Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Clean Energy Bill Passed Last Week. Sun Still Shines .

Having passed by 74 votes to 72 in the lower house, the Clean Energy Bill's passage into Australian law is assured with the Greens holding the balance of power in the senate.

What a wake of destruction she has left in her path. Four political leaders felled. Prime Ministers John Howard in 2007, Liberal, and Kevin Rudd in 2010, Labor. Howard lost because his 11th hour climate conversion was not believable. Rudd, because he deferred ETS action to appease a ratings slump.

Opposition leaders were not spared.

Support for Brendan Nelson as leader within the Liberal Party had all but collapsed by the end of July 2008, battered by his repeated gaffes on emissions trading and climate change. Malcolm Turnbull took over Liberal leadership late in 2008 prosecuting the case for an emissions trading system. He worked with Rudd's new Labor government and with business to design the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, only to be deposed in the leadership spill engineered by Tony Abbott, November 2009, in protest against Liberal Party support for the ETS.

In the path she followed we see a much altered, more volatile landscape. In 2007 there was overwhelming political support for an ETS, some 90% of the population. Now only about 30% support it. Abbott's personal approval and his party's ratings soared on the back of the carbon tax scare campaign mounted by resources industry front groups and fanned by red hot shock jocks like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt. Prime Minister Gillard's had sunk to an all time low by the time the Clean Energy Bill 2011 passed.

Yet both these trajectories have altered since the Bill was passed:

The latest Herald/Nielsen poll finds Labor's primary vote has jumped 3 percentage points in a month to 30 per cent, a small increase but psychologically significant because it is the first time since May Labor's first preference vote has been in the 30s.
On the downside for the Coalition, Mr Abbott's personal ratings fell to their worst levels since he became leader.

The poll, taken after the government passed the carbon price legislation through the lower house on Wednesday, shows attitudes towards the carbon policy have hardened, with 59 per cent opposed, a 3-point increase since August. Support for a carbon price fell 2 percentage points to 37 per cent. Support for a carbon price among Labor voters has slipped 5 points in two months.
Ms Gillard's rating as preferred prime minister rose 4 points to 44 per cent and Mr Abbott's stayed steady at 48 per cent. Ms Gillard's approval rating rose 1 point to 33 per cent while her disapproval was steady at 62 per cent.

Mr Abbott's approval fell 2 percentage points to 41 per cent and his disapproval rose 2 points to 54 per cent.

These are his worst ratings since becoming Opposition Leader on December 1, 2009, and are similar to numbers experienced by Mr Turnbull just before he was deposed. The poll finds 44 per cent of voters back Mr Turnbull as Coalition leader compared with 28 per cent for Mr Abbott and 23 per cent for Mr Hockey.

Mr Turnbull has much stronger support among Greens and Labor voters.

Mr Rudd is preferred as leader by 61 per cent of voters compared with 30 per cent for Ms Gillard. In a match-up against Mr Smith, Mr Rudd leads by 60 per cent to 29 per cent.

In a match-up between Ms Gillard and Mr Smith, Ms Gillard leads by 44 per cent to 40 per cent.

She has wrought her damage, littering political fortunes and polarised public opinion, leaving a long trail of destruction behind, this idea of pricing pollution into energy costs so clean energy becomes commercial. But look up. A week has almost passed and the atmosphere is calming. The sun still shines and soon we'll have tools to control emissions and move economic growth onto a more sustainable path.

We many not be able to give our kids and grand-kids a stable climatic inheritance that was once their birthright, but at least we can bequeath them tools to manage their footprint, and to drive refinement of cheap, clean, green energy.

After all that has passed, this is a time to savour. For the first time Australia's position in the clean energy race is looking better. We have moved from the back of the peloton to somewhere in the energy-saving middle - ahead of the US, China, India and the developing world, behind the Europeans taking up the front - positioning us for some leadership further down the track.