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Note to Pols: Looking Green Wins Elections, Governing Green, Not So Much

Earlier this week, Australia passed the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, a tax of 30 percent on profits of the largest iron ore and coal mining companies operating in Australia. The first, tougher version of this initiative was  introduced by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and it ruined him. Unremitting attacks on his environmental policies helped drive his poll numbers down so far that he was dumped by his own party. 

His successor, Julia Gillard, took up the charge for the green agenda, in part because after a narrow election victory she depended on green support to get a majority in the Australian Senate. She consulted the companies that would be affected by the tax. She watered down the bill, and gathered support in parliament. The result? A weaker version of Rudd’s original vision that will bring the government $10.6 billion in revenue—only about 0.2 percent of GDP.

Meanwhile, this bill and an equally contentious carbon trading law (plus public distaste for the political squabbling in the party’s leadership contests) have helped the opposition Liberal Party build up a healthy lead in the polls.

The green agenda hasn’t been the Labour Party’s only problem, but with Australia’s economy turning in a strong performance the government should be close to unbeatable. Politicians everywhere take note: carbon taxes and emission controls can turn mandates into millstones. A Machiavellian would say that while looking green helps Australian politicians win elections, governing green helps to lose them.

Public reaction to high gas prices and the Keystone controversy suggests that Australia may not be the only country where it is politically smarter to fake green sympathies than to actually do much about them.

Will American politicians take note?

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  • Glenn

    How much did national party’s green stance & carbon tax have to do w/ Queensland election? From
    The Australian:
    “Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party ended Labor’s 14-year reign with a crushing win that could see the ALP struggling to achieve double digit figures in the 89-seat parliament.

    Labor was reduced to only 11 seats in 1974, and on latest counting tonight appeared set to retain only nine seats. Some analysts put the figure even lower, at seven.

    This would mean Labor falling short of official party status and relying on the incoming LNP government to grant it party offices, staff and resources.

    The LNP is expected to have a staggering 74 seats.”

  • While I agree that Green politics are playing a significant part in Australian politics, I think the mining law can be seen much more as a Blue model government directly privileging the public sector over the private. It is very much like the President’s proposal to tax the rich to maintain or expand big government. One difference is that Australia has such a large primary industry creating most of the wealth, that there is enough real wealth to tax so that the public sector can continue to keep itself in the style to which is has become accustomed. That said Australia is altogether quite well run. We had a housing bubble much like the US but managed to avoid financing it with phony baloney credit default swaps. We manage to keep our population healthy at half the cost of the US. Immigration law is not a complete joke. I’m not sure we have done a better job of containing the higher education bubble given that qualification proliferation is out of control. But we have not tied ourselves into precisely regulated knots the way advanced social democracies like Sweden have. Which brings me back to Green politics here. They are a separate party which is looked on very favorably by the left of the Labor party. Anytime the left is disenchanted with a Labor government straying too much to the center it votes Green. The Gillard government is in part dependent on the first Green elected to the lower house. There is another Green story on the other side of politics. The leader of the opposition Malcolm Turnbull made a Carbon Tax deal with then PM Rudd. Then the Climategate emails were released and the Liberal party dumped Turnbull in a matter of days for the dubious, and still leader of the opposition. Tony Abbott, aka ‘The Mad Monk’. Abbott very nearly beat Gillard in the last election and she has become increasingly unpopular. What I hear over and over from Australians is that she broke an unwritten rule when she participated in a back room deal to unseat Kevin Rudd. Australians have this quaint notion that when they elect a PM they should not be subject to party room jiggery pokery before their first term is up. Nonetheless my sense is that dubious Green initiatives like the carbon tax and the generally anti capitalist agenda that permeates the Australian left will will sink Labor at the next election.

  • Duane

    Its the Labor Party in Oz, not the Labour Party. A whim of history.

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