Political suicide or visionary leadership?

After a failed attempt at legislation, the loss of a leader, a knife edge election and a broken promise, voters now have a carbon tax package ready for the parliament’s assent. And people don’t like it, deserting Federal Labor more quickly than a David Jones shop floor.

Matters now look as bad for Federal Labor as they did prior to the departure of Kevin Rudd.

Until the announcement of the carbon price, it was hard for average voters to understand exactly what it was all about. Some heavy industries would get charged for dumping pollution into the environment and there would be more investment in renewable energy and new technologies. But to many Australians it just looks like higher prices, so much that the Government will compensate people for it. The problem with this new tax is that the thread running from the hip pocket to climate change seems almost invisible to the average Joe and Joan in the street. Moreover, public trust has been eroded in the face of a broken election commitment.

This policy is either political suicide or visionary leadership. With the media focusing on Gillard’s plummeting polls, it looks like the former, but it is too soon to tell. Abbott has promised to repeal the carbon tax, but as one commentator has already observed, once these big initiatives are implemented, they are very hard to unpick. If Tony Abbott gets into government some time in the next two years, business will have factored carbon costs into business models, budgets and operating systems already.

It is hard to discern what a particularly Christian perspective might look like in the specifics of this debate. In 2007, the Social Issues Committee developed a detailed position paper on climate change, which accepted the scientific evidence (‘Christian Ministry in a Changing Climate’) but did not discuss the detail of possible government policy responses. At this point, it would be perfectly valid for a Christian hold a view either ‘for’ or ‘against’ Labor’s carbon tax, holding either position in all sincerity having understood the issues.

The exercise of stewardship over creation is a mark of the special role God has ordained for humankind, therefore it is right in principle to take steps (however small on a global scale) to mitigate the effects of climate change. But it is also right that business has the continued capacity to create and maintain jobs, so that people can be gainfully employed and thereby support themselves and their families. Godly wisdom is required to understand and mitigate the plight of the poor in the face of higher living costs caused by a carbon tax. Restraint is needed to consume less and reduce our personal and corporate carbon footprint.

Importantly, if Christians are to engage in the carbon tax debate, judgement is required to avoid name calling and slander. The recent vilification of Julia Gillard in some sections of the public and the media has been repulsive. Although we might take issue with Gillard, Abbott and their colleagues, they are attempting to develop policy with the best interests of Australia at heart.

Dr Karin Sowada is currently CEO of the Anglican Deaconess Ministries Ltd. She served as a Senator in the Commonwealth Parliament from 1991-93 and is a member of the Diocesan Social Issues Executive. Karin is also an archaeologist specialising in ancient Egypt.

Comments (24)

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  • Andrew Mackinnon
    July 20, 11 - 1:43am
    "Although we might take issue with Gillard, Abbott and their colleagues, they are attempting to develop policy with the best interests of Australia at heart."

    This amounts to less than 300 people. Their will is not more important than the 22.7 million people who they govern, which is what they are currently discovering in this electronic age.
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 20, 11 - 3:53am
    Karin, whatever one's views, Julia Gillard lied. She lied. You cannot hope to disguise her naked lies with the garb of civility. As for the best interests of Australia, it is more like the best interests of the ALP's deal with the maniacal Greens. You may believe that justified criticism of the Gillard Government should be censored because they are well-meaning leftists, but I do not.

    Julia Gillard is equal to Whitlam as Australia's worst prime minister. At the moment, she makes Kevin Rudd look like William Pitt (either of them). Criticising her demonstrable incompetence and her lies about the carbon tax is not just permitted but is entirely justified.

    RJE
  • Karin Nicole Sowada
    July 20, 11 - 4:18am
    Thanks for these comments. I am not saying don't criticise Gillard, just that we should take care to be civil about it.
  • Sheldon Ryan
    July 20, 11 - 4:28am
    I dont believe she lied. I believe that when she what she said she had no idea that we would of had a hung parliment. What she should of done was explain herself better. Maybe she should of said it was a non core promise.
  • Andrew Cameron
    July 20, 11 - 4:45am
    Thanks for helping us to think carefully Karin.
    If Mr Mackinnon's '300' refers to the Parliament (it isn't quite clear), I think he misrepresents the nature of political representation. Someone has to implement policy -- that is, make a call -- on behalf of 22.7 million. It may be the wrong call, but doing so is not the problem.
    I don't see anyone censoring criticisms of this leftist government. In fact I think there's been quite enough very bitter critisicm, not all of it well informed.
    I challenge your commenters to discuss the facts of the policy, rather than impugning the character of our elected leaders.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    July 20, 11 - 5:22am
    Andrew, I was about to lapse into unconsciousness at the thought of continuing debate about the carbon dioxide tax but I’ve decided to rise to your challenge.

    > This is the biggest reform in Australia’s history, yet the government is not prepared to correctly call this a carbon dioxide tax and has instead incorrectly called it a carbon tax.

    > Carbon dioxide exists in the atmosphere at less than 400 parts per million which is less than 1 part in 2,500. Therefore, I don’t accept that carbon dioxide is causing global warming. I also don’t accept that global warming is occurring. I don’t believe that it has been proven.

    > Household transport fuels are excluded from the carbon dioxide tax. Therefore the government is obviously not serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions anyway. Their objective is to conform Australia to the agenda of the United Nations, which is to form global government. The fraud of carbon-dioxide-driven climate change is the vehicle that the United Nations is using to deceitfully attempt to establish global government. This is why a percentage of the carbon dioxide tax will be paid to the United Nations.

    Continued...
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    July 20, 11 - 5:23am
    > The tripling of the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200 from July of next year is the biggest tax reform I have witnessed in this country in my lifetime of more than 35 years. This was announced on a Sunday of all things and was quite unexpected by all of us. The reason the government has announced this increase in the tax-free threshold is to bribe Australian citizens into accepting the carbon dioxide tax.
  • Philip Griffin
    July 20, 11 - 7:32am
    I don't think the aim here on this site should be to enter into political debate as such. What we ought to be discussing is a Christian perspective on the current debate. My contributions would be as follows:
    1. It is right to call our political leaders to account for what they say. Whilst many have focussed on a broken election promise, I'd also focus on attempts to mislead the public in the debate by misrepresenting government policy. Our leaders need to be encouraged to debate the actual policy, not inaccurate caricatures of it.

    2. Our motives for what we want from Govt policy need to be examined. If we pay more, does that mean it is bad policy? Not always.

    3. We need to be careful not to impute motives based on too little evidence. @Andrew, I take issue with you suggesting the tax free threshold change is a 'bribe'. It is actually based on the Henry review of the tax system, and is a way of compensating lower income earners when the carbon tax comes in. To suggest the motive of trying to bribe is based on no evidence that I can see.

    Finally, let's remember that those who govern us are God's servants to rule us with justice. Let's pray for them.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    July 20, 11 - 8:12am
    I pray, God, that you would remove Julia Gillard from the office of the Prime Ministership, since she isn't ruling us with justice.
  • Mark Newton
    July 20, 11 - 9:17am
    Greetings Karin,
    Thanks for the article and for the balenced perspective on these issues. As I have been overseas for several weeks I wasn't around locally when the announcements were made, and can't comment on the honesty question. However I can say that they featured in the mainstream news in both New York, London and Singapore whilst I was there and the flavour of the coverage was that "Australia had announced bold and far reaching policy on reducing carbon emissions". The message was positive and it felt good to me that whilst the world was struggling with this issue Australia was actually proposing to do something! I agree that the political suicide or visionary leadership question is not yet settled.
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 21, 11 - 4:57am
    Karin, There is no civil way to state that someone is a liar and was dishonest. All of this nonsense about "civility" is an effort by the Left to try and escape the public outcry that naturally resulted from Julia Gillard's lies, as well as the duplicity of the former National Party now Independents Oakeshott and Windsor, neither of who had told their conservative, rural electorates that they would support the ALP. There is no respectable balance to a lie and a deception. The currently woeful polls for the ALP and Julia Gillard reflect this reality.
  • Karin Nicole Sowada
    July 21, 11 - 5:09am
    @Robert, it is one thing to call a politician dishonest, and quite frankly that sort of language just goes with the territory. Rather, my concern is at some the personal vitriol that has been levelled at the Prime Minister (and in fairness there has been some pretty ugly stuff said about Tony Abbott too since he became leader). I don't want to repeat the slanders here, but we have all heard it on talk-back radio, seen the t-shirts on TV, the protest banners etc. Let's by all means criticise the way decisions have been made and the policy itself, but keep the debate civil and informed.
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 21, 11 - 5:22am
    Karin, please understand that I respect you and your opinion.

    However, I respect the office of Prime Minister. It is the most powerful national office and its occupant is trusted to daily determine national questions, especially on the national security front.

    I do not respect Julia Gillard. She lied blatantly over the carbon tax, as did Wayne Swan. The widespread dislike for her is reflective of this. The Left like to blame talkback radio, Andrew Bolt, whoever but the majority of the public would hold Ms Gillard as a liar regardless of the media. To criticise Ms Gillard as a liar and unfit to hold the Prime Minister's office is not uncivil but stating the truth about the country's situation.

    At some stage, we have to be adult here and realise that for all of her confected outrage, there is no core to Julia Gillard. She is taking the ALP down the NSW path, where a despised Labor Party will be annihilated at the next federal poll. Sadly this will mean the Greens will be more powerful and they are populated by such persons as the ex-communist Lee Rhiannon.

    RJE
  • Grant Robinson
    July 21, 11 - 10:58am
    How does a Christian respond to the issue of climate change? Is it real? Is it a furphy?

    We are called on to be stewards of God's creation. It is not ours, we are here for a short time only. We will all be called to account for how we acted in our short time of stewardship. Will God see us as faithful or not?

    Some debaters suggest that carbon dioxide emissions are not a worry, are not sufficient to make a difference. But there are many scientists who take a different line.

    How then should God's people respond?

    I believe that the precautionary principle applies, and that from a Christian ethical position this is the right approach.

    Is a carbon tax and emissions trading scheme the best approach to tackle carbon dioxide and greenhouse effect? I do not know.

    But I do know that this is the first really positive approach from Australian political leaders. I find writings of commentators such as the Herald's Ross Gittins helpful here. He does not have a political barrow to push, but suggests that for most of us the impact will be negligible. His article in SMH on Monday 18Jul2011 is worth a read.

    The GST ended up not producing the doom and gloom some of us expected.

    So is a carbon tax a useful tool to help us as stewards of God's creation? Quite possibly yes. If it fails, Gittins suggests the pain won't be too bad.
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 21, 11 - 10:25pm
    I should add that I take no position for/against climate change. I just dislike politicians lying for whatever reason. Is it too much to ask that our elected representatives not lie??? Perhaps it is the pride of the political classes but there is this almost in-joke among politicians that they are not subject to the obligations of honesty that every other person and calling must fulfil.

    Probably what is most annoying about Julia Gillard is that when she is caught out on the lie, she plays some teary, working class hero, feminist card, which is completely irrelevant to her lying and deception of the electorate. Is her lying forgivable because she had some deprived childhood in Adelaide? This is absurd. Perhaps Kevin Rudd is right to call the Lodge "Boganville" after all.

    RJE
  • Grant Robinson
    July 21, 11 - 11:00pm
    I think we need to be careful about our choice of words. Shock Jocks have peddled the line that the PM is a liar.

    There is a big difference between a lie and a change of heart. In this case it was a serious change of commitment.

    If the PM genuinely believed what she said during the election campaign, it was not a lie, no more than John Howard's "there will never ever be a GST".

    In both cases, many believe that the change of commitment demonstrates a lack of trustworthiness, even a broken promise, but if they intended to do what they said, it was not a lie.

    Maybe we should apply the injunctions about teachers in James 3:1 as: "Not many of you should presume to be POLITICIANS, ... because you know that [THEY] ... will be judged more strictly."

    GR
  • Stephen Davis
    July 22, 11 - 2:51am
    I do not want to turn this into political debate either but facts are facts - the Labour party has made a deal with the Greens who have some of the most anti Christian policies around. That by itself should be a good enough incentive for Christians, if not anyone else to be able to make a sound judgement on a political party's fitness to be in government. I also would like to point out that there are 2 things you need to have a successful country - a good moral framework and good economic management - this current government has very little of either. The pink batts, the deplorable immigration policies, grocery watch, to name a few, are hallmarks of economic and social ineptitude when it comes to sound policy making. Lastly I would like to concur with Karin re her comments about civility - she is absolutely correct, as much as some of us probably cannot stand some politicians, the most important thing all Christians have to realise is that these people are individuals that Jesus loves and died for and this is the foundation upon which we need to form our views with.
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 22, 11 - 4:20am
    Stephen: well said.

    Grant: John Howard went to a new election in 1998 to get a fresh mandate to introduce the GST. Julia Gillard has not done this with the carbon tax, despite ruling it out only days before the election last August. The difference in conduct between Howard and Gillard is stark.
  • Stephen Davis
    July 22, 11 - 4:42am
    Rob, you will not get any argument from me on that. The thing that makes my mind boggle is that some Christians actually voted for this current coalition. I do not advocate being an expert in politics but I am of the firm conviction that every person who is of voting age should be at least aware of what is going on around them in a political sense.
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 22, 11 - 6:18am
    Thanks Stephen. One of the sadder experiences of watching politics has been seeing the good-faith efforts of social-justice Christians to win over and be accepted by Left parties. Every election, there is some well-meaning Christian running a line that, really, the Greens are just like you and me and also want the best for the poor, even though many of the Greens are atheists and, in Lee Rhiannon’s case, former communists. It is almost as if social-justice Christians are in a form of denial that the Left is really not what it is. These Christians are then surprised when the Greens, Get-Up and the ALP’s Left promote abortion-on-demand, RU486 legalisation and resist any move to curtail the pornographic culture by internet filtering. To be fair to Karin, while I know Karin was a Democrat, I do not know enough of her voting record to know where she fits as the Democrats were also originally a spin-off of the Liberal Party, and took many of the small-l Liberal/doctors’ wives/Volvo drivers with them. I suspect many of these voters went to the Greens as that became more of a middle class Left party and less a conservation movement. Kind regards, Rob
  • Stephen Davis
    July 22, 11 - 6:24am
    Rob, you are spot on mate, how much better off we would be if there were more people who could take a good common sense approach and objectively look at the political scene, like you appeared to have done. You are not over the top but, like me, you have a basic understanding of what is going on politically and that will most certainly help a person Christian or not, to make a properly informed choice at the ballot box. All the best mate.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    July 23, 11 - 9:36am
    I couldn't have put it better myself:

    http://vidcall.com/index.php/videos/show/2090/

    (This presentation is delivered by a hired public relations consultant, however the content of the message is very good.)
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    July 23, 11 - 11:04am
    Given the urgency of the current global climate, I am going to take this opportunity to say that the reason Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian shooter of current events, is wearing Masonic regalia on his former Facebook page, shown on page 7 of the PDF file linked below, is that Anders Behring Breivik is a Freemason. He is NOT a Christian as the media mischievously purports him to be.

    http://www.solidprinciples.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Anders-Behring-Breivik-FACEBOOK.pdf
  • Robert James Elliott
    July 25, 11 - 10:13pm
    All Christian discussions go off the rails as soon as the Freemasons are brought into it ... No one finds Freemasonry stranger than I do, and I know many Masons, but I am not sure this is where Karin wanted to end the discussion.