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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Rudd’s climate change lessons


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With the ALP leadership debacle out of the way, it’s time to look at how Kevin Rudd was brought unstuck by his flip-flops on climate change.

The lesson: treating climate change policies as a purely political exercise and battle for popularity doesn’t work. It needs to be a matter of principle.

We all remember back in 2007 how Kevin Rudd proclaimed climate change as the “great moral challenge” of our time. Watch the video below from August 2007. Remember?

In that campaign, he spelled out what his government would do: bring in a national emissions trading scheme, clean coal technology, mandatory renewable and energy efficiency targets, develop a framework for corporate and community responsibility, diplomacy and look at Australian national institutional arrangements.

Of course, we all know what happened. Rudd scrapped it in the face of political pressure and the Opposition deciding to abandon bipartisan support for an emissions trading scheme. Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald summed it up pretty well at the time. “Who would have thought the difference between ''the greatest moral challenge of our age'' and ''absolute crap'' could wind up being so small?

Rudd’s back flip destroyed him politically. His popularity crashed and he was ousted.

During the leadership tussle, Rudd had claimed that Treasurer Wayne Swan and his then deputy Ms Gillard, had "bluntly and directly" told him that the carbon pollution reduction scheme should not proceed after it was defeated in the Senate for a second time following the failure of the climate summit in Copenhagen.

But Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald reveals that Rudd had commissioned advice on how to handle the emission trading scheme proposal, including scrapping it, some two months before it was jettisoned.

Tristan Edis at the Climate Spectator sums up why Rudd failed. Put simply, he treated it as a short term political exercise, rather than a matter of principle. You can only treat it a long, hard slog and not a battle for popularity because it’s about taking on the well-entrenched and powerful corporate interests. And besides, debate in the media is likely to be coming from a whole lot of vocal ideologues and commentators with no interest in compromise.

“If Rudd was driven by policy principle rather than politics he could have stood his ground and gone to a double dissolution election early in 2010,’’ Edis writes. “He probably would have won the election easily and history may have been very different. But he lacked the courage of his convictions and then wilted in the face of political difficulty, choosing to dump the ETS.”

So it could have been very different now. If Rudd had stood firm and gone to the polls on the issue, the carbon tax may not have been the divisive issue it is now. That’s Kevin Rudd legacy: he stands as a monument to Labor’s lost opportunities.