early 2007, just after he had become opposition leader:
I suggest that the ALP should pledge that within a year of being elected they will hold a plebiscite seeking public approval for a package of policies to deal with the environmental crisis. (There may be too much political risk in going to an election with a detailed package, too much risk to the future of the human race in doing no more than the party would dare propose before an election.) You could call on the Liberals to make the same pledge. On the idea of an “environmental contract” see the speech by the British minister, David Miliband, http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/ministers/speeches/david-miliband/dm060719.htm.
In the lead up to the plebiscite the government would consult experts to work out what is needed (perhaps hold something like Bob Hawke’s summit), organise “deliberative polling” (see http://cdd.stanford.edu/) to work out what the public can be persuaded to accept, and encourage discussion throughout the community. I suggest that the policy package should distinguish between things Australia should do without waiting for the rest of the world (e.g. energy-saving), and things this country should try to persuade other countries to agree to. But we should do as much as we can without waiting for others.
December 2009, just after ETS was defeated and Abbott became opposition leader.
Dear Senator Wong,
As I’m sure you will agree, Tony Abbott is a very formidable opponent, well able to take advantage of doubts in the minds of voters about the Emissions Trading Scheme. The government may be inclined to try to insist on the merits of its present legislation, but I suggest that a different tack might be wiser.
I suggest that the government should as soon as possible hold a “summit”, like Bob Hawke’s economic and tax summits in 1983 and 1985. Mr Hawke has himself recently suggested this: http://currentaffairs.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=927141
A Climate Change Summit would involve invitations to scientists, economists, representatives of various interests and leaders of the political parties. Invitations would go to both advocates and deniers of global warming theories and to proponents and opponents of the leading mitigation proposals. The government would present its ETS, the Liberals would present their policy (whatever it turns out to be), the Greens theirs, and others (such as Warwick McKibbin) other proposals. The Summit should not take place over too short a space of time. These days, in contrast to 1985, the web and email are available for the members of the summit to carry on discussions between physical meetings. The summit should produce several options to be put to the electorate in a plebiscite (the options would be selected and worded by the Government); if possible the plebiscite should be separate from an election. In this way this important decision would be taken out of the bullring of electoral politics, and the decision supported in the plebiscite could be expected to have the commitment of citizens, even those whose preference was defeated. The outcome of the plebiscite would not bind government, which would be free to adopt some other plan if it thought the public could be persuaded to support it.
A recent analogy is the 1998 Constitutional Convention and plebiscite. The Summit I am suggesting would differ from the Constitutional Convention in that the membership of the convention was determined partly by election. Membership of the Climate Change Summit should be by invitation. (Of course invitations would reflect consultation.) Another analogy is the “2020 Summit”, but that was not focussed on a particular issue and took place in a very short space of time. There have been plebiscites on other issues, two on conscription in World War I and one on a national anthem in 1977.
While the summit is being organised and taking place, and continuing until the plebiscite, there should be “deliberative polling” meetings throughout the country, to educate the public and give them a say. See http://www.ida.org.au/deliberative.php and http://cdd.stanford.edu/polls/docs/summary/
If the Government decided to go this way, it could recommend a similar approach to the heads of other states, such as the United States; this could be part of Australia’s contribution to the Copenhagen discussions. The US political system is broken; the Administration cannot get through the Senate anything unacceptable to the know-nothings and the major interest groups. A national summit and a process of deliberative polling and a plebiscite could help build momentum towards the changes that need to be made. Since most of the denialist ideas current in this country are being imported from the US, an improvement in the US debate would help the dialogue in this country.
A Climate Change Summit might come up with a better scheme than the Government’s ETS, and the Opposition would then say, “See, we were right to vote down the ETS”. But I don’t think the electorate would think worse of a government that reacted to parliamentary defeat constructively, by conducting full consultations with experts and with the public and then adopted a better scheme. The Government could claim full credit for conducting the process and learning from it. You as Climate Change Minister should chair the Climate Change Summit. Initiating and presiding over such a process would convey the unspoken message that the Government is taking the lead. Government members would not have to sell the product—the process, especially the deliberative polling, would have done that.
A Climate Change Summit and deliberative polling would cost money. But no one would object to the use of public money to hold such an important consultation. It could well be cheaper than a government or Labor Party advertising campaign to sell the ETS. If the money was worth spending over the republican referendum or the plebiscite on a national anthem, then it is worth spending on this much more important issue.
Market-based schemes like ETS or Carbon Tax are not the only approach. The Rudd government, led by a critic of neo-liberalism, should not neglect direct action against specific emissions problems, for example by encouraging public transport as against private cars. Market-based schemes should be viewed as providing a general backstop to more direct measures. So action on climate change should not wait until the adoption of an ETS. There are many things that could be done now, and some are being done, such as solar rebates, insulation incentives, etc. The Government should press ahead with those as quickly as possible. When people take advantage of such schemes they predispose themselves to supporting more comprehensive action.
23 July 2010, commenting on Julia Gillard’s “citizens’ assembly”.
Julia Gillard’s announcement in Brisbane regarding climate change has not been well received. Here are some points I think need repair:
(1) She should not have said that she is sticking to the postponement of emissions trading until 2013. Postponement should be explicitly abandoned. As long as she insists that postponement is still her policy, the “Citizens assembly” will look like a device for disguising procrastination. (I suspect she is sticking to postponement because she doesn’t want to reverse herself. It was the postponement that triggered the collapse of the government’s popularity. She must explicitly reverse herself.)
(2) More emphasis should be put on the “panel of experts”. It should be the real focus of attention, not the citizens’ assembly.
(3) The “panel of experts” should be enlarged to include not only scientists but also economists and other relevant experts, and also representatives of interests likely to be affected by climate change legislation, including unions. The “panel of experts” should become a “summit”. It should last for some months, not meeting all the time but functioning by email and web and occasional meetings.
(4) The other political parties should have a role. They should have representatives in the summit group--or, if the “citizens assembly” continues to be the focus, they should be invited to put proposals to the assembly. Unless the other parties can participate, they will be vocal critics of the whole process. Consensus will not develop unless unless the government sponsors a process that people of different political persuasions can trust.
(5) A “citizens assembly” of volunteers, i.e. unpaid, who meet for a whole year can’t be expected to be representative of the community. Only wealthy, leisured people could commit themselves to such a task. The assembly should be reconfigured as a series of separate, smaller, shorter, “deliberative polling” meetings held in various parts of the country, on particular questions put up for discussion by the main “summit” group.
(6) The process should lead to a plebiscite, which should set out the options and invite voters to arrange them in order of preference. Unless there is promise of a plebiscite, voters will base their votes in this election on their guesses about what the government will do about climate change if reelected. This can only favour the Greens.
Below I will paste in again the message I sent
Senator Wong last December. I think I suggested a much better
approach than the one the PM announced today. I wrote to you on 4 July:
“What I want is for the government to take a strong lead, to begin even
before the election to organise and lead a process that will lead to
consensus. This can be done by announcing that there will be a summit and
later a plebiscite; some of the invitations to the summit can be issued
before the election is called. The government’s election policy on climate
change would be a pledge to hold a plebiscite within a year and to begin
acting on the results of the plebiscite before the next election.”
2 August 2010.
the decline in public support for the Rudd government was triggered by the backflip on the ETS, the decision to postpone it for several years. In reaction to postponement, about 5% of the electorate switched their votes from ALP to Greens. When you replaced Mr Rudd, that 5% came back, but not for long: when it became known that the postponement was originally your idea [This is apparently not true: see Philip Chubb, Power Failure, p. 113ff] and that you stuck to it still, public support ebbed away from you again. Your recent announcement, establishing a “Citizens Assembly”, but also, more significantly, confirming that there would be no ETS before 2013, triggered a further loss of public support.
Attacking Tony Abbot won’t avert an election loss. You need to do a backflip on the ETS backflip, and it needs to be convincing. I suggest you revisit the Climate Change issue, strengthen the process toward consensus, explain it better, and justify your claim (with which I agree) that a better consensus is needed.
(1.) Promise that within one year after the election you will put a set of Climate Change options to the electorate in a plebiscite, and that you will begin to act on the outcome before the next election.
(2) Strengthen the expert panel--invite experts on science and economics, and also invite representatives of the various interests likely to be affected (including unions) and representatives of the political parties. Turn it into a Bob Hawke-type “summit”, and call it that. Its functions should include the formulation of options for a plebiscite. (Hawke himself has suggested a summit: http://currentaffairs.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=927141. Say you accept his suggestion.)
(3) Turn the “citizens assembly” into a series of short “deliberative polling” meetings. (A volunteer body that meets over a year will not be representative--only leisured and wealthy people will be able to find the time. Its members will be targets for an overwhelming flow of propaganda from interest groups; some of them may even be corrupted.)
(4) Make it very clear that you have abandoned the idea of postponing action until a consensus “emerges”--rather, say you will take an active part in building consensus as soon as possible with the intention of taking action in the next term of your government.
On the need for consensus: Michelle Gratten and other commentators are saying that 60% of the electorate want an ETS. But which ETS do they want? Some may support a Greens version (which the ALP denounces as dangerous to the economy), others the version the government negotiated with the Turnbull Liberals (which Professor Garnaut rejected as too weak [http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/try-again-on-carbon-emissions-trading-scheme-ross-garnaut/story-e6frg6xf-1225699717940 -- Correction: Garnaut was commenting on CPRS 2, which preceded negotiation with the Liberals, Philip Chubb, Power Failure, pp. 51-2, 78] and the majority of the Liberal party as too radical), others the original ALP version (which the Greens denounce as too weak). Even if the community want the one thing, the parties in Parliament don’t. How can anyone say that an actionable consensus already exists?
My own view is that the version of the ETS negotiated with the Turnbull Liberals was too weak and it has been overtaken by events. It is necessary to go back to the drawing board. The doubts (unreasonable though they may be) raised in the public mind against the science by the “climategate” campaign and by other events, the failure of international agreement at Copenhagen, the abandonment in the US Senate of attempts to legislate “cap and trade”, the split in the Liberal party, and Garnaut’s dissatisfaction with the version agreed on by the government and the Turnbull Liberals, all point to a need to hold a community-wide “teach-in” (to use a 60s term) to mobilise support for strong measures that Australia can reasonably take even without international agreement. The ordinary electoral process is not capable of producing a real and deep consensus on matters as difficult as climate change--occasionally we need to use some other process to get a good decision.
30 March 2011
thanks for calling me yesterday.
I’d like to summarise and reinforce some of the points I made and answer some things that arose in the conversation.
On plebiscites see Parliamentary Handbook: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22handbook%2Fnewhandbook%2F2008-12-19%2F0066%22 . Holding a plebiscite about climate change would put it up there with conscription in WWI, and it is, I believe, of comparable importance.
Climate change will be a—the—major issue at the next election. At least, it should be: if it isn’t, it will be because the government has given up on it, or some scandal or bungle or unexpected crisis has got out of control.
Elections are decided by swinging voters in marginal seats. There are exceptions, but generally swinging voters are people who don’t follow politics, are hostile to politicians, don’t believe what they say, and are impatient with complicated political messages. Tony Abbott’s messages are clear and simple. He appeals to dislike and distrust. It would be a serious mistake to underestimate his effectiveness as a negative campaigner.
A plebiscite is decided by the total vote of people living anywhere in the country (usually results have been broken down into state totals). The votes of people who follow issues seriously, people who live in safe seats, count just as much as the votes of swinging voters in marginal seats. Further, the vote is focussed on just the matter put to the plebiscite: voters who support action on climate change will not be distracted by whether they like Julia Gillard and whatever other considerations enter into the packages they vote on when choosing a government.
I think it makes obvious sense to hold a plebiscite seeking a mandate for the government’s climate change program before the next election: later this year or early next year. The prospect of a plebiscite would focus public attention on the issue. There would be statements of the “for” and “against” cases, legitimately paid for by taxpayers’ money, sent to every voter, and people would know that they were going to have to vote on the issue; they would know it was important, they would give it more thought than they usually give to political questions between elections. Even the swinging voters would give it some thought. Voters who take their voting responsibilities seriously will study the “for” and “against” cases carefully (some more carefully than others), they will listen to messages on the issue from the various parties. The lead-up to the plebiscite would be a period of serious national deliberation.
I don’t believe that voters would just follow their Party’s line. Liberal voters care about climate change. Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by just one vote. If government is not at stake, Liberal voters will vote on their assessment of this issue. Some Labor voters (coalminers, maybe) would vote against—but if climate change was a major issue in the next election some of them might also vote Liberal. Plebiscite votes are not counted electorate-by-electorate, so you wouldn’t have the embarrassment of a solid negative from Newcastle.
Julia Gillard’s statement on the eve of the last election “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” poses a serious problem. Abbott is right, or at least very plausible, when he says she needs a mandate and doesn’t have one. A plebiscite would give her a mandate. Otherwise, if she legislates a carbon tax before the next election, the accusations will be that she broke a promise and “lied” her way into power. She has answers to these accusations, but they are not simple enough to influence voters already disposed to believe that politicians can’t be trusted.
So that’s the first point I wanted to make, that the Carbon Tax and other measures should be put to a specific plebiscite, separate from the next general election.
The second point is that the mechanism for providing the community with scientific and economic and other advice on climate change needs improving. Voters who are not scientists and economists, who can’t judge the likely impact of various proposals on industry and employment, who don’t know what measures are being taken by other countries, need to have expert, authoritative advice that they can trust. Politicians are not trustworthy experts on these things. Tim Flannery and Professor Garnaut are just two people, and they are already identified with one side. There needs to be a body, or an organised network that can arrive at a collective position, that the public can trust to listen properly and objectively to representatives of all points of view, including climate deniers and sceptics and special interests. This body must consider not only the Carbon Tax, but also the Liberal Party’s proposals (which are plausible: http://www.liberal.org.au/Latest-News/2010/02/02/Direct-action-on-the-environment-and-climate-change.aspx) and others. This body should develop a set of main options, with pros and cons, and a recommendation of an order of preference among them. Their options should be the basis of the plebiscite—voters should be asked to rank a few options in order of preference.
Even after a plebiscite, climate change will still be an issue in the next election. But if the government could say that its proposals were supported by an objective and diverse expert body and preferred in the plebiscite, it would be difficult for Abbott or other opponents to make much headway. And the government could claim the credit for establishing a good, objective, process. Its role in establishing the process, submitting its proposals, and carrying the options through to a properly-debated plebiscite, would convey the unspoken message that it is leading the community toward consensus on a vital issue.
So the choice between (a) a plebiscite followed by an election and (b) an election that would effectively be the plebiscite on a Carbon Tax, is a no-brainer, it seems to me.
The process I am urging would allow the Labor Party to distance itself somewhat from the Greens. (I’m not antagonistic to the Greens.) The Labor/Green/Independents Carbon Tax committee benefits the Greens and damages Labor. With people concerned about climate change, the Greens get the credit for coercing Labor into adopting a Green policy, as their price for enabling Julia Gillard to remain Prime Minister. Some Labor voters who care a lot about climate change may reflect that Green pressure on the ALP is doing good, and they may therefore be inclined to increase that pressure by giving their first preferences to Green candidates. On the other hand, the Labor Party and the Carbon Tax cop the antagonism of people hostile to the Greens. Julia Gillard thought that Rudd’s ETS should be postponed until there was stronger community consensus: now she is eroding consensus by seeming to have done a deal with the Greens so that she can stay in power.
If the government adopted my suggestions, i.e. (a) a strong option-analysing body and (b) a plebiscite ranking the options, then the Labor Party and the Greens could present their own separate proposals (which might of course be very similar); the government would not need Green support on climate change until the plebiscite had been held and the outcome needed to be legislated.
If the option-analysing body were objective, independent and diverse, it would be very reasonable to call on the Liberals to submit their proposals for analysis. If they refused, the public would infer that their proposals won’t stand up. Even if the Liberals made no submission, the body could look at the proposals they have made public and identify assumptions, raise questions, and make a tentative assessment. I think the government should make a real effort to engage the Liberals in a fair process: it is not in the community’s interest for partisanship to confuse decisions on such an important matter.
04 Jun 2011
thanks for having me on your “Contrarians” program. I’d like a DVD of the program, since otherwise I won’t see it.
Toward the end you said (if I remember) that I’d asked you to apologise for your “No pain no gain” article [http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/no-pian-no-gain-compensation-ruins-carbon-tax/comments-e6frg9if-1226066755699]. In response I tried to make it clear that I have never suggested an apology. Let me make the point again. An apology is appropriate when you’re morally at fault. A retraction, or correction—unsaying what you’ve said in error—does not imply that you are morally at fault and is not an apology. Everyone is fallible; even if you do your research properly you will still sometimes be wrong. When journalists (or academics or politicians or anyone else) realise they’ve made a mistake and misled people, they should correct it. It’s no skin off your nose, and it even makes good commercial sense; readers trust a journalist they believe tries to get it right and explicitly corrects mistakes that get through.
You commented (if I remember rightly) that you won’t make a correction since you haven’t made a mistake, because if the tax is going to make as little difference as its advocates say then any incentive will be weak. But the “little difference” they say it will make is the net difference, i.e. cost of living increase minus compensation. The tax will make little net difference to the overall cost of living because it will be (largely) compensated, but it will still make a considerable difference to patterns of consumption and production because cost of carbon-intensive products will rise and the compensation will not blunt the consequent incentive. It won’t, because if we reduce our carbon consumption we don’t lose the compensation. It’s not a cent-for-cent scheme where the individual shows a carbon-tax invoice and gets exactly that amount back. In the scheme(s) under consideration (e.g. tax reductions) an individual’s compensation will not reduce in comparison with compensation given to other individuals in the same general category (e.g. tax bracket) when he/she reduces carbon usage. Because of the compensation, those who can’t or won’t change their behaviour experience no pain, but those who do change will keep the compensation, and that is the incentive.
Your mistake is to assume that an incentive has to be a stick. In the scheme(s) under consideration the incentive is pure carrot. There is no pain, only gain.
All this has been explained clearly by quite a few other people. I’ll paste in below my explanation in the first email I sent you, Professor Garnaut’s criticism of the “unfortunate myth” your article propagates, an editorial from the SMH on sticks and carrots, and some of the comments readers made on your article, with emphasis added in bold and a few interpolations in square brackets.
There might seem to be an argument for setting the carbon price very high. If doubling the cost painlessly doubles the incentive to avoid carbon consumption, then why not quadruple it? Answer: a sudden strong incentive would put too many people on too steep a learning curve and mistakes would be made, from installation errors (cf. the pink batts) to errors in investment decisions. It’s more efficient to start at a lower rate and increase it according to a fixed schedule.
In your article you claim that the whole scheme is a disguise for wealth redistribution and environmentalists are just being fooled. I myself strongly support redistribution from rent-takers to people whose income (wages, salaries, profits) depends on providing services that other people value. For nearly 200 years (since Ricardo and James Mill) rent-based wealth has been recognised by liberal economists as the most just and least economically-detrimental target for taxation. Washington Irving’s “Rip van Winkel” makes the point in parable; Rip, owner of a small property in New Amsterdam, fell asleep and woke a hundred years later as a rich man in New York, having contributed nothing, enriched by what others did while he slept [This is an adaptation of the story]. A tax on rent is no disincentive to productive work and no injustice. (Not that the rent-taker deserves punishment: Rip could not help getting rich in his sleep).
But while I support the things Labor does to diminish unjust inequalities, this is not one of them. It is simply not true that the compensated carbon tax is disguised redistribution. There will be for the government no net tax take; some of the revenue will go to carbon-intensive trade-exposed industries, some to support environmental research and development, at least half to compensate households. Compensation will go first to lower income households, for two reasons: first, because any net increase in their cost of living would inflict great pain, and second, because compensation by reforming the tax system (as Garnaut advocates) will attract such people into work (some are in poverty traps—if tax begins too soon at too high a rate, after-tax income from a low-paid job may not be much more than unemployment benefits). Making low-paid work more rewarding will benefit low-income people and it will make the economy more efficient and resilient. Higher-income people won’t be compensated because the money will run out (revenue from the carbon tax would not cover full compensation for every income level plus the other climate-related measures). Higher-income people are better able to bear the uncompensated cost and their employment is well-established. You may disagree with the reasoning behind Garnaut’s proposal, but no one can reasonably say the scheme is merely a disguise for redistribution.
So I’d like you to reconsider the compensated carbon tax. I think it’s a clever idea—in fact brilliant, beautiful, elegant. I’d like you to withdraw the mistaken criticisms you made in “No pain no gain”, not by offering an un-called for “apology”, but (e.g.) in a new article explicitly correcting the old one …
17 October 2013
Dear Mr Shorten,
During your leadership campaign you spoke of the need for new “big ideas” to shape the future. Labor also needs medium-sized ideas, including tactical ideas, about how to deal with the immediate political issues. I have some suggestions relating to the carbon cap, senate elections, asylum seekers, the Palestine/Israel conflict, overseas troop deployments, ratification of treaties and Labor party reform. I am a member of the ALP and a retired academic, formerly head of the Politics department at Macquarie University.
Labor is in a difficult position (see http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/labors-carbon-tax-bind-surrender-or-die-fighting-20131018-2vs3h.html). Like many others, I would be outraged if the ALP gave up on climate change. However, it needs to fight more effectively.
For a start, Labor needs to be clear about what its policy is. The phrase “putting a price on carbon” is not good shorthand, since it suggests a carbon tax. “Emissions Trading Scheme” suggests that the point is the trading. The correct concept is a Carbon Cap. Mark Butler put it clearly here: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2013/s3804515.htm. The “trade” part of the scheme is a way of dealing with the fact that industries and firms will not find it equally easy to meet the cap: those that find it easier can go further than the cap requires and sell their effort to firms who find it harder, which will not need to apply to government for exemptions or assistance. If the scheme works smoothly there should be no price spikes. There is no public interest in high permit prices. If all firms found it equally easy to reduce carbon pollution, the permits would have no value. The point is to cap emissions, not to put a price on carbon or to have permits trading at a high value, and not to raise the price on anything. This is a fully defensible approach and Labor should defend it strongly—but with finesse.
I suggest that Labor make an offer to the Abbott
government that it will immediately pass all the government’s legislation
relating to the carbon tax and climate change, provided
Mr Abbott agrees —
(1) to convene a summit of experts and representatives of community interests (experts in science and economics, representatives of business and unions), with the task of reviewing the climate change issue and suggesting several options for responding to it, and
(2) to submit at least two options (the wording to be approved by Parliament) to a plebiscite.
The ALP would give an undertaking to support government legislation implementing the outcome of the plebiscite.
Abbott himself called for a plebiscite but would not undertake to abide by its outcome: http://www.theage.com.au/national/abbott-contradicts-himself-on-carbon-tax-plebiscite-20110620-1gbve.html. His proposal was for a vote for or against the government’s policy; my proposal is for a vote to express an order of preference among a small number of options. Paul Kelly at The Australian condemned the plebiscite as inconsistent with our system of government: “There is no established practice in Australian national politics for plebiscites to determine policy issues for the obvious reason they are a bad idea that advances neither democracy, good government nor sound public policy” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/abbotts-plebiscite-call-a-serious-misjudgment/story-e6frgd0x-1226079507595). But that is simply wrong. The Federation was established by plebiscite and its constitution is amended by plebiscite (a referendum is a plebiscite). Plebiscites have often been used to deal with controversial matters that require community consensus; see https://newmatilda.com/2011/06/22/when-plebs-have-their-say. Dealing with climate change may require major adjustments to the Australian economy and way of life, and it is as appropriate to consult the electorate explicitly on this subject as it would be on a constitutional amendment or as it was in World War I to hold plebiscites on conscription.
I have no doubt that the other participants in the summit and the public would be persuaded by the scientific experts’ advice that global warming is an urgent problem. I have no doubt that the summit would recommend a carbon cap, since economists strongly support it over “direct action” schemes. I believe that a carbon cap option would win majority support in a plebiscite campaign, but if it did not, the ALP could with good grace accept the outcome as legitimate and re-align in accordance with a well-deliberated decision.
A summit and a plebiscite would be much better than a sterile dispute about conflicting “mandates”. The solution that I suggest would put an end to uncertainty about whether firms have to continue to collect the tax and whether they will need to refund it if the tax is repealed, and it would remove the veto the PUP expects to have. Abbott should see the suggested arrangement as better than relying on the incoming senate and better than a double dissolution.
If Labor persists in its present course, what will happen is probably this. The Abbott government will move to get its double dissolution trigger, berating Labor all the while for defying the electors’ wishes; but there will not be a double dissolution, because after the July Senate changeover Mr Abbott will negotiate a deal with the PUP and other new Senators (who will ask a high price). Alternatively, if there is a double dissolution, Labor will lose. An election, even a double dissolution, is not a referendum. Electors will vote for the government they want. So soon after decisively rejecting the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor government, electors will not go into the polling booth thinking “last time I got it wrong”—they will vote again for a non-Labor government, incidentally endorsing “direct action”. This will postpone a carbon cap for years and leave Labor in opposition for a long time.
A plebiscite, on the other hand, would be focussed on the one issue, since it would not involve a choice of government, and public discussion leading up to the vote would engage scientists and economists and others who would not normally campaign for the election of a political party. If Labor had played a leading part in achieving a rational policy, especially if its “carbon cap” policy got strong expert and public support, Labor would be well placed to win the next ordinary election. On the other hand, to lose a double dissolution, or to be defeated by a vote of the new Senate, would destroy Labor’s credibility as an alternative government.