Labor must leave lost carbon battle
Source: SMH, 30/10/2013
It is a disservice to "grief" to deploy it literally in the political context, but there's no denying the trauma of losing office.
Its five stages are generally regarded as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Elements of all are apparent in the aftermath of Labor's September drubbing.
Shell-shocked MPs and true believers are on the path, variously adjusting to their rejection and regrouping for the future contest. Some more than others.
A major hurdle is the ultra-problematic carbon tax position.
It is both exquisitely complex and yet fairly simple.
On the one hand there's the conviction that if Labor were to fold its tent on the carbon "tax", its supporters would regard it as a party of nothing but hollow men - craven, vacuous, self-interested.
On the other hand, there's the reality that Labor had already accepted the carbon tax was poisonous electorally, which is why Kevin Rudd sounded its 2014 death-knell before the election.
According to this assessment, the urge to cling on to it now as if it were a sacred tenet of Labor belief is a misreading of that recent history and a misunderstanding of the party's longer-term climate policy aim.
That policy was nothing more than a means to an end, an end that was not a fixed carbon price or even an emissions trading scheme but a reduction in emissions of 5 per cent on 1990 levels and preferably something larger.
Yet the Coalition government has set about making it impossible to completely separate the issue of the carbon "tax" from the system that will, or should, replace it.
Its eight-bill package doesn't just strip out the carbon tax, it razes almost the entire edifice of the clean-energy package, including the future trading scheme and the legally binding 5 per cent target by 2020.
Labor leader Bill Shorten's assessment is that neither party will go to the next election backing a carbon tax. That much is beyond contest. Neither will the existing carbon tax be in place, given that the Coalition will have the numbers to remove it irrespective of Labor's position.
For Shorten, accepting these two realities means moving his party's attention to what comes afterwards. Simply put, Labor cannot deliver its trading scheme from the opposition benches.
What it can do, however, is begin to prosecute a new case for proper action on climate change.
That case must begin by exposing the two great flaws of the government's Direct Action policy: that it is neither direct nor particularly active.
Shorten and his senior team are attempting to look at this dispassionately, while remaining conscious of the emotion, the immense political capital invested by the Left so far, and the future standing of his party.
His challenge is to articulate to a shattered constituency why it is important to leave the lost battles of the past in order to have a chance of winning the broader war to come.