In one episode of Yes Minister Hacker says something like “It seems the civil service just prevents governments from implementing the sovereign promises the government has made to the people” to which Bernard says “Well somebody has to”.
I’m a bit of a promises guy – I think if a politician promises something they should deliver it. And it’s bad if they welsh on the promise. So I begin unsympathetic to Julia’s broken promise. After all she said that she wasn’t introducing a carbon tax. Now she is.
Anyway I read a bit of the transcript with Neil Mitchell and have to admit that I’m kind of convinced by her case. Firstly circumstances are different in a hung parliament, but I don’t think that’s very firm ground on which to base a rearrangement. Circumstances always change.
And when Julia said “Get out every statement from the election campaign … all of the ones where I talked about the need to price carbon” I wasn’t particularly convinced either. But then she said this.
The Australian people voted for me knowing I believed climate change is real and that I was determined to act on it, and that the Labor way of acting on it was to price carbon. People were going to say ‘Well isn’t that going to work effectively like a tax’, and we were going to have one of those silly debates about whether or not I would say the word tax. So I just clarified yesterday that the first few years with the fixed price do work effectively like a tax. This is the right thing to do to price carbon.
Well I’m not sure it’s all that clearly expressed, but at that stage I kind of ‘got it’. Julia went to the election saying she was going to put a price on carbon. Not denying that prices would rise, thinking she’d do it using permits she ruled out a tax. If John Howard was in her shoes right now he’d be arguing that it’s not really a tax, it’s a fixed price permit system. Which it is.
Anyway, it all seems pretty OK to me. Then again I’m not particularly enamoured of the Abbot led Coalition, so that’s no doubt influencing my judgement.
What do others think?
Postscript: Having written the above piece I listened to Julia on Alan Jones’ program (mp3). I was pretty amazed at her hamfistedness in explaining what seems (at least to me – and others disagree as we have seen) a reasonable position. Fred Argy explains why below. All her predecessors from Hawkie on would have explained their position, and have done a good job of persuading the audience – though of course even the best persuader can only turn around a few people. Howard makes an interesting contrast – as he was a shifty fellow and ultimately got a reputation for it, but of all our past PMs he was the most unfailingly polite – which I suspect is a very worthwhile political trait. I was amazed at the combination of aggression and blind recitation of all the same talking points she’d been using from the press conference to the House to all the interviews. She might have listened to Jones and her other accusers and then, having done so crafted her explanation, her persuasion, her case in as commonsensical way as possible to what they had said. Had I been writing the post now, I might have titled it “To price but not to tax: to defend but not to explain: to assert but not to persuade”. I can’t imagine anyone in Jones’ audience thinking the better of the PM for the interview other than those who were already admirers.