The questions that count

Creating a Climate for Change on Carbon

Mar 5, 2012

All this fighting and cussing in Canberra has at least silenced the elephant in the Lodge, that $28 per tonne price on carbon.

It seems weeks since Tony Abbott strapped on a reflective vest and imposed himself on a Queanbeyan lunch room, but it’s only months until the price takes affect.

At this point one of two things happens – the sky falls in and Abbott blames the carbon tax or the sky doesn’t fall in and Abbott blames the carbon tax.

So as Julia Gillard prepares to strap on the safety helmet and assume (resume?) the position, here are a few clues from the polling to help her though the difficult times ahead.

1. Never again call the Carbon Price a Tax – It’s not and your concession that a price on carbon as part of the transition to an Emissions Trading Scheme was one of the most spectacular own goals in recent political history. Language does matter.

2. Take it Back to the Science – our polling shows that the biggest single determinant on supporting action on climate change is not party affiliation, age or gender but belief in the reality of climate change. The ability of the denial movement to cloud the science on climate change was decisive. Once the facts were clouded science never really had a chance, being a discipline based on scepticism as it is. Giving science a voice and then finding a forum to spread its word may be too important to trust to the media.

3. Tell the whole Story – support for a carbon price shifts from majority opposition to majority support if the question changes from support for a price on carbon, to include the compensation and investment in renewables that are part of the package. Getting the airtime to get the whole sentence out is vital to selling the measure.

4. Focus on the Car not the Carburettor – the great myth about the carbon price is that the public went from supporters to opponents in one fell swoop of Abbott vitriol. The reality is that the decline in support was first based on confusion as the Rudd-Wong dream team (and we’re talking sleep here) got obsessed with the detail of the CPRS. After 12 months of technical debate most had lost interest and drifted into indifference and confusion. From there they were easy pickings for a scare campaign.

5. Remember the best response to a scare campaign is a scare campaign – Running the high road of caring about future generations will never trump fear and loathing. Better point out as the most carbon-exposed economy in the developed world there are huge economic dangers if we sit back and wait for others to act. Get the markets scared, there is nothing rational about denial.

6. Remember this is the great moral challenge of our times – on this K Rudd was K Rect; it was the backflip that killed him. Dealing with the challenges of climate change is why we entrust our nations to governments – we expert them to make tough decisions in our long-term interests, even if we don’t always like the medicine.

7. And finally, stop pretending you didn’t do something that was brave and right – Like taxing our natural resources, building a national broadband network and giving the disabled a better deal. These are the anchor points of a Labor Government to be proud of. If only it would let us.

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