Spoonful of sugar helps carbon medicine go down
Julia Gillard has attempted the political equivalent of cold fusion - making a big new tax popular. Having backflipped on a promise not to introduce a carbon tax, and against trenchant opposition from a barnstorming Tony Abbott, Ms Gillard had little choice but to plough on, to crash or crash through.
Her solution after months of tortuous negotiations and endless parried questions on the details, is either genius or lunacy. Time will tell.
It has involved transforming what was expected to be a painful exercise in de-carbonising the economy into a big win for most voters.
Indeed the package she finally unveiled yesterday was so mild in its hip-pocket impact that it now runs an entirely different risk: being seen as too good to be true.
Communication is Julia Gillard’s primary task now: she must find a way of getting through to disengaged and affronted voters on the critical details of this package.
For months now, they have heard only one side: Tony Abbott’s indignation at the back-flip and his dire warnings that Labor’s great big new tax will not clean up the atmosphere but it will clean out your wallet.
But now, finally, the Government has a story to tell. And it’s not just any story either.
Industries that Mr Abbott had warned would hit the wall, would be shielded and export businesses granted generous assistance.
Steel has been offered multiple level protection from the chill winds of a carbon price and while complaints are inevitable, most will regard it as more than adequate.
Even dirty electricity generators get both time and money to make the adjustment.
At voter level, nine out of ten households will get some form of compensation. Six million will get enough to meet higher costs, four million will get over-compensated and nobody will pay any more in tax. As well, more than 3.4 million pensioners will get increases, and a whole million more people on the bottom end of the pay scale will be relieved of paying any income tax at all.
The Government says this is a uniquely Labor interpretation of the challenge - using the climate change imperative to enact productivity enhancing tax reform.
Perhaps; but in the end, the policy is transparently a political solution with most of the pain removed and as the Opposition says, much of the abatement even to be purchased overseas.
In that sense, the policy is pure Gillard in the tradition of her mainstreamist stances on the republic, the flag, gay marriage, and the Bible.
It is another example of her non-ideological nature.
There is no doubt Julia Gillard has proven herself a skilled negotiator first with forming government and then with nutting out this compromise. And unlike Kevin Rudd, she’s got the parliamentary votes locked in.
But this debate has only now gone truly public. And it is in the court of public opinion where her record is much patchier, that she must cut through now.
After her backflip on this very policy area which did so much to erode her standing, that might yet prove harder than cold fusion.
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