August 6, 2010
Is the real Julia Gillard at last coming out? This is not about what she wears, the size of her earlobes, the relationship with her partner, or dare I say it, her sex.
It is what she believes in. This is crucial. In 2007 Kevin Rudd claimed to be a fiscal conservative, with the gullible mainstream media endorsing him. There has not been a more profligate and incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth.
So does her endorsement of a citizens’ assembly mean she is driven by some new found passion for direct democracy?
In the early days, Labor was a believer in direct democracy. But once they had tasted power, this was reduced to a cosmetic adornment to the platform until Don Dunstan finished it off.
In her socialist days Julia Gillard was presumably a believer in peoples’ democracy of the East European type where everything is under the control of a centralist omnipotent government.
Her recent action in depriving the people of the right to judge Kevin Rudd’s leadership indicates her endorsement of Edmund Burke’s belief in the plenary authority of our elected representatives.
(Burke of course would have been horrified by the role of the faceless men from the party machine in the coup, aided by the caucus pledge, a tool considered too brutally Leninist for even the British Labor Party in its most socialist days.)
So is the proposal to have a citizens’ assembly on climate change an endorsement of Swiss style democracy?
Put aside the fact that she has for long preached that delay is denial, that Australia must go it alone and lead, and that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of imposing the ETS.
And also put aside the fact that in pushing Kevin Rudd to abandon the ETS, she was not in the slightest way denying her faith in the theory of anthropogenic global warming. It was the polls.
Put aside too the process by which the citizens’ assembly was adopted – secretive, no consultation, even no cabinet endorsement - classic Ruddism.
The point is that the government in which she was second in command has not once shown the slightest interest in direct democracy.
The Rudd government’s 2020 Summit was so gerrymandered that the governance panel managed to approve - by a 98% majority – the sort of constitutional change rejected by the people in every state and 72% of electorates in 1999.
As with most projects of this government it was mismanaged and when this came to light the solution was Orwellian. When the plenary session resolved to terminate constitutional links with the UK, it was clear the eminent celebrities there were unaware that that these had actually been dismantled in 1986. After Alan Jones pointed out this clanger, the resolution was changed without explanation on the Summit website.
Even if the citizens’ assembly consisted principally of directly and indirectly elected delegates as with John Howard’s 1998 Convention, its purpose will not be to refer the ETS to the people for decision.
Rather it is to “examine the evidence on climate change”, that is the theory of anthropogenic global warming.
This would be like the Pope establishing a citizen’s assembly to examine Galileo’s scientific work, the big bang theory or the theory of evolution.
That few of us are competent to speak with any authority on the theory is of course beside the point. Nor is it the point that Ms. Gillard is a believer in anthropogenic global warming - by itself as relevant as the fact that she does not believe in God.
What is crucial is that she has been an outspoken supporter of the introduction of a substantial new tax as the solution.
Her position before Copenhagen was that with this new tax, the government would persuade the world to follow suit.
The naiveté of this is breathtaking.
In any event Ms. Gillard has now woken up to the fact that she, Kevin Rudd, and Malcolm Turnbull were completely wrong in thinking that the Americans, the Indians and the Chinese were going to shoot themselves in the foot because of the charms of Kevin Rudd or indeed Julia Gillard.
Fortunately the rank and file of this country – especially those living away from the cosmopolitan inner city electorates – realized this and made their feelings known to the Liberal politicians. (There was not need to sway the Nationals- they were far too sensible.)
Senators Minchin and Bernardi were then able to rally the realists who were prepared to put their careers on the line, Tony Abbott foremost. Recall that the prevailing view in the commentariat was that the Coalition would be massacred if they didn’t follow the Rudd- Gillard line.
Politicians cannot of course determine the veracity of a scientific policy. Nor can a citizens’ assembly. The theory has to be subject to robust analysis by scientists whose duty is always to be sceptical.
One of the most sinister observations made in this debate is that “the” science on this is “settled”. These are words more appropriate to a tyrant than to a minister in a democratic government. They recall the way Stalin insisted that Lysenko’s bogus science was settled.
The fact is that scientists are divided over the theory and will probably be long divided. That there is a majority one way or the other is of little relevance. The award of a Nobel Prize some years ago to the courageous and diligent Australian scientists for their work on the origins of some stomach ulcers demonstrates that even an overwhelmingly held scientific opinion can be wrong.
Whatever the state of scientific opinion on all manner of issues, it is for the politicians and ultimately the citizens to determine what action should be taken.
It would have been courageous of Ms. Gillard to propose the introduction of direct democracy into Australia.
She did nothing of the kind.
Whatever the proposed citizen’s assembly is, it has nothing to do with direct democracy or indeed good government.
The real Julia Gillard apparently remains what she has long been, a believer in a high taxing powerful centralist government.
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray