One of the things that the last few years have shown I think is that rank cynicism plays much worse for the left than the right of centre. Cynicism isn’t such a problem for a right of centre government because one of the reasons you’d vote for one is that you think the world is a pretty average kind of place and that any grand ambitions to make it better are naive or – well an even higher form of cynicism dressed up as altruism, or perhaps a bit of both. Just writing it down makes it rather compelling actually ;)
In any event, when Howard wheels out a carbon pricing system having said he wouldn’t, when he ‘clears the decks’ of potential policy losers before an election, gets rid of petrol excise indexing for instance, it works for him. I remember thinking that ‘clearing the decks’ of an easily exploited policy promise – to price carbon – may not have been good policy, but it was probably good politics. How wrong I was. Julia has made one mistake after another of that kind. The way she shafted Wilkie was simply shabby and seen to be so.
Hawke would have done the same, but would have telegraphed a whole narrative for some time beforehand about how he was wrestling with the moral issue of whether to pursue quixotic policy or shaft Wilkie, and how hard it all was but . . . “Well thanks for your question Alan/Kerry/Maxine/Leigh. It’s been a tough time for me. On the one hand I had an obligation to Alan and I’m not the only person in this country who admires his courage and integrity, and on the other, I realised that it couldn’t be got through the Parliament. So I had to make a tough call. Some people will disagree with me. I don’t blame Andrew for being mad at me. If I were him I’d be mad too, but as PM I have higher responsibilities etc etc”.
Julia’s basic message was “Andrew had outlived his usefulness and so you can find his body somewhere over there.” Likewise the ‘carbon tax’ which is actually more or less what was on the table, even if it came with a community assembly first – carbon pricing with an introductory period of fixed price permits. When challenged about her breaking a promise Julia showed a remarkably ill judged mix of candour and dissembling. She needn’t have admitted it was a carbon tax, but she did need to say that the policy had changed and she needed to justify it in all the circumstances. She did the opposite.
She came out and told us how honest she was being and admitted it was a carbon tax (when neither she nor Rudd, IIRC, had admitted the previous temporary permit system was a carbon tax) and then when she was challenged on breaking her promise not to introduce one said aggressively “look at all the words I used”. Well Julia you’re responsible for all of them and you’ve broken a promise. You had good reason to, so admit it and explain it. Alas that happened weeks later when her minders explained that she’d never actually put the case for breaking the promise, and eventually she did so – when it was way too late.
She did the same over grabbing the leadership. She’d managed to be a loyal deputy and then grabbed the job – which I thought at the time was the right thing to do in all senses. But all she could say was via a cagey euphemism “the government had lost its way”. She failed to challenge the obvious narrative of ambition and treachery. Yet it would have been easy to do – Hawkie or Peter Beattie would have lapped it up. See my proposed words for Hawkie above and remix as appropriate.