Mediocre or Machiavellian
Kayoz points to this story about how Howard blocked emissions trading three years ago. This makes interesting reading in the light of the recently-announced Task Force on Emissions Trading, consisting entirely of public-servants and representatives of carbon-intensive industries. As one might expect, farmers, and others who want action are Not Happy.
The obvious implication is that the whole thing is designed to kick the problem into touch for six months, then come up with some meaningless window-dressing which can withstand analysis just long enough for an election campaign. If this is correct, it does not say much for Howard’s reputation as a brilliant tactician, in touch with middle Australia.
It’s obvious to nearly everyone by now that we need immediate action and that means carbon taxes, emissions trading or both. This judgement is only going to be solidified when the Fourth IPCC Report comes out in January, confirming the consensus on climate change in much stronger terms than the Third Report. The science denialists will no doubt get some kind of run, but they are now more of a liability than an asset for those seeking to delay action. The more plausible (though still wrong) Lomborg line, that climate change is real but not important enough to justify economic action, has been undercut by the Stern Review, and by the fact that most of those embracing it are still having two-bob each way on outright denialism.
Given that most Australians can see this, a report from energy-intensive industries saying we should focus on research and voluntary action is unlikely to convince anyone. Howard has already been outflanked by Rudd on the nuclear issue and on Kyoto, and a report like this would do nothing to retrieve the position.
But suppose that Howard has worked this out, and intends to introduce some form of emissions trading as a pre-election rabbit from the hat. If the public servants on the committee push for this, the business reps will find it hard to resist. After all, there is no coherent alternative. And once they signed off, Howard would be insulated against blowback from the sectors they represent.
If Howard is indeed the Machiavellian genius he is painted as (most notably by Jack Strocchi in the comment threads here) this is the strategy that will ultimately be revealed.