Let’s get one thing straight – there is no boat crisis. Hardly anyone who arrives in Australia seeking asylum arrives by boat. Of those who do about 2-15% have their refugee applications denied. In 2008, the number of refugees who arrived in Australia by boat was 206. If we were worried about illegal immigrants, we should be worried about British, American and Chinese Downunder enthusiasts overstaying their visas. Even the word “crisis” is as much a media-driven beat-up as the insulation scandal which – later revealed as myth – caused Peter Garrett to be demoted from his Environment post.
The government talks hard on asylum seekers, knowing all the while it is the last of Australia’s problems. A few desperate people are sacrificed via simple, brash lies in a bid for power, setting the scene for Australia’s upcoming Federal elections. For it is always elections that bring up these lies, appealing to the worst in us – this is also why the Obama administration has been so soft on Arizona’s recent immigration policy fiasco.
If there’s one thing the ALP don’t have on their side, it’s honesty, and this could be their downfall. After the week-by-week scandals which concluded the Howard years, we may be getting more successfully irate about being lied to. The polls are punishing Rudd at the moment. Speak to swing voters and ALP defectors anywhere and I suspect the answer you will get will be the same: it’s the backflip on climate change.
But how much of this backflip was the ALP’s fault?
It would be hard to level accusations at Rudd that he didn’t believe what he said when he called climate change “the great challenge of our time.” He obviously wanted to at least take a tentative step towards environmental change, as he enlisted the lion’s share of Penny Wong’s time in parliament to draw up a painstaking ETS deal with the Coalition. It may have been a less-than-perfect system, but after all the negotiations they had been through, at least it was something – the best everyone could agree to.
Then the Coalition old guard freaked out at the changes afoot, and Malcolm Turnbull was soon usurped by absurdly illogical climate change denier Tony Abbott. This gave the Coalition leverage to discard all the hard work, thus setting back the date of any deal even further.
The truth is that Rudd et al probably can’t see any way in the current political climate to introduce any sensible green scheme. To be honest, now that the ETS is off the cards, there is a slim chance it will be possible to put together a better deal than the ETS, one making more sense, like a carbon tax – with a little help from concerned Australians, their pens and their telephones. But we need it sooner rather than later.
Here’s the nub: Rudd’s advisors are obviously cynical enough to think his don’t-tell-the-kids nannying style of leadership will go unpunished by voters. Wouldn’t it work to be honest with us about the process of compromise which nullified their green ambitions? Wouldn’t that make Rudd look like less of a turncoat?
Throwing in the towel until 2013, consigning to the earth and its inhabitants an even more prolonged environmental disturbance, is still unforgivable, and we are right to withdraw our support for another ALP government (by proxy acknowledging we will likely end up with worse – climate change denial in government). But perhaps if Rudd were more transparent about the negotiation, then we the concerned could be more understanding and more empowered to enter ourselves into the negotiating process. At the moment, it looks like once again there is something being hidden – and if there is, perhaps it is the shame of being so influenced by lobbyists.
It’s hard to know the exact motivations of the prime minister, and I am willing to accept that, immersed in a world of ceaseless political obligation, surrounded by the powerful and wealthy, a grip on the reality most of us live could start to slide, and along with it compassion for the fate of the populace. The osmosis of values is a well documented psychological occurrence. Perhaps the corruption of power is often just due to those who our leaders are surrounded by.
The first lesson: lies don’t last – they will eventually be uncovered, and potentially, horrendously, pave the way to a government presided over by the ilk of Tony Abbott.
The second: we should look to the UK if we want to avoid a similar economic downturn. For too long the UK has relied on the financial sector for national prosperity. Relying on one source of income is always a dangerous position to be in, and the whole globe has fallen into the trap of thinking of money as value in and of itself. But as most economists should tell you, the decreased value of the pound will just create a different kind of economy relying on different income streams – international bargain hunters will turn to the UK for holidays, products, and resultantly, culture. It could be a wonderful time for Britain. Although the shift is always disquieting.
So much political effort is put into avoiding any kind of discomfort. If we allowed a little discomfort, we would be better able to plan for the future. It’s just a hard sell to the electorate. A good statesman is able to take more of the initiative to be unpopular and make us look beyond our homes, our wallets, our immediacy.
Don’t lie, look around the globe for other warning signs, and last of all, look back. History can tell us so much. To wit: none of us should trust the media – the mainstream media have failed us in past. Check out the coal lobby. It’s all happening in the media right now. The relatively negligible coal tax currently proposed – only affecting resource company profits, which are considerable – is being bashed for all sorts of potential crimes to the electorate in the Australian media.
The coal lobby is using media influence to bluff its way through their latest scare campaign. They have threatened to discontinue their $11 billion iron ore expansion, but as Ben Eltham points out, if they were serious they would have to announce it to the ASX. They have yet to do so.
Looking briefly backwards, just a short way, would also tell us that industry investment will most probably be unaffected by the tax; there is no evidence to support this histrionic claim which has peppered mainstream opinion columns since a coal tax came on the agenda.
The government, along with the rest of us, trusted the mainstream media on the insulation issue. Why should we have any reason to trust them again? It’s just dirty PR work.