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Julia Gillard and Labor already on the wrong side of history

September 15, 2013

After the dignified decision to remain silent through the election campaign, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has returned with an undignified rant in an essay on the Guardian Online website. Rather than admit to the real mistakes of dysfunction, dishonesty, disloyalty, a dismissive attitude to the Australian people and a dismal record of holding promises and budget management, it’s apparently disunity and word games surrounding the carbon tax that sunk Labor. While Gillard doesn’t mention “disunity” itself, her party does, and the essay is littered with references to opinion polls and the over-attention given to them. The polls apparently caused the disunity, blurring Labor’s high performing governing and superb policies, and obfuscating the ad-nauseum repetition of their grand communication plan confirming these results. If only the polls didn’t state your dislike for the government, you’d never had become so disenchanted! It’s a perverse cause and effect totally at odds with reality. Gillard regrets that she was forced to concede that the carbon tax was a “tax” rather than a “price”, and believes she’ll be on “the right side of history” on this policy. Indeed, much of Gillard’s grandstanding on certain policies in her final few months was about legacy, about being on the right side of history. If she could only escape from her vacuum of delusion, denial and deceit, she’d recognise already at being on the wrong side of history.

Disunity

Post-election, disunity has been the catch-cry from Labor. Tanya Plibersek laughably awarded the government 9 out of 10 on governing and nothing on unity. Her scale must range only between 9 or 10 for her score of 9 to effectively mean a 50% pass mark, and even that is barely plausible. History has already smacked both she and Gillard as wrong. The simple fact is that each time Labor did knife their leaders, the government’s approval was its highest. It was the time of governing that approval would drop. When Keven Rudd reclaimed his job, the strong suggestion was to immediately call an election so to preserve the “sugar hit” of the disunity. Again, history showed that once back to governing, approval dropped.

Carbon Tax

This is the keynote policy that sunk Gillard from day one. Not so much the policy itself, it’s the lies upon lies upon lies and treachery surrounding it. To then use the excuse of word games as the reason it was unpopular strikes at the very heart of its corrupt existence and implementation. First of all, it is a tax. Admitting it immediately was the right approach. Trying to assuage it as otherwise was wrong. Now she had two lies: 1) her promise not to add a carbon tax; 2) lying that it wasn’t a tax. Realistically, the only reason to move from “tax” was to escape from her lie of “no carbon tax under a government I lead”. The problem was that the public aren’t as stupid as politicians often believe. They heard the promise, she was elected based on it, and they know it functions as a tax. Electricity already has a price. It’s on your bill at approximately 20c kw. The carbon tax was on top of that, and the more electricity used the more tax paid. Just like the GST works on goods and services. It’s that simple.

A price also suggests a purchase. I can’t go buy carbon pollution, can I? No. The true price is on carbon credits. Buying those offsets the tax paid power usage. To buy them, effectively that just means you’re channeling your money to a carbon offset company rather than the government, so it’s little incentive to mess around unless you can “buy” them cheaper than the tax rate. Considering a carbon credit is not much more than a piece of paper stating the amount of CO2 you can emit, it’s a very shady industry indeed. A carbon tax is probably the most efficient means to tax emissions, as even Tony Abbott publicly concluded. The bureaucracy is much smaller, the government directly gets all the revenue, so can use it to fund tax breaks for green investment and infrastructure. Whereas ETS revenue goes to free market. How the free market “earns” carbon credits to sell, especially across an international scheme as is seen as not detrimental to an individual economy, the government is in perilous control.

Gillard might have escaped with a “carbon price” had she started the ETS immediately. Instead, with her Greens socialist mates in cahoots, she knew an ETS would still be a semi-lie. To offset that she needed to offer a series of election bribes for the public and “compensation” for businesses as defence for the carbon tax. Since an ETS is a floating price and that the European price (as being the only significant ETS operating at present) was already so low that sufficient revenue could not be guaranteed, a fixed price, via a carbon tax, was the mechanism. At $24 per ton that would guarantee the tax cuts for lowest income bracket and fund the bribes like the “Family Assistance Package”. The fatal flaw in this strategy was that the lie was so toxic that the Liberals easily nullified the threat by committing early to the lower tax rates and announcing an end to the dopey “School Kids Bonus”. Worst of all, with all the compensation, it meant the carbon tax didn’t even work to cut emissions, meaning it was essentially a whirlpool of money through government bureaucracies and any left over funds from the tax would be to purchase credits from the European scheme. Insane.

Then there’s the whole concept of “acting on climate change”. How much will the tax reduce temperatures? How will the tax restore the climate? What has even changed about the climate that needs restoring? While science might by consensus say man is warming the globe, science unequivocally says Australia’s carbon tax will do zero action against it. Even a world carbon tax will do nothing at the current rate of industrial growth and the minuscule rate it would be compared to global GDP.  Labor was so smashed on this basic point that it had to re-brand its effort as the “Clean Energy Future”. That just brought more distrust, to add to the fact “climate change” was already losing validity thanks to failed hyperbolic predictions, the cynical re-titling of “global warming” to “climate change” in order to broaden the scope of weather to use as evidence for the cause, the money-grabbing fiasco and socialist love-in at the Copenhagen summit of 2009, and the scandal of leaked “Climate-gate” emails showing data fudged. The tax was all pain for no gain. The quintessential big waste of government money on fancy ideas. Forget not that the tax was also a monumental betrayal of a nation.

In trying to vindicate the carbon tax as “action”, the government would still lie saying the whole world is moving to “carbon pricing”. It wasn’t. USA, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Japan, no. Often citing the biggest emitter of China as an example, China is only doing pilot schemes in a few territories mostly to appease parts of the west for their need of an argument to defend their own schemes. Forget China are still building coal-fire power stations at 1 per week for 10 years and all the effort in solar is really as much an export business to the west. While Australia was trying to cut emissions, it also still had a $50 billion coal industry going, much of it to China. More hypocrisy. Tax here, pollute there. A wonderful message. Crazy.

The carbon tax was one big lie from start to finish. Now, even when defeated, Gillard is still lying about its merits. If you can’t recognise the problem, you’ll never find the solution. Her solution all along was actually to heed the people’s wishes, refine the legislation as an ETS at a very low price, with only the lower bracket tax cut as compensation, and with the argument that she wants Australia prepared for when the world acted. That would have provided kudos for: 1) listening to the people; 2) enacting a sensible policy; 3) showing strong leadership. Her consorts would have no choice to agree otherwise she threatens an election and they are out. While she didn’t make this revision then, she should be smart enough now to realise it as the preferred option in hindsight.

Mining Tax

Great in merit. In practice it typified the government’s absolute incompetence. The Mining Tax was supposed to tax super profits in times of boom as insurance for the lean times. First, the government decided to waste revenue from the tax on the “School Kids Bonus”. Second, the tax raised almost nothing that the SKB caused the budget to take another hit.

Disability Care

Also great in merit. Pity it will be mostly remembered for being a political tool to wedge the Liberals to allow Gillard to break yet another promise: this time to raise the Medicare Levy to help fund the scheme. Like the obnoxious carbon tax bribes, the Liberals quickly nullified this issue by agreeing. Gillard was so humiliated and embarrassed that her policy announcement was riddled with quotes of “Mr Abbott changed his mind”. Dear PM, are you interested in disabled people or not? If anything, she should have brought Tony Abbott out for a joint announcement. No, it was all about her own ego and political posturing. A disgrace.

If the process wasn’t bad enough, the implementation was worse. Or, the lack of implementation. This should have been a policy enacted years earlier. As it is, it’s not even fully functional until 2019 and will be administered, tweaked, even revamped, by future governments. At best, she might get a seat on the right side of history with them. More likely, she’ll be bumped off as a procrastinating clown.

Education

Yet another policy more about political posturing than anything substantial. Gillard’s communication’s direction John McTernan confirmed that Education was to be her key campaign tactic, using the snarly “fear beats hope” mantra of Liberals to cut, cut, cut. Of course, history shows Kevin Rudd tried it, and more, and was still walloped. History also shows that the Liberals committed to the same funding promises for the first four years.  After those four years, no one trusted Labor’s budgeting so their promises then didn’t matter.  Again, all scare tactics nullified, and Labor out-manoeuvred regardless that Gillard shrieks Abbott was forced into a “humiliating backdown”. Like Disability, Education should have been already implemented rather than wasting time on the inane carbon tax. Gillard lamented that Rudd never defended Labor’s great achievements during the election campaign and is stumped that the people repudiated Labor in the face of them. What achievements? They barely extend past announcements and bloviating, with education more about funding promises. We’ve seen how much a Labor promise means.

The Election

Naturally Gillard couldn’t pass without a dig at the person she unseated as Prime Minister, who in turn unseated her. While her reference of Rudd’s penchant for superficial “selfies” is justified, he was restored as Prime Minister to be Kevin Rudd. He also needed to clean up some of her mess. The PNG solution for illegal boat arrivals and so-called termination of the carbon tax through switching to the ETS sooner was the best he could – at least symbolically. PNG could never be proved as successful in such a short time and the public already decided about the carbon tax in whatever form it’s to be called. Gillard sniped at Rudd’s “cheap populism” when Rudd questioned the level of foreign investment in the nation’s economy. A curious observation by Gillard given she resorted to even cheaper populism, in fact cynical populism, by going to Sydney’s western suburbs and using the 457 Visa scheme for foreign workers as a nationalistic issue to claw back some skerrick of credibility after her boat policies sunk.

Gillard was scathing on the leadership change to Rudd: “It was only done – indeed expressly done – on the basis that Labor might do better at the election. Labor unambiguously sent a very clear message that it cared about nothing other than the prospects of survival of its members of parliament at the polls.” Isn’t this the exact same reason that saw Gillard in 2010 knife Rudd? To criticise this motive is the height of unbridled, self-righteous hypocrisy. To be fair on both leaders, this is a democracy. Democracy is not just about winning an election and then acting like a megalomaniacal dictator in between. Polls are an indication that the government is acting within the wishes of the people. While spikes and dips can be ignored, trends cannot.

In contrast to 2010 where Labor acted more on internal discontent than a polling shambles, in 2013 Labor had no choice than to rescue some of its MPs and preserve some form of working future opposition. Even though Kevin Rudd’s popularity was mostly attained because he wasn’t Julia Gillard and that he eventually presided over Labor’s lowest primary vote ever at 34%, under Gillard Labor were shaping as a scary 29% and almost total electoral obliteration. The fault with the leadership change was that it didn’t happen a year earlier. It would have happened had Gillard been a man and carried the numbers that she did for so long. Reverse sexism, fearing not appear sexist, kept her in the job. If Gillard really wanted to face the polls, she could easily have called a snap election, especially as her nominal 14 September date acting as a marker against an early challenge. Bang, she goes out on her terms, under her principles and under her accountability, not out on the wrong side of history as a bitter, unrepentant prime ministerial wash-up.

Julia Gillard’s essay:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/13/julia-gillard-labor-purpose-future

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