Saturday 16 July 2011

The beginning of Labor's end

When historians begin to analyse how the Gillard government fell apart, they're likely to pay close attention to three telltale events of the past week.

Niki Savva predicted in her column in The Australian some weeks back that it was only when people started to feel sorry for Julia Gillard we'd know her political career was irretrievable.

Her press club performance on Thursday may have been that point. We saw Julia the tearful recalling the shy, reserved girl at Unley High who always held back, who had difficulty dealing with emotion and engaging with people, who was content to work hard, get through university and join Slater & Gordon's law firm.

The Canberra press gallery is almost the only group still slightly besotted with her, but this was a bit much even for some of them to swallow. There were also signs of restiveness when, pressed on her view of local journalistic standards in the carbon debate, she advised her audience not to "write crap. It can't be that hard."

The second of the week's events likely to take on an emblematic quality is the publication on Tuesday of Newspoll, with the most highly regarded pollster confirming the trends evident in other published research. It was a tale of unprecedented lows for Gillard personally and for federal Labor. The ALP's primary vote has fallen to 27 per cent, compared with the Coalition's 49 per cent.

Given that in polling on a carbon price, 18 per cent of Labor supporters described themselves as somewhat against the policy, 11 per cent said they were strongly against it and 16 per cent said they were uncommitted, there may even be room for that record low primary vote to fall further.

The two-party split has blown out from 45-55 to 42-58, a record 16-point lead for the Coalition and the second largest in Newspoll's history. Even more encouraging for Tony Abbott was the consolidation of his lead in the preferred prime minister category, a lagging indicator where he is now ahead by five points at 43 per cent to Gillard's 38 per cent.

On the measure tracking the leaders' performances, Gillard's net satisfaction rating rose slightly from minus 34 to minus 29. That might be another sign of the public beginning to feel sorry for her. Abbott's net satisfaction also improved, up from minus 13 to minus seven.

The third telltale event of the week was the announcement of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, under which $10 billion worth of public money is to be dedicated to assisting renewable energy schemes. What's more, Bob Brown announced the Greens had successfully insisted none of the money would be available to help carbon capture and storage.

"We didn't want it in there because the coal industry is making tens of millions of dollars each year and exporting most of that money overseas -- its pockets are bulging. So let the multi-billion-dollar coal industry pay for its own research and not pilfer the public purse over that, while we get on with supporting solar power and the alternatives we want to see grow here in Australia."I've seen a lot of disastrous plans from state and federal Labor in my time.

I call to mind South Australian premier John Bannon's first big folly, the multifunction polis, which was obviously never going to fly, and the SA State Bank, which collapsed. I remember the Whitlam government's unorthodox money-raising arrangements with the legendary Tirath Khemlani and the scheme -- hailed at the time as visionary -- whereby the then treasurer, Jim Cairns, persuaded his colleagues to give hippies lavishly appointed communes. But I'm sure even the Whitlam cabinet at its worst would have baulked at a Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Can you imagine how ashamed the members of Club Sensible within the Gillard cabinet, such as Martin Ferguson, must feel about this scale of pandering to the Greens? What must make it worse is that, unlike her, they are politically adroit enough to see Labor had no need of a grand alliance with the Greens because, come what may, the Greens wouldn't contemplate a course of action that would help Abbott into the Lodge.

Ferguson will have read the Productivity Commission's findings on renewable energy. He's probably understood for years why renewables schemes are inefficient and hugely expensive, and the odds are he despises them as mostly disguised subsidies from poor people to rich people.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation will be a lender of last resort to every otherwise financially untenable green scheme Brown and his cronies decide to fund. There is practically no end to the number of ways this scheme could and will throw good money after bad. Any self-respecting, minimally competent government could see it for what it is: a series of accidents waiting to happen.

I sometimes tease Abbott by accusing him of planting a fifth columnist in Gillard's office; someone who knows enough about the dark arts to flatter her vanity that service delivery is what Labor governments do best. Someone brazen enough to tell her not to get too fussed about the pink batts fiasco or the mismanagement of the Building the Education Revolution program because the important thing for governments is not to avoid mistakes but to be seen to learn from them.

He assures me there is no fifth columnist and that it's all her own work. I think the past week will go down in the books as the point where most of the electorate reached the same conclusion.

Author | source | Christoper Pearson | The Australian | July 16th 2011

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