25 October 2014
Tony Abbott became Liberal leader about five years ago, when the Liberal Party was divided over environmental issues. In fact, during the years before Abbott’s rise to the Liberal leadership, environmental issues had caused trouble for the Liberals, and would continue to cause troubles before Abbott’s rise.
This genesis dates to when John Howard was Liberal leader and, as it turned out, coming to the end of nearly twelve years as Prime Minister. Voters had liked Howard to some degree, but they started to see him as a leader running out of ideas on where to take the country, and they grew tired of him. And when he lost office at the 2007 Federal election, environmental issues were seen as part of the reason behind his downfall.
About a year before the election, a mate of mine told me what he saw as the reason behind voters’ minds hardening on the environment. For years there’d been stories about rising weather temperatures and hotter weather, and in major cities there were water restrictions because drought had left these cities’ dams short of water. Restrictions meant that people couldn’t freely do little things like watering their gardens or washing their cars. My mate reckons that environmental activists linked the loss of these little freedoms to rising temperatures and carbon pollution, and this hardened voters’ attitudes. But Howard had long been seen as indifferent on the issue.
After voters sent Howard packing in 2007 and elected the Labor Party under Kevin Rudd, the Liberals had leadership changes over tackling with carbon pollution, initially because they weren’t looking to do much and later because they were looking to do too much. During 2009, they were going to support a scheme by Rudd to reduce carbon pollution, mainly from coal-fired power stations that supplied much of the country’s electricity. Such a scheme was painted as being likely to drive up the price of electricity and people’s power bills.
When the Liberals looked like supporting a carbon pollution reduction scheme, conservative commentators spearheaded a revolt among Liberal voters to threat to vote against the Liberals if they supported the scheme. And Abbott came to lead the push, which ultimately led to his rise to the Liberal leadership. With Abbott leading and proclaiming the carbon pollution reduction scheme as a “new tax on everything”, public opinion on the environment changed, and Rudd shelved his scheme. Ultimately Rudd’s popularity, hitherto stratospheric, went into freefall, and he was rolled in a Labor leadership coup in 2010. At an election that followed, the Labor vote collapsed, but not all of it went to the Liberals, and the result was a deadlock.
A good portion of the lost Labor vote went to the Greens, who won a Senate in every state and ended up with the balance of power in the Senate, as well as a seat in the House of Reps. Clearly the Greens sit on the hard end of the political spectrum where the Labor Party sits, to the left of centre. But there’s no obvious alternative on the hard right of the political spectrum where the Liberal Party sits, to the right of centre, and there wasn’t one when Abbott became Liberal leader.
As such, one thing has never been explained, in my opinion, since Abbott’s rise. If you were a supporter of Liberal Party, but angry with its decision to support the introduction of a carbon pollution reduction scheme, why would you “take revenge” by voting for the Labor Party, which wanted to introduce the darn thing? Who would angry Liberal voters have turned to in those days? I felt that there simply was no logic behind the argument that the Liberals faced electoral oblivion if they supported the scheme.
While we had the Greens on one hard political end, there were only blank spaces or question marks on the other hard political end. And we still have question marks on the hard right end to this day.