Spoke too soon...


Well, looks like I may have jumped the gun in citing Australia as an example of why there might be some hope for the Copenhagen climate summit next month after the government there reached a deal Friday with the opposition over an emissions trading scheme.

A revolt by members of the opposition Liberal Party meant the Senate, where the government is in a minority, was unable to pass the legislation. The Senate is supposed to be reconvening today to debate the package of legislation, but if no deal is reached then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would be entitled to call a snap general election.

Opposition to the deal is in part inspired by climate change sceptics (we shouldn’t call them deniers, apparently, because according to one Liberal senator this is tantamount to racism).

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But as this interesting analysis in The Age newspaper suggests, the struggle is also about something else:

‘[J]ust as the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was the catalyst but not the cause of the First World War, the debate over emissions trading is a substitute for a larger conflict.’

‘John Roskam, director of conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, says [Liberal leader Malcolm] Turnbull is caught between grassroots party members hostile to Labor’s emissions trading scheme, and pragmatists who believe the party must act to meet public expectations.’

The conservative Liberals appear to be showing the same fratricidal (and indeed suicidal) tendencies of its British cousin, the Conservative party, which for years struggled to grasp the fact that shifting to its right-wing base was no way to win power.

In Australia, as Turnbull acknowledges, the consensus is in favour of taking action on climate change, and his party would likely be punished at the polls should an election be called. But reasoning with a rump of the party that somehow manages to play the race card over climate change is not going to be easy. Britain’s Tories took three electoral thumpings before they realized they were out of touch. How many will the Liberals take?

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