A climate for change

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Scott Morrison is running out of time under the rules to call the election. It has to be in May and the two optimal dates for the Australian Electoral Commission are either 11 or 18 May. The betting around parliament house this week is on the earlier date, which means the Prime Minister will take the drive out to Government House by the weekend.

That’s when the official starter’s gun will be fired but the fact is there has been fevered campaigning since the Liberals toppled Malcolm Turnbull nine months ago. But none of it has done much to change the zeitgeist, a wonderful German word that captures what the particular mood is at any point of a nation’s history. And that mood, according to all the published opinion polls, is persistently a climate for change.

Whatever else veteran Labor warhorse, Graham Richardson, is, he is a seasoned and astute judge of politics. In The Australian this week, after dismissing the Budget as typical of desperate governments trying to save themselves, Richardson concluded “Bill Shorten is the closest thing to a certain winner as I have seen”. This from a man who in 1983 helped engineer the dumping of Bill Hayden as ALP leader on the very day Malcolm Fraser called an election. Though Hayden famously said “a drover’s dog” could win that particular poll for Labor, Richardson and other party powerbrokers wanted the dead certainty of Bob Hawke. Hawke went on to be Labor’s longest serving prime minister.

This time, there is no Bob Hawke in the offing. Shorten is, according to the polls, unpopular and certainly uncharismatic. But that has not stopped him welding a united Labor Party with a political agenda much more in touch with the zeitgeist than the fractured Liberal Party has managed; climate change and energy policy being the most spectacular evidence.

So we have a party of government with its second prime minister this term, its third since it won in 2013, forced to pay lip service to climate change, renewable energy and electricity prices after it cut down a leader in Turnbull, who actually had credibility on all three. So much so, Labor is promising to implement Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG), bringing together reliable supply, emissions reductions and affordability.

One of the goodies in Tuesday night’s Budget, the one-off energy payment to help 3.9 million lower income Australians with their next energy bill, was rejected last year by Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer. According to government sources, Malcolm Turnbull was worried what would happen if his internal conservative opponents blocked the NEG. He proposed a scheme offering $75 for single pensioners and $125 for couples for a cost of $260 million. Bad if Turnbull proposed it, good if Morrison does. Bill Shorten described the offer anyhow as an election con not an energy policy. The NEG on the other hand, according to the same government last year, would offer a recurring saving of $500 for annual energy bills.

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