Also published by The Breakthrough Institute, a progressive think tank based in Oakland, California.
Tony Abbott has declared war on the Rudd Government. He has kicked-off his leadership by implementing a polarisation strategy, with national climate change policy forming a central part of the political battlefield.
The new Opposition Leader has identified the proposed emissions-trading scheme as a weak point for the Rudd Government. Labor exposed its vulnerability with efforts to keep the public debate centred on climate change ‘skeptics’ and ‘deniers’, the best example of which being Rudd’s high-profile speech at the Lowy Institute late last year.
The Rudd Government has created the perception that emissions trading is the only available climate policy option. They have framed opponents of the so-called Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme as ‘climate skeptics’ and opposition to the policy as preventing action on climate change. Former Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull bought into this logic—or played along with it—throughout the emissions trading debate and diminished the need for the Government to explain the details of the CPRS to the general public. The result is that while the Government’s emissions trading policy is well known to the electorate, how it functions remains largely unknown—excluding of course the climate campaigners, policy wonks, and politicos closely following the passage of the legislation.
To capitalise on this opportunity, Tony Abbott and his Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt are working hard to brand the emission trading policy ‘a great big tax’. They are counting on the Government being unable explain what an emissions trading scheme is and how it works in a simple and coherent way.
The Opposition Leader hopes to benefit from the electorate’s ability to understand what a new tax means, and inability to comprehend Labor’s emissions trading scheme. Abbott expects to harness anti-tax sentiment he believes exists in the electorate, but as a safeguard he’s betting that on the off chance Labor can explain the ETS, they won’t be able to do as well as the Coalition’s catchy ‘ETS = tax’ sound bite.
Abbott is also tempting Rudd to defend the financial impact of the ETS by pointing to compensation for low and medium income households. The Coalition will brand this ‘a transfer of wealth’ to rev up its base.
It remains to be seen whether or not Abbott’s strategy will work, and it’s possible that he is overestimating Australia’s opposition to taxation. He of all people should remember that it was former Prime Minister John Howard who was re-elected in 1998 with a commitment to implement a GST—‘a great big tax’.
The bottom line is that if Abbott can shift the debate to away from Labor’s preferred terrain of the ‘climate skeptic/denier’ debate, he’ll cause them some concern. If everything goes according to Abbott’s plan, the Coalition might just be able to land a significant political blow in an election year.