Modia Minotaur

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Costello, Costs and Carbon

Today's Insiders interview with Peter Costello is a must-read for several reasons.

Firstly, I've rarely seen such a case of ruddocking. As we all know, to`Ruddock' is to smoothly refuse, in any way shape or form, to answer or engage in a question asked. As in `Peter Costello was asked at least three times whether interest rates are currently low in either real or comparitive terms, and he ruddocked for all he was worth until Barrie Cassidy gave up and moved on to the next question (which he also ruddocked)'. Whereas senior Howard Government ministers have always been more than happy about the great job they're doing, Costello didn't want to touch interest rates with a barge pole. Howard has also been caught off message on the same topic recently. Given that the Howard Government has, in the past, maintained a policy of instantly and confidently transforming any argument for or against policy to an economic one, this is quite a development. It would also suggest that Labor's strategy of finally tackling economic issues head on, and highlighting related issues such as affordable housing, is proving effective.

Secondly, Costello provided a pretty firm commitment to follow the lead of NSW and Victoria and begin a Federalised carbon trading scheme, something that the government had dismissed with equal firmness only a matter of days ago. It's a measure of how quickly the issue of climate change has entered mainstream political thought. Ian Macfarlane's comments dismissing Al Gore's `An Inconvenient Truth' as mere sensationalist entertainment were pretty silly then; now, they would be a downright political liability. Did Gore's movie make the change, or was it simply an idea whose time has finally come? Whatever the case, it's also interesting to note that committing to battling climate change almost innately involves setting aside economic reasoning. Dirty coal is undoubtedly cheaper than clean energy, but for the first time in a decade, the economic case can simply not be used to demolish all other cases. It's battle or bust, no matter the cost.

Though Costello's timeline for such an introduction was a hopelessly lax `up to 50 years', in keeping with the `Yeah, yeah so global warming exists but it's not that bad and anyway just shut up about it OK' line that conservative sources who previously rubbished the concept have been plying (most notably Miranda Devine this week in a quite ludicrous article that admitted the reality of climate change but absolved it of any actual impact on the envrionment such as droughts and water shortages), but the commitment is real, and it's something that those who have campaigned on the issue can hold up and demand action on. As such, I don't imagine Howard will be happy about Costello making such a statement, but let's hope Costello holds him to the commitment rather than obliging him to ruddock his way out again.

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