3 May 2010

Dear Prime Minister,

First you promise to save the planet – or words to that effect – and we vote you in with open arms and open hearts.

Then you squander your precious first term with endless planning and no results.

OK, we had an apology and a few other nice token gestures, like ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. And, OK, you rescued us, white-knight fashion, from the fires of hell – or the Great Big Depression (same thing). But now our white knight has turned lily white and fallen under the sword of the black knight (or Tony Abbott), who is happy to throw a dirty rotten smear and spoil your clean-energy, clear-intentioned higher objectives.

So what if he said the carbon pollution reduction scheme was one great big new tax? So was the GST, introduced by his colleagues.

So what if he said that the science on climate change was a crock of nasties? The tobacco industry said the same about claims that its products caused cancer. And some of the people Abbott hangs out with still believe the world was built in seven days – and that it’s flat. That doesn’t tend to rattle normal people. Generally they shrug and move on.

What Australia was looking for when it elected you, Mr Rudd, was a leader.

You looked like a leader, you sounded like a leader and you acted like a statesman. Nearly everyone loved you.

Now you sound like deal-maker – a car salesman with a bit of blackener for the tyres, a new fan belt for better spin and a Ducopro job to cover the smash-up from last year. Your words sound as good as the three-month warranty and promises that the old jalopy will last a lifetime.

It won’t. The news is diabolical. People are starting to realise we are truly out of time, but they are deliberately looking the other way. Parents are refusing to discuss the issue with their kids. They don’t know what to say.

Mr Prime Minister, we still need a leader.

If you can’t get an ETS through, do something else that works. Make it big and make it dramatic. There was a lot of scepticism about the ETS in any case. You still have a chance to redeem yourself if its replacement is bigger and better.

All it takes is a single political decision, and you are the one to do it.

Here’s an idea:  mandate change.

Use incentives and market mechanisms, but don’t rely on them. Price signals work for a smooth market economy but the market couldn’t care less about the planet.
And how well do price signals work for inelastic demand any way (such as energy)? Look at tobacco. Like any addiction, people will spend whatever it takes on the thing they are addicted to.

A price is always going to be seen as a tax that is optional – to be imposed or removed with political expediency.

Make the action personal;  an individual responsibility, dramatic enough and which cuts deep enough to send a shock-horror message as powerful as the one about running out of water.

How about an energy budget for each household and business? Just like Level 3, Level 4 water restrictions?

A carbon ‘budget’ for the overall economy, as in the ETS, will never be as powerful and transforming as saying, No you cannot water the pavement, no matter how much you pay for the water’;  you cannot use more than x amount of energy each month, no matter how much money you have”.

And why have mandatory disclosure of energy profiles in offices  without mandatory improvements?

Leaders in the property industry are already doing their best and disclosing their ratings on the NABERS website. The laggards don’t give a damn; their tenants just want cheap rent; so what if the building has only 1 or 2 stars?

Send serious stable, set-in-concrete, signals to the market on renewable energy.

Do all these things and stop wasting time as if this is all feel-good, fuzzy and optional.

Last week a new grassroots campaign started up in 70 Australian cities and towns to lobby for clean energy. It’s an election campaign, and it will be door-knocking Australian households for a vote on clean energy.

Do not underestimate the door-knockers of life. The people who are doing this are indefatigable. And the campaign will be more potent than that to  save  the Franklin River because it will be driven not by a desire to save something of great beauty but by a drive that is far more intense and primal – the urge to survive. And the door-knockers know that the changes are set for their own lifetime, not just their children, or the generations coming after them.

Mr Prime Minister, all would be forgiven if you stood up strongly like a leader and said that even if we all go down, at least it we’ll go down  fighting, blah blah blah…

You know the rest.

Stand up, please. For this wonderful country. This amazing planet.

Otherwise we will work on Tony Abbott to “get” climate change – maybe not as silly as some people might think, now that Malcolm Turnbull is back in the middle – and he won’t be afraid of taking strong action.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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