Australia's New Prime Minister on Climate Change


Photo: Herald Sun

As we alluded to earlier, in a very historic day, Australia has a new Prime Minister. In her first speech as the nation's 27th Prime Minister, and first female in the role, Julia Gillard, had a few things to say about climate change:

"It is my intention to lead a Government that does more to harness the wind and the sun and the new emerging technologies.

"I will do this because I believe in climate change. I believe human beings contribute to climate change."She went onto to say (as transcribed by the Australian newspaper),

"And it is as disappointing to me as it is to millions of Australians that we do not have a price on carbon.

"And in the future we will need one. But first we will need to establish a community consensus for action.

"If elected as Prime Minister [by the people, not just her party, in a national general election to be called later in 2010*] I will re-prosecute the case for a carbon price at home and abroad. I will do that as global economic conditions improve and as our economy continues to strengthen."

These appear to be carefully chosen phrases, because in one of her first television interviews, just six hours after being sworn in, Julia Gillard reiterated the above sentiments, almost word for word.

New Boss, Same as Old Boss?
Such words don't commit the new Prime Minister to any action on climate change radically different from that of her recently deposed colleague, the outgoing ex-Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. So it will remain to be seen if she can recapture the trust of the people, that was lost when the ruling Labor Party chose not to follow through with its promise to act decisively on climate change.

Following their ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the Government did try several times to pass legislation that would've put a price on the country's carbon emission, via an Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). However they were thwarted by not having sufficient numbers in the Parliament.

The major opposition, the Liberal/National coalition party, ultimately rejected the bill, although they did at one time come within a hairs breadth of finding a compromise, before toppling their own leader on the issue. And the Greens, who, with a few independents, hold the balance of power in the Senate also rejected the ETS, because they did not believe it went far enough. One of those independents, Family First's Steve Fielding, also did not vote for the government's ETS package because he thought climate change was the result of solar flares!

And by many accounts Kevin Rudd and his climate change minister, Penny Wong, fought very hard for action on carbon emissions reductions at the UN Copenhagen talks, but to no avail.

Backflip
Given these overt signs of action on climate change (Kyoto, ETS and Copenhagen) it was confusing then to the Australian public when Kevin Rudd and his government did not, in the end, pursue such action, particularly the ETS, to its nth degree. Instead postponing any action until 2013. Such confusion lead to a substantial drop in public opinion for Kevin Rudd and this, combined with further political fumbles, saw his public approval rating suddenly dive from all time highs to historic lows. To the point where his party felt he'd become a liability, not an asset.

Hence the vote to replace him with Julia Gillard.

The above noted words from Australia's newly minted Prime Minister remind us of lyrics from rock band, The Who and their song, "Won't Get Fooled Again", which famously go, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".

We wish Australia's new boss well in demonstrating decisive action on climate change. Actions do speak louder than words.

* technically Prime Ministers are not directly elected by the people in the Australian electoral system. Rather, individual politicians are elected by the people, and then the winning party, with the most preferential votes, choses a leader from within their midst. In reality, however, the major parties make clear who their leaders will be post-election, so the populace generally know in advance who they'll be getting, and vote accordingly.

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