There will be a federal election in Australia later this year and the leader of the Labor opposition, Kevin Rudd, has indicated he plans to make climate change a key issue.
There has been a big change in public opinion in Australia over the last year particularly following Al Gore’s movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Various opinion polls suggest that Australians are increasingly concerned about global warming and they want something done.
Until the last couple of days the general impression from the mainstream media has been that the Prime Minister, John Howard, is politically very vulnerable on this issue because he is seen as something of a climate change skeptic, though he describes himself as a climate change realist.
But could the issue end-up working against the Labor party in the same way the Tasmanian forestry issues worked against former Labor leader Mark Latham just before the last federal election by alienating blue-collar workers?
Graham Young explored the issue at his blog two days ago in a piece entitled ‘Climate Change Could Work Against Rudd’:
“Rudd is an enthusiast for all things AGW, which is where Howard’s potential benefit lies. If he is going to win the next election Howard needs to renew his compact with blue-collar Australia. He can do this by painting Rudd as a trendy inner-city elitist who wants to impose every currently fashionable notion on Australians, whether or not they work.
Amongst these notions is ratifying the Kyoto protocol. Yesterday’s announcement by the Chinese government that while they accept greenhouse gases are a problem, they don’t intend to stop building CO2 emitting power stations because they can’t afford to, shows just what a political problem it is.”
Then today on the front page of The Australian in an article ‘Nervous Labor Moves to Reassure the Coal Industry’ Joseph Kerr and Matthew Warren write:
“Opposition frontbenchers yesterday insisted the future of the coal industry was safe, amid fears within the party that an aggressive stance on climate change could unsettle mining and power workers, becoming a potent election liability.
Still living with the political fallout of the disastrous timber policy pushed by former leader Mark Latham – which alienated blue-collar workers on the eve of the 2004 election – Labor yesterday rounded on Australian of the Year Tim Flannery as “irresponsible” for his plan to close the coal industry, calling it a recipe for massive job losses.
Some elements within Labor fear that by appearing too bullish on climate change, the party could raise concerns among workers that jobs will be sacrificed to the environment. This could push workers’ votes towards an economically hard-nosed Howard Government. Others want their colleagues who represent mining seats to be more vocal.
New Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night warned, during his first live television debate with Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett, that Labor’s climate change policies risked “enormous damage to jobs”. Mr Turnbull accused Labor of scaremongering on climate change, but Mr Garrett used the debate on the ABC’s 7.30 Report to accuse the Howard Government of failing to respond to the “crisis” of global warming.”
Some saw the announcement of climate change crusader Tim Flannery as Australian of the Year as a potential disaster for John Howard because he will keep global warming as an issue in the spot-light during this election year. But the appointment may in fact work to the Prime Minister’s advantage particularly if Tim Flannery continues to suggest Australia close down its coal-fired power stations and the Labor party forced to defined the industry and its policies.