Tony Abbott became PM on the back of energy policy (and Labor instability). So might Bill Shorten, from the opposite end of the policy spectrum.

So far, climate policy has cost the jobs of John Howard, Brendan Nelson, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull (twice) and may yet claim Scott Morrison.

Shorten is hoping that he can buck the trend, and convince Australians that climate policy is worth the cost they will have to pay.

Lessons for all

Shorten should take some time to watch what is happening in France.

Morrison should take some time to watch what is happening in France.

There are important lessons for both:

When Emmanuel Macron rose to power, he put the environment at the heart of his agenda. Eighteen months later, anger over those policies has stoked protests that are a huge challenge for the French president.

Macron’s plight illustrates a conundrum: How do political leaders’ introduce policies that will do long-term good for the environment without inflicting extra costs on voters that may damage their chances of re-election?

Short answer: they can’t. The point of a carbon price is to compel you to change behaviour through a penalty … if the tax don’t hurt, the tax don’t work.

Macron’s approval rating is sitting at 26 per cent. Even Morrison’s are higher (for the moment)

It is a question facing leaders across the world as delegates hold talks in the Polish city of Katowice this week to try to produce a “rule book” to flesh out details of the 2015 Paris Agreement on fighting climate change.

“Clearly, countries where inequalities are the highest are the ones where these kinds of push-backs are mostly likely,” Francois Gemenne, a specialist in environmental geopolitics at SciencesPo university in Paris, said of the political risks.

Naming Italy, the United States and Britain as countries where environmental moves could risk a voter backlash, he said: “I guess it’s one of the reasons why populist leaders tend to be very skeptical about climate change and environmental measures.”

The protests in France have inspired a similar movement in neighboring Belgium, where protesters took to the streets on Friday.

There have also been small-scale protests in Canada over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to impose a federal carbon tax on provinces unwilling to combat climate change.

Shorten is betting that Australians are so disappointed with the Morrison Government that we embrace a price on carbon and/or the associated climate policies, such as increased ‘investment’ in renewables which increases the cost of power. In essence, a de facto carbon tax.

This is essentially a repeat of 2007 when Kevin Rudd defeated John Howard.

And we know how that turned out. For everyone.


Feature image: AFP.