Thursday, 21 July 2011

Things people say.

In these days of the Internet, YouTube, blogging, webpage caching and so forth, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that every copy of something you said cannot survive until after the election you just won. Mind you, I'm not really sure it was ever possible back in the newspaper-only days. Some copy, somewhere, scrunched into somebody's moving box will carry your fateful words into the future to damn you.

In the case of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, those fateful words number eleven. They are "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead." The Federal Opposition could base its entire media campaign for the next federal election on those eleven words, repeated over and over, especially since said words were inextricably linked with the image of PM Gillard saying those words.

Six days after the election she (very narrowly) won, by being able to form a minority government with several independents and one Greens Party MP, she announced her intent to bring in a carbon tax, which she and her government are now defending unto the death.

What are we to make of this? Is she a flat-out liar? Or did she say it in good faith and then find herself having to backtrack? It is worth reflecting on the nature of her minority government. She is precisely ONE seat in Parliament away from what could be the utter rout of the Australian Labor Party, and I strongly suspect that the seat in question is the one the Greens hold. It is also worth reflecting on the four new Greens Senators who have just taken their seats, giving Labor and the Greens combined an absolute majority in the Senate and allowing them to push through virtually anything they want... so long as they can agree on it. Polls now put Labor in a virtually unwinnable position - their primary vote is in the low 30s, their two-party-preferred is still short of the 50% needed to win, and if I recall correctly, even the immensely unpopular Tony Abbott has occasionally pipped her at the post for preferred Prime Minister.

In short, if there's an election, she's toast.

And if she were to defy the Greens on their lust for a carbon tax, would she automatically lose the support of that seat which makes her minority government viable? Because while I don't see the Greens or even the Independents swinging over to the Liberal-National Coalition in support of ITS agenda, having her government in an absolute minority position makes an election pretty much mandatory. This is the big question, and it leads directly to the OTHER interpretation placed on her words - that thanks to the Greens giving her government its constitutional legitimacy in both Houses of Parliament, she is in the invidious position of having to take dictation from them; in other words, that it's Greens leader Bob Brown leading the government.

Labor governs on the basis of a loose coalition of themselves, Greens (1) and Independents, as opposed to the Coalition, which is the joined-at-the-hip arrangement which exists between the Liberal Party (centre-right conservative) and the National Party (representing primarily rural interests, and formerly stereotyped as 'agrarian socialists'). If the small-c coalition falls, so does the government - unless an election puts it back in.

Right now, that seems extremely unlikely. The government's unwillingness to go to an election as a referendum on this issue seems to me a strong indicator that it will lose, and that the lone Green in the House of Representatives - who was elected on unwisely-assigned Liberal preferences (they wanted to deny the votes to Labor) - will also vanish into ignominy, probably along with several of his Upper House colleagues.

After that, the true extent of the ALP's financial mismanagement (as alleged by the Coalition, and I have no trouble believing its claims) will be revealed and Labor will spend the next twenty years in Opposition. Time enough, I think, to bring in nuclear power and start reducing those CO2 emissions the current government is so interested in taxing.

EDIT: There is, as I have seen pointed out elsewhere, another way - make the small-c coalition an agreement to guarantee supply and refrain from putting non-confidence motions and function as a true minority. But I am not sure this is a stable option under the current circumstances.

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