On this day in 2011 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that she would introduce legislation that put a price on carbon. This was already a toxic idea, but she had no choice, since the minority government she led relied on support of Greens and Independents who insisted…. There are four key events to the day – the announcement in the courtyard, the parliamentary tussle, Abbott’s presser and then Gillard on the ABC in the evening. Below are clips from interesting books by participants…
First up, Paul Kelly –
“On 24 February 2011, six months after the election, a proud Julia Gillard announced agreement in principle between Labor and the Greens on a carbon pricing scheme for Australia. The Greens and the independents stood beside her in the prime minister’s courtyard, Bob Brown given virtually equal status. Gillard was making minority government work. In the process she signed her death warrant as prime minister.”
Then Tony Windsor
“Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a media conference for mid-morning on 24 February 2011 to announce the Discussion Paper on a proposed carbon mechanism It was a showing of the prime minister flanked by other MPCCCC members from the Labor Party, the Greens, Rob Oakeshott and me. Before I went down to join the group for a photo my policy adviser, John Clements, cautioned me about standing with the group. He thought that being seen with the Greens might be interpreted as agreeing with their agenda. He didn’t quite say it would be, ‘A courageous decision, Mr Windsor,’ in the best Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey voice, but that’s what he meant.”
(Windsor, 2015: 137)
And one of her speech writer mentions the parliamentary debate-
“She announced this in her courtyard, alongside the Greens party (as for the multi-party committee the previous year) and this time also bringing in the independent MPs. Look, it said, parliamentary numbers are locked in, this is not a hypothetical any more – she had the will, and it would be done. An hour later in question time the PM would describe the carbon price as ‘a scheme that would start with a fixed price for a fixed period, effectively like a tax’ – no lawyer language or weasel words, no hiding: she was going to make the case.
I was one of those who thought it seemed like the best of a bad lot of options at the time.
Instead, it became proof that she’d lied.”
(Cooney, 2015: 87)
Paul Kelly on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s media conference
“Abbott’s media conference the same day saw one of the most brutal assaults by an Opposition leader in a generation. Labor never saw it coming. Abbott called Gillard’s position ‘an utter betrayal of the Australian people’ and predicted a people’s revolt. He enshrined the issue as trust: ‘If the Australian people could not trust the Prime Minister on this, they can’t trust her on anything.’ He said ‘the price of this betrayal will be paid every day by every Australian’ in terms of higher power prices. Abbott launched a campaign that would make Gillard unelectable. Yet most of the ALP thought they had just negotiated a minority government triumph.”
And in the evening, she repeated the ‘carbon tax’ line on ABC television, with momentous consequences. In his excellent book “Power Failure” Chubb observes “Tax. The word was like a bomb thrown into the middle of the debate” (Chubb, 2014: 156)
It is my greatest regret that I did not provide more fearless advice to Julia to avoid this error [tax/fixed price]. Labor’s carbon price was an emissions trading scheme and we should have argued that until we were blue in the face.
(Combet, 2014: 252)
Within twenty-four hours the ‘no carbon tax’ election pledge cut through the electorate like a scalpel. Every media interview for months was dominated by a broken promise that was falsely marketed as a ‘lie’. Debate on climate change and carbon pricing was derailed by the poisonous politics. My job was to try to make the science and policy the issues once again.
(Combet, 2014: 252)
As Chubb notes, Barrie Cassidy proposed a different way of dealing with the issue
Hindsight answer:“Oh don’t be ridiculous Heather. This is a charge on the country’s biggest polluters. It is no more a tax than your regular power bills are a tax. It is a charge. A charge on big polluters. You can call it a carbon tax if you like. I’m sure Tony Abbott will to suit his political purposes. I’ll be calling it a pollution charge, Heather, a pollution charge, because that’s what it is. That is not misleading. That’s a fact.”
Hindsight question:“Oh, you are just being pedantic…”
Hindsight answer: “I am not being pedantic. I won’t allow the Opposition to mislead the public. So even though this might be a sideshow to some people, I won’t concede your point or Tony Abbott’s. This is too big a policy, too big an issue, to be blown off course by semantics. What I have announced today is a pollution charge. That’s what I will be calling it, and so will all my ministers.”
And that was that…
[Note to self – track down Gillard’s own version of all this!]