For nearly twelve years Australia was ruled by a Coalition government with John Howard as Prime Minister and Peter Costello the Treasurer. After their defeat in the election just last November, Mr Costello decided to write his memoirs.
He said at the Quadrant Dinner that I attended tonight in Sydney, and it is written in the beginning of his now published memoirs,
“In Australia the writers of contemporary politics come overwhelmingly from a left or ‘progressive’ perspective. In their accounts Labor usually emerges as the hero and the Liberal Party as the villain. Because some will try to make this the story of the nearly twelve years of the Howard-led Coalition Government I want to record what actually happened – to describe the achievements as well as to acknowledge the failures.”
Indeed I gather ABC journalist and Labor friend, Fran Kelly, has been involved in the construction of a soon to be released ABC Television series on ‘The Howard’ years.
But back to the new book: I purchased a copy this evening and, after getting it autographed, turned to the index to see what I could find under ‘climate change’ and to my surprise the two words are not there, nor global warming. The index, under ‘g’, does though include ‘globalisation’, ‘GST’, ‘gun lobby’ and ‘General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade’. So, I looked for Kyoto, found it, and duly turned to page 302. Mr Costello writes that,
“Cabinet had discussed the idea of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol many times, ever since it was negotiated in 1997. Robert Hill had done a sterling job at the Conference in negotiating a target for Australia that frankly looked impossible at the outset. At the time I was surprised that, after investing so much effort in getting such a good outcome, we did not ratify it. The reason was that the protocol, by leaving out huge emitters in the developing world, was going to have little impact on global climate change. The protocol was flawed by the fact that it covered only the developed world.”
I wrote in a piece published in the IPA Review earlier this year that John Howard would be remembered as the Prime Minister who did not ratify Kyoto, but perhaps Mr Costello has things more in perspective in his Memoirs and that in the scheme of things, history will not remember ‘climate change’ and ‘Kyoto’ as counting for much.
Interestingly tonight Mr Costello said that he was “most proud” of Chapter 11, which is about indigenous Australia includes issues of reconciliation, the integration of indigenous Australians into the “economic mainstream”, and the Northern Territory intervention.
Indeed the index includes a long list of aboriginal related topics, but under ‘a’ another issue of much interest to me is missing, ‘agriculture’.
Mr Costello was the Treasurer for most of the last 13 years, and much of his memoir is about economic issues and perhaps not surprisingly it is in this context, in particular the introduction of the GST, that he makes mention of the Australian Greens. He is scathing. He writes,
“The name of the Greens Party leads people to think that it is principally an environmental party. In fact, it has economic, tax and international relations policies on the far left of politics that it holds just as dear.”
It was clear from the talk this evening that Mr Costello believes the primary job of government is to manage the economy and that with economic prosperity comes an opportunity to do more for the environment. In contrast, many environmentalists would argue that economic prosperity inevitably brings unnecessary environmental destruction.
If you want to find out what an insider thought about the Howard-years, I suggest you grab a copy of ‘The Costello Memoirs’ (Melbourne University Press, 2008). And if you want to know what Mr Costello thought about key environmental issues – reading between the lines it would seem not very much.
For my short perspective on the twelve years of coalition government you can read ‘John Howard Environmentalist’, IPA Review, January 2008, http://www.ipa.org.au/publications/931/john-howard-environmentalist