority government is a little different to the experience of other nations. We seem to have become narrow and factionalised rather than broad and consultative.

And we are not having a free and open debate and dissemination of information on the subject of Carbon Pricing. The Government is investing millions in the promotion of one side of the argument.

If the opinion polls are anything to go by, then you must see the Brown/Gillard problem, they are unlikely to retain dominance following an election. Had Gillard played a stronger hand, and perhaps played for the longer term, she would have been prepared to open a debate, have a national forum of key folk to discuss the issues, and probably have been able to argue the case, there are indeed some very good arguments.

It seems that power, not government is the key agenda being played out at the moment, and Julia is looking a little too much like a puppet. Kevin is somehow smiling and looking like the elder statesman, though young enough for a comeback – in a kind of Lazarus rising kind of way.

The other side of the house does not seem in much better shape. Tony is the the Leader of the Opposition, and he seems ready to oppose just about everything. Under questioning Tony regularly looks like he lacks a lot of depth on the issues. Personally, I would say he comes across as not being well versed in the breadth of the Global Warming / Climate Change debate. One would imagine his faith background would suggest a slightly different approach, where he would speak more constructively of care and nurture for the global ecosystem that cares and nurtures human civilisation. Malcolm Turnbull does seem better versed in the issues and clearly has some depth on the subject. So much so that I suspect it was a key factor in his demise as leader of that side of the house.

At that stage the conservative side of politics acted on instinct as the perceived it’s leader looking too close to the then leader of the Government. The failed bid to get a true global consensus and will to act at Copenhagen was no doubt disappointing. Of course since then the American Economy has gone to the toilet, and a few other problems have surfaced which diverts attention.

Globally at the moment Australia is clearly a per capita over emitter, yet a great volume of the global problem stems from India, China and the USA. I believe we should not have ourselves on, on this subject. What we do makes little impact globally, even though we regularly punch above our weight; however we ought to be concerned that we are doing our part in cleaning up our act. We do not have a right to pollute the atmosphere any more than other people do. If we want to be heard in our call for others to change, we need to improve our act.

Is a Carbon tax the way to do it? I believe it may be, but it is not necessarily so, and the failure of both sides of the Parliament to believe that Australians and Australian Industry can act outside of simple financial motivation is a failing to have faith in the people who have placed sufficient faith in them to put them there.

The free debate, and the consensus will not happen now, and that has come about as a result of a concern to retain and maintain power as long as possible. Bob has his one chance to get what he wants and Julia has grabbed he one shot at glory, and they unfortunately need each other for the dance in the spotlight before an unimpressed crowd.

If they can help it, we will not have an early election, or a free and open discussion about climate change, and atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This situation will continue whilst the concerns are about power and personal interests. We need people on both sides of the house to be interested in Government, and they need to bring the people with them. This is called leadership.

So we won’t have an early election if they can avoid it, and we wonder if we would do a better job of electing a new government than we did last time.

Yet the question remains, can they avoid it. The suggestion is that one member of the house has been bailed out of personal bankruptcy by the party machinery of the ALP, because as a bankrupt you cannot hold a seat in parliament, so it would force a bi-election and that almost certainly means a new Prime Minister and government with a one seat majority.

I conclude that a general election would be cleaner and better for Australia than a bi-election. There is no doubt that those who currently hold power will do as much as they can to avoid either.

At the moment I suspect that Tony Abbot needs to be better briefed and better read on the issues, and he needs to have a plan that can be expressed and sold to the people, not as what we opposes, but rather what he wants to do about the major challenges. It is fairly well documented that not all Liberals are climate sceptics. Australians however do not want a government being a puppet of limited focus groups, be they the greens, the coal industry, the power industry or any other group.

So what sorts of things should be considered as a part of our response to climate change?

  1. An acknowledgement that Climate Change has always happened, however human activity is having a negative impact on Climate Change.
  2. Recognition that big contributors to this are Coal Fired Power Generation and Transport. Fossil fuels in general are great sources of carbon based pollution.
  3. We need to explore more options to use less power generally.
  4. We need to find methods of cleaner power generation and reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels.
  5. We should plan for significant reforestation to promote photosynthesis which is the life cycle method the planet uses to extract carbon from the atmosphere.

Certainly informed people can make decisions and act on some of these issues for themselves; however it really won’t gain momentum till we have a lead from our elected representatives. We need public policy to increase forests rather than reduce them. I believe there should be a moratorium on the construction of coal fired power stations. We need a commitment to the development of cleaner fuel alternatives for transport – which possibly includes ethanol production from Sugar Cane. It seems to me in the age of information we have the capacity to give the lead and call for action in terms of general community interest rather than simple financial constraints.

So, should we have an early election? Maybe that is a yes or a no or just a maybe. A government that undertakes major economic or social policy changes without a clear mandate may well be simply inviting the mess of the next government undoing it, even if it would be better that they did not. The general understanding of Democracy is Government: of the people – by the people – for the people. An unusual result without a clear mandate suggests that perhaps it is not the time for major innovation without a mandate. If Julia believes she has the right to act without a mandate one wonders if this falls within a general understanding of democracy, it smells more of political opportunism visited upon the people. A minority government should be looking for consensus, stability and modest reform agendas. If they believe there is a need for more major reform then there needs to be some attempt to secure popular approval for the program of reform so that there is at least a semblance of a mandate.

The current approach seems to treat the electorate with disdain, and underline the idea that she may not mean what she says, and that she does not care about that so long as she has power. Power for what you may well ask? To be dangled on a string by Bob Brown? Unfortunately it also clouds a really important issue in a politics of deception, which unfortunately does not allow the issue to be addressed with any clarity. With a coalition of discomfort, we would be better served by a bi-partisan approach, and maybe even a conscience vote, however I think she is too much a control freak for that.

Sadly I suspect we will need to cop it whatever they deliver.

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