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November 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Weird And Getting Weirder

November 5, 2006

by Matt Price - Sunday Telegraph

It's all a bit weird, confided the senior Labor MP. For the first time in a decade, instead of merely reacting, Labor was on the front foot on every major issue around.

He's right: it is weird. The federal Opposition's main strategy has long been to hang about for John Howard to do something, then grizzle and complain. Refer to the GST debate and rows over asylum-seekers and industrial-relations reforms for evidence.

Suddenly, Labor and Kim Beazley find themselves out in front on big issues. Beazley has been harping on about an imminent skills crisis since his first stint in the job. Now the labour shortage presents a serious threat to Australia's economic health.

In the lead-up to the Iraq war, Labor was arguing among itself, hedging its bets and being politically outgunned. To Simon Crean's great credit, the Opposition voted against the invasion of Iraq - and as the war has turned sour, that tortured decision looks better and better.

Should George Bush's Republicans cop the expected caning in this week's Congressional elections, debate on Iraq will intensify. The Prime Minister's staunch support for staying the course is rapidly losing credibility.

But it's global warming that has spectacularly wrong-footed the PM.

The explosive Stern report looks as if it was co-written by Greens leader Bob Brown. Warnings of apocalypse and economic woe. Demands for radical policies to save millions from calamity. Threats that inaction could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy.

Had Brown or Beazley said this two weeks ago, Howard would have laughed off the doomsday scenarios and labelled them irresponsible scaremongers. Indeed, it's only two months since the PM and senior ministers mocked former US vice president Al Gore when he came here to launch An Inconvenient Truth, essentially a film version of the Stern report.

But Gore and Stern have propelled global-warming fears into the political mainstream, and Howard is looking hopelessly old-fashioned. A reluctant convert to climate change, he's no enthusiast of profound policy change.

Howard defines himself and Australia as followers, not leaders, on global warming. If other countries act, argues the PM, he might agree to tag along. Quite rightly, John Howard isn't prepared to abandon the coal industry, which provides much of the nation's power and export income (and, unfortunately, plenty of carbon emissions too).

But polls show practically everyone is demanding the Government do more, which makes the PM's scepticism about climate change a heavy millstone. In contrast, Labor has spent years harping on about signing the Kyoto agreement and investing more in renewable energy.

If the Stern fears take hold, expect the Coalition to fall even further behind in the opinion polls. But tackling climate change demands that leaders abandon the traditional "everybody wins'' mentality that has characterised Australian elections these past decades.

It's no good Labor preaching that the end of the world is nigh, while soothing voters with glib warnings that signing Kyoto and becoming energy-efficient will solve the problem. Even Howard has conceded that if we're serious about reversing global warming, the public must pay more for energy, water and fuel - a relatively small price to avert alleged imminent global catastrophe.

Labor is way ahead on environmental issues, and another interest-rate hike will be a further blow for the Government. Tuesday's expected rise will be the fourth since the election, putting us at the top of the OECD ladder for high rates. Weird and getting weirder.

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