16 August 2009

Labor changes its mind on election... again

Its been harder than usual recently to keep up with what Kevin wants us all to think.

Kevin's usually reliable communication conduit to his people, political correspondents at Fairfax, have been sending out quite conflicting messages from one day (hour?) to the next the last few days.

After the Labor Government's "Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme" bill (a scheme formerly known as an "emissions trading scheme") was defeated in the Senate on Thursday 13 August, when all the Coalition, Green and independent senators combined to vote against it, there was a real whiff of politics in the air. A major piece of Government legislation had been defeated. The main issues appeared to be:

  • If the same bill is presented to the Senate again and rejected again after 3 months (ie after mid-November 09) then that would then give the Government grounds to call a double dissolution election.

  • The CPRS bill also had tacked onto it a piece of renewable energies targeting and incentives legislation that all sides of politics support, but which sank with the bill.

Here's what Fairfax have published on this so far this weekend:

FRIDAY, 14 August:

Kate Hannon: "Govt refuses to 'split' climate bills" ...

"Labor has rebuffed calls from opposition parties and industry to allow a separate vote on renewable energy targets (RET) in parliament next week. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Friday said he did not have the "slightest intention" of calling an early election but wanted the emissions trading scheme (ETS), with the RET included, dealt with later this year... ... despite speculation the government was considering re-introducing the RET section of the bills next week, Mr Rudd and the office of Climate Change Minister Penny Wong poured cold water on the idea, saying they intended to take all 11 bills back to the Senate in November." [emphasis added]

AAP: "Rudd denies he's considering early poll" ...

"... Kevin Rudd has emphatically denied he is considering an early election. "I have not the slightest intention of going to an early poll," he told Fairfax radio on Friday. Mr Rudd rejected as "absolutely" untrue suggestions the government was playing politics with its emissions trading scheme - rejected by the Senate on Thursday - by using it to force a double dissolution and an early election.." [emphasis added]

Phil Coorey: "Time bomb for Turnbull" ...

"The waiting game will force the Government to drop its tactic of linking the bill to legislation mandating that 20 per cent of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020. The Government had linked the two to try to get the emissions trading scheme through. The tactic created uncertainty and anxiety in the renewable energy sector, and pressure is now growing for the renewable energy bill to be separated and passed next week. A Government source said this was likely, as the threat of a double dissolution now existed. ''We need to get this scheme up, and we need the threat to get that.'' [emphasis added]

Things must have changed overnight, because here's what Fairfax were telling us the next day (possible after reading a contradictory story in a competing News Ltd paper?) :

SATURDAY 15 August:

AAP " Rudd to call Turnbull's bluff on ETS" ...

"Mr Rudd is expected to agree on Sunday to a demand that he split the legislation package into two separate bills, News Limited reports. The legislation will be split into one bill which forces energy intensive industries to meet renewable energy targets and the other that will set the ETS into action. "... [emphasis added]

How to make sense of all this? One day Fairfax report the PM saying that it was "absolutely untrue suggestions that the Government was playing politics" with its ETS, and yet here they were the very next day reporting in the above article that:

"Mr Rudd's move is reportedly an attempt to embarrass the coalition into passing in full the government's climate change legislation which is blocked in the Senate."

And then on

SUNDAY 16 August:

Josh Gordon in the Sun-Herald reports:

" Labor's election warning": ...

..."With an early election still a possibility, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's chief of staff, Alister Jordan, yesterday summoned 30 ministerial chiefs of staff to Parliament House for a secret election planning meeting... It is believed Labor is now moving into a new, more aggressive phase in preparing for the next election, with an early poll still a possibility. Labor also wants to exert maximum pressure on Mr Turnbull after his refusal to support the Government's emissions trading legislation"... [emphasis added]

But then at 10.40 am on Sunday the SMH website reports:

APP "No interest in early election: Gillard"

"The federal government is not interested in going to an early election, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says..." [emphasis added]

Am I the only one getting mixed messages from Fairfax about my Government's intentions here?

  • The Government is/isn't looking for a double dissolution ?
  • The Government will/won't split the CPRS Bill ?

There could even be an opportunity for a decent journalist to write a story about how the Government is looking indecisive and divided on how to approach these two issues. There would of course be the risk to Fairfax that it could jeopardise its peerless ability to get the inside line on what the government is thinking. But then again, that hasn't been all that helpful this time. After all News Limited appear to have scooped Fairfax on at least one of the government's backflips on this over the weekend.

And could this also be starting to look a bit like Gordon Brown in the UK last year when he flew an election kite for a while before reeling it in when he lost his nerve. I'm not sure that worked out real well for him.

There does appear to be an opportunity to hold the Government to account here for spooking the horses. Isn't that's what serious journalists are supposed to do? (hold governments to account that is; not spook horses.)

Post Script:

Even if the government gets its double dissolution trigger in mid November, how can this give it enough time to realsitically call an election before Christmas? Even a very short 4 week campaign would see the election in the week before Christmas. The conventional wisdom is that if you call an election too close to Christmas the electorate punishes you. So electoral punishment would seem inevitable if they use this bill as the trigger for an election this year.

I reckon the earliest we can expect a Federal election is March 2010.

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