A river in Egypt

One of the most jarring juxtapositions in Australian political life is the difference between Mark Latham the belligerent, bellicose former ALP leader and Mark Latham the thoughtful, considered political commentator.

The former is best known for single-handedly ripping defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2004 election, encapsulated in that handshake. Latham paused long enough between breaking cabbies’ arms and accosting Julia Gillard at media events to cop an absolute pantsing from the Australian public that was already exhibiting the Howard fatigue that officially kicked in in ’07.

The latter, however, has been an occasional revelation in the years since his defeat (his ill-advised tenure as a ‘reporter’ – read: paid troll – for 60 Minutes notwithstanding). He has offered thoughts on national politics from beyond the Canberra bubble from where even the most noble press gallery journos rarely venture.

It was this Mark Latham who authored a piece in Friday’s Fin Review. Ignoring his frankly odd call for a new ‘post-left’ politics, whatever that means, one of his central points is perhaps the most crucial challenge facing climate change activists the world over.

What is confronting politicians and interest groups taking action on climate change, to paraphrase Latham, is a society-wide case of cognitive dissonance. When asked in 2006, when sentiment towards climate change was such that even John Howard was on the verge of taking an ETS to an election, the Australian public was convinced of the scientific reality. And, naturally, they were broadly supportive of the nation acting to prevent it.

Fast forward to today, and only two things have changed; the nation HAS acted on climate change, and the scientific evidence of the looming threat has become even more convincing. Yet here we are, facing a public overwhelmingly against not only pricing carbon, but the scientific consensus around why it is necessary to do so.

In the wake of these changes the Australian people, confronted with admitting to themselves and others that they were unwilling to pay even a tokenistic amount to help prevent a challenge of historic proportions, instead has chosen to disregard objective fact. It’s not that I’m selfish; it’s that I’m newly concerned about the science, Australians seem to be saying, absolving themselves of the guilt of abandoning their children to an uncertain fate.

This should be hugely concerning for politicians of all stripes, because coincidentally, Joe Hockey set a neoliberal cat among the pigeons with his attack on Australia’s ‘culture of entitlement’. He was right, of course. It’s approaching two decades since Australians were genuinely asked to put the national interest ahead of their own.

Politicians’ incentives are overwhelmingly tilted towards creating a sense of need and, yes, entitlement, among the people, then fulfilling it. They’ve been doing it for years, and Australians have internalised it. Now, the punters can rationalise their desire for government sponsorship of their comfort.

In decades past, this was not the case. Australians accepted the Accord, knowing that wage breakouts had caused two separate bouts of rampant inflation. They also re-elected the ALP after the Hawke-Keating program of deregulation led to a particularly nasty recession in 1990.

Today, it is a brave politician who tells Australians that they are not entitled to support in buying a house, having a child or accessing private health insurance and education; a brave politician who would ask the country to pay more for an essential reform.

And we all know that we’re light on for brave politicians at the moment.

Hockey may earn that label if he bites the bullet and actually names some handouts that Australians aren’t entitled to. Gillard would probably already own it if she hadn’t been a proponent of scrapping the original CPRS, before bowing to the needs of minority government by resurrecting it. Even the Greens are unwilling to move beyond their base on economic issues, steadfastly refusing to back company tax cuts for ‘large’ companies. Because they’re obviously more evil than small ones.

It’s unlikely that there will be a solution to this problem anytime soon. If the ALP haven’t taken this opportunity to throw caution to the wind and try something bold before they’re inevitably booted out of office, they’re not about to start. Unless Mark Latham (either of him) manages to insert a z-axis on the political spectrum, his ‘post-left’ solution will remain the bunkum it is.

In the meantime, those worried about climate change should probably pray for a new drought, when Australia’s ‘weather experts’ will have to start washing their cars with buckets. They’ll probably find themselves re-reconsidering the science when that happens.


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