Labor needs to shut up about carbon

The summer recess of parliament is almost upon us. There's just one more week of Capitol Hill biffo to go, before both sides limp to their respective beaches to tan and hazily dream of victory at next year's election.

Or at least that's the impression we'll get. There will, in fact, be feverish strategic planning behind the scenes and on Labor's side in particular, the full realisation that the carbon-tax-fightback that has been waged in past weeks has been a little too effective.

Yes, too effective.

The defining policy of this Labor government should have been something like the Fair Work Act, or the fiscal strictures imposed by its 2 per cent, then 2.5 per cent, efficiency dividend that is actually delivering one of the world's leaner public sectors (despite a lot of bluster in the media to the contrary).

But the good or ill effects of those policies are discussed a lot less that the carbon tax, and the catastrophic effect it had, until recently, on Labor's electoral prospects.

And it was clear to some commentators, months back, that Labor's long game was to allow the over-enthusiastic Tony Abbott to punch himself out on the issue, before stepping forward with a long list of Abbott quotes, and a growing list of actual data relating to the small impacts of that tax, then pummel him into oblivion.

But the strategy has worked too well, and serious leadership speculation grows in the media day by day. Abbott's approval rating is appallingly low and the two-party-preferred split is now hovering between the 50:50 Newspoll results, and a continuing election winning 53:47 according to the Essential Poll – the one that was closest to the actual voting patterns seen at the August 2010 election.

Malcolm Turnbull's assertion on the ABC's Q&A last night that "there's not going to be any change [in leader] on our side, certainly" was wonderfully convincing.

But then all 'reluctant' leaders make these kinds of statements before being dragged before voters to save their parties. Think how reluctant Julia Gillard was to tip-toe through the puddles of blood left by Labor Right-faction powerbrokers to sit in Kevin Rudd's still-warm prime-ministerial chair in the House of Reps.

"Oh very well," they all sigh when it's their turn. "I know I said I wouldn't, but if it's for the good of our nation's beloved people ..."

Turnbull slipped in this rather unambiguous line last night: "... while I won't be the leader of the Liberal Party, and certainly not the next Liberal prime minster, if the Liberal Party is elected to government next time, I will be part of collective leadership that is the Coalition cabinet".

I'm sure Tony Abbott will find little comfort in that line – "zip, zero and none", to use one of Rudd's colourful turns of phrase.

That's because in politics, numbers can't be argued away. If, in early 2013, there is a real prospect of a number of Liberal Party members losing their seats to a reinvigorated Labor Party, and thereby ceding power once again to Gillard, all the principled arguments in the world will be no match for the simple logic that in a Turnbull-Gillard election, the result would be resounding victory to the coalition.

Which is why the carbon-fight-back needs to be slowed. Labor needs to land its heaviest blows around budget time next year. While almost the entire commentariat seems to have been taken in by the 'Labor backtracks on surplus' line, I cannot agree – Swan, Wong and Gillard will do anything, including further painful spending cuts, to deliver a budget surplus next May.

Okay, so that surplus will be a temporary illusion – looking across forward estimates, 2012/13 is an aberrant dip in public spending, which takes off again the following year – but it is a simple, clean story to take Labor to an election around September.

So Labor will be rubbing Abbott's nose in the carbon poo, and clobbering him with the surplus, and it will be too late for his party to do anything about it.

That's why I expect one of the things we won't hear about from next week's Caucus meeting will be how Gillard stood up and told Labor MPs to have a quiet summer, work on the tan, and lay off that nice Mr Abbott for a while.

We will know more about this next week. Those with the time should study Labor's attacks in question time to see if a more muted approach is evident.

If it is not, and if Labor goes too hard, it risks making Abbott look unelectable in early 2013. And despite Turnbull's protestations to the contrary, his party would be left with absolutely no choice.

So it may be a quiet summer. But for some, the silence will be filled with menace.

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If anyone believes that Labor or Green voters will switch to the LNP should Mr Turnbull replace Mr Abbott then there is a big bridge I would like to sell them. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
The more likely outcome is that LNP would suffer more deserters.
Treat those opinion polls with caution.
I do not see how this Government can possibly succeed at the next election. They do not have a habit of success nor do they project the image required of rulers. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
This state of affairs is entirely due to the tireless efforts of the Leader of the Opposition who has succeded in putting the Government on the defensive and by deliberately provoking some really juvinile behaviour on the part of quite a few Ministers who should have known better. There is no way Mr Turnbull could have achieved this. Mr Abbot is not through yet. Just wait and see.
I personally think Turnbull should lead the Libs to the next election. Abbott has done a reasonable job and would still likely win (just) but I just don't think it's worth the Coalition taking any chances. Abbott has fallen at the post once before when he failed the negotiations with the independents. In politics there are no prizes for second place and I'm not convinced that he's earned a second chance at the expense of almost certain victory by the Coalition. Oh, and I think Turnbull would wipe the floor with Rudd also (or any other Labor contenders). Turnbull didn't do particularly well as opposition leader, but I think the situation has changed since then. Besides, I expect his skills would be more suited to PM than opposition leader as he's reluctant to criticize good policy by the govt for political points; which is exactly what's required from an opposition leader.
Yet another of Mr Turnbull's unwavering supporters in the media, who confidently predict Turnbull's return to the leadership of the Liberal party, despite the Coallition currently in a position to win the next federal election. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
A situation impossible to contemplate when Turnbull last governed the Liberals.
Let us not foget that Turnbull would have signed up to a carbon price, today that would have been a success for the ALP, rather than an albatross around their necks.
Mr Burgess may be a Turnbull supporter, but few others are, especially the ones who count, Liberal party members in Federal Parliament, who remember exactly how ineffectual Turnbull was as opposition leader.
I doubt there is much chance of a change unless poll numbers for the Liberal party (not the leader) turn hopelessly against the conservatives.
Rob, the carbon tax will be an election issue for two simple reasons. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
One, electricity prices to households have doubled since Labor came to office with the last 20% occurring with the introduction of the carbon tax. You can argue all you like about the real causes of this price increase but it all boils down to the effects of a mistaken policy to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (RET schemes, upgrades in poles and wires to cope with multitudinous sources of power and the direct effect of the carbon tax).
The second is the science of atmospheric CO2 global warming. In the last 15 years it was supposed to get warmer not colder . As the short wave emissions of the sun continue at their extra-ordinarily low levels (for this stage of the solar cycle) and the sun's magnetic field continues to be relatively weak the changes in the composition and temperatures in the upper atmosphere will cause further cooling and much higher levels of extreme weather conditions. The sciences involved on these changes are not controversial.
Recently we have had a top scientist in Norway predicting an average 6 degree Celsius average drop in temperatures in some parts of his country, a top Russian scientist predicting a century long "little ice-age" and many scientists in the US also openly predicting a new solar grand minimum. Currently the snow coverage of the Northern Hemisphere is greater than ever recorded by satellites in mid November.
By concentrating on the carbon tax the opposition encapsulates the frustration voters have with unsound policies to keep the votes of extremist climate change advocates. Voters hip pocket nerves convulse each time they get a electricity bill and this reinforces their perception on the futility of the governments "carbon" policies.
Brent (November 20, 10:54AM),
Labor has an interesting problem as Rob points out (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20). If it goes in too hard on Tony Abbott it faces certain defeat by Malcolm Turnbull, but go too lightly on Tony and he will beat them.
As to the facts re pricing carbon, it is clear that just about everyone but you acknowledges that the carbon tax has had negligible effect on prices.
As to climate change, you are on your own with a "top??" Norwegian scientist thinking the world is cooling. PWC, The World Bank, IEA, etc etc all have said in the past week we are on track for 4-6C temperature rise (= disaster). Freezing winters in the northern hemisphere are a consequence of extreme warming in the arctic, where cold air gets displaced south. This doesn't mean the world is cooling, quite the reverse.
Keith Williams (November 20, 11:50AM): PWC, the World Bank and IEA are not experts in atmospheric and earth sciences and whatever they say is merely regurgitation of assertions unbacked by evidence, made by those who are making a good living out of this very poor scientific conjecture.
As for "Freezing winters in the northern hemisphere are a consequence of extreme warming in the arctic, where cold air gets displaced south" you might like to take a globe of the world, look at the area of the arctic basin and compare it to the area of the globe between say 35 degrees North and 55 degrees North. The arctic would have to be getting very warm indeed to have much effect on the lower latitudes. Not that either the arctic or antarctic seem to be warming noticeably when actually measured as opposed to extrapolated from sparse dubious measurements and models. This assertion of yours is simply laughable and ridiculous.
@Keith Williams (November 20, 11:50AM), I refer to my latest power bill which states "NSW Govt estimates that Federal carbon tax and green schemes add about $316 dollars a year to a typical household bill - see"
My power usage was lower this quarter than last yet $120 higher than my last bill. Many others are in the same situation, particularly SMEs. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
Keith Williams (November 20, 11:50AM), Brent Walker (November 20, 10:54AM) is not on his own about climate change! But unfortunately there are only a minority who are with him. Since this is a matter of science and not a democratic vote, it doesn't mean that you are right and Brent Walker is wrong. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
if one references the data behind the latest SKM reports on the RET review, you will note that in all scenarios, that coal generation increases to 2030 and that emissions from generation do not decline. (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
The cost data for different generation technologies clearly shows that the carbon tax is too low to change the merit order from coal to gas or to bring forward renewable technologies. It is through direct market intervention through the RET scheme that our emissions are changing.
The cheapest alternative for generation, coal plant, is not being constructed as it is a high risk investment.
These outcomes can be achieved through simple regulation if politicians have strength and electrcity prices would be lower. The carbon tax is a tax that is doing nothing to reduce emissions.
Proper economic analysis is necessary to be provided to the voters and to improve the level of public debate. Facts are more important than spin.
Brent (November 20, 10:54AM) is missing the point about climate change. He is taking a time period of 10-15 years, an 'instant' in geological time, which, according to him but refuted by other sources, hasn't matched the prediction and extrapolates that action on carbon is futile. As pointed out by Keith Williams (November 20 11:50) the consensus opinion does not support Brent's view.
Rob (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20) left out a remark Mr Rudd made in last night Q&A, i.e. Abbott is Labor best asset. What has motivated Mr Rudd for making such obvious and true remark? It's evident to any observers, particularly after the Romney debacle, that parties infiltrated by right wing extremists, e.g. Mr Bernardi, are unelectable. Electors that enjoy reasonably good living conditions, low interest rates, low unemployment, and all other good economic news are not likely to risk putting the country in the hands of a leader that, deep-down, is a right wing advocate. Rudd, like Turnbull, knows that elections are won in the middle, and probably was helping his cause by spooking the Libs to replace Abbott with Turnbull and thus hoping that Labor would implore him to lead them again. It's a long shot but we are dealing with an intelligent and cunning person.
Turnbull is correct in his assertion that he will not lead the party (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20), unless of course Abbott loses and then he will. You have to remember that Turnbull was shown the door because his policies did not please his big business political masters. So he was replaced by somebody who is essentially a drone.
Gillard should be happy about Abbott remaining the leader as most Australians have now seen what you get with him and realise that Abbott is not the sort of person to lead the nation.
Gillard should win unless Labor manages to shoot itself in both feet again or the economy blows up. the latter is of course quite on the cards although it may play out after the elections are done.
Let the games begin.
Wow. Brent (November 20, 10:54am) it surprises me that people still persist with this global conspiracy theory on global warming. With a simple risk based approach the motivation to act seems obvious.
The super majors in oil put a 'carbon price' in all their project cost assessments. They do this not because they are good corporate citizens, but because analysis of the potential policy options shows it will be a future cost.
Ron Rodenar (20 Nov 2012 1:28PM) seems to think that direct action (ie where politicans pick winners) is the most economic way to reduce emissions. Even Tony Abbott doesnt believe that. Tony (and Turnbull) believe that the first changes can be made with Direct Action, because the marginal return for the early improvements is large. After that first 5% however, even they know direct action will be inefficient. That, however, is a problem for elections in 2020.
Tony's and Turnbull's belief in the near term effectiveness of direct action will only work if the super majors continue to price carbon in their designs. ie only if the 200billion+ of LNG projects in the pipeline price carbon in technology selection. This they will do as they know that carbon will be priced post the first 5% regardless of whos in power.
So.... A near term solution of direct action may work, but will it be the most efficient or cost effective? The answer to this is no and thats why Turnbull would rather price carbon. If we start prcing carbon now we prepare our businesses and economy for the future. We also allow the option of relatively low cost direct action (ie that first 5%), if the trend starts to blow out.
If we do not take a carbon price approach, not only will our businesses be behind the eight ball, but if our carbon reduction trend 'blows-out' then our only option would be to increase direct action at a lower marginal rate of return. Costs could blow out substantially.
The Carbon Price is not catastrophic and it is good business.
Labor has bungled and bumbled their way through the past 6 years and any pats on the back they have received for economic progress has come at a huge expense and massive debt levels we now have to service (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20). I think most Australian know this or should if the LNP do a good job leading in to the election. I cant see Labor winning regardless of the Coalition leader. Australians vote leaders out of power rather than ones into power and Gillard if ripe for a BIG vote OUT.
So creative accounting to predict a surplus that does not exist is good? (Labor needs to shut up about carbon, November 20)
Carbon dioxide tax impact softened short term by subsidisng businesses that otherwise would close operations with borrowed monies is acceptable and the longer term economic damage not a problem?
Rising cost of living, one in eight Australians living in poverty but too bad, we foolish people (minority) want Labor to continue.
Are you all crazy?