Tuesday, 1 December 2009

thoughts on ETS

Since I'm not getting any work done, perhaps I'll jot down some thoughts on the current turmoil in Australian politics.

The Liberals (foreign readers should note that this is a liberal party in name only - they are the conservative side of Australian politics) changed leaders today, from Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott. This all happened because the conservative side of the party couldn't stomach the negotiation on the Emissions Trading System, and behind Abbott and Nick Minchin, they organised a leadership spill. Abbott ran against Turnbull and Joe Hockey (who had been seen as the compromise candidate, each running different lines on the ETS senate vote - Abbott saying vote against, Turnbull saying vote for, Hockey saying vote conscience. After Hockey was knocked out in the first round, Abbott beat Turnbull by a single vote. Its made more controversial by one of the votes being informal, one of the Turnbull supporters being unable to attend due to illness (and unable to lodge a proxy since the Libs don't support such things), and the prospect that after this weekend's bi-elections, there will be two new Libs in the party room, both of whom project as Turnbull backers.

Anyway, Malcolm has gone to the backbench, and the Libs are once again led by a conservative (in fact, more socially conservative than any leader they've had in a long time). Its sad, because Turnbull offered much promise, based on his past and to a certain extent his stated intentions during his short-lived tenure as leader, of a transition for the party towards somewhat more progressive, small-"l" liberal politics. Feeling towards him was good amongst the Labor voters that the Libs hope to poach at the next election, but as was pointed out on Insiders this weekend, whether this would transition to votes remained to be seen, and he was understandably a bit on the nose for the conservative side of the party.

What does this mean for the unwitting cause of the drama, the ETS bill? Well, I think its stuffed. The Libs will, after a secret party-room ballot, try to send the bill to committee or, failing that, oppose it. They don't hold a majority, but nor does the government, so the likelihood is that (a) it won't go to committee (there have already been numerous senate committees on this topic, so I don't see how they could justify another), and (b) the ETS won't pass, barring at least a handful of Liberal senators crossing the floor. That's not as impossible as it sounds, but its a lot less likely now than it would have been 2 weeks ago - after all the division in their party, the last thing they want is more. The alternative negotiation position for the government, with the Greens, is even less viable. Winning the Greens over by strengthening the bill might be possible, but doing so definitely rules out getting Fielding (who is unlikely to support the bill anyway), and probably any rebel Libs who would already have crossed the floor in the above scenario. So my feeling is that the bill will go down, and Rudd/Wong will go to Copenhagen without any legislation. Rudd in particularly will be disappointed not to have his trophy, but by way of compensation, the government will get a trigger for a double dissolution.

They may take it. It has political advantages in terms of giving them a shot at Abbott before he either builds himself a more credible public image (the prevailing wisdom is that he is presently unelectable, due to past indiscretions and a huge image problem with women in particular), or they see sense and replace him, although having shot down Turnbull and forsaken Hockey, its hard to see to whom they might turn. Having failed to get the ETS before Copenhagen, I don't think it matters much (politically) one way or another whether the government gets it after an election in February/March, or the scheduled one at the end of next year.

So my feeling is that the bill gets tabled, at least until March, and possibly until 2011.