The Left and Tony Abbott’s ‘inevitable downfall’

by · June 1, 2014

House of Representatives

Some choice


Eight months in and the Abbott government seems to already be at the point of no return. After the disaster of the budget, the government has hit a new low in polling — one that, given the political “skills” displayed, seems very difficult reverse. As I’ve predicted in the past, the Government has become beatable.

The situation is part of a relatively extraordinary, although entirely predictable, turnaround for a Government that waltzed into office in September last year. As Left Flank has already pointed out, the Coalition has limped from crisis to crisis, as highlighted by its Gonski backflips, internal fighting over Paid Parental Leave, the departure of Holden and Toyota, the job cuts at QANTAS, the spying scandal with Indonesia, and its ongoing struggles with asylum seeker policy. There’s no doubt the budget process, starting with the release of the Commission of Audit Report, the failure of the lead-up communications strategy, in particular around the debt tax, and now the bungling of its rollout, has added to these problems. The Right is now clearly in crisis mode, with Abbott in particular looking weaker every day.

As Abbott stumbles there is a real question of how the Left should react. What should we do to capitalise on the crisis of the Right?

For many, the answer has been simple — go for the jugular. Many are now using every means possibly available to them — whether it’s calling for a vote of no-confidence or pushing for a #libspill to get rid of Abbott as soon as they can. We’ve now gotten to that fun point where we’re actively predicting Abbott’s impending doom — Bob Ellis, for example, actively predicting a new Liberal leader within coming days.

Of course, this desire is understandable. Part of this push is due to a visceral hatred of Abbott within Left ranks — a hatred that is probably well deserved. It is understandable that we all want to see the man, and the Government he leads, gone as soon as possible. But the strategy is fundamentally poor, and we need to figure out a better one.

The lack of an alternative

The biggest issue the Left faces at the moment is the lack of a clear alternative if and when the Abbott Government falls. Whilst many in the Left have quickly mobilised around opposition to Abbott’s policies, eight months on from the defeat of the Rudd government, the crisis of the movement — the crisis of where to go next — is alive and well.

This is best highlighted by two alternatives to Abbott’s leadership provided by many in the Left.

The first of these is a return to an ALP government. Strangely enough this approach is not being framed with any excitement about the prospect of a Bill Shorten prime ministership (apart from a small flurry during his budget reply speech), but rather through nostalgia for the Gillard years. For example, a meme is currently floating around with a picture of Gillard and the caption “Miss me yet?” Many in the Left are looking back on the Gillard years as a positive, hoping to recapture that energy if Abbott is toppled. As I’ve argued in the past though this represents a significant memory failure regarding Gillard’s record:

It is a record filled with locking up innocent asylum seekers, watering down the  mining tax, approving coal mines, cutting payments to single parents (policy passed on the same day as the misogyny speech!), extending the Northern Territory intervention, cutting aid funding, cutting higher education funding etc etc. The list goes on and on. In policy area after policy area Julia Gillard actively took Australia further to the Right.

Very little of that has actually changed within the modern ALP. The ALP is still the neoliberal party it became in the 1980s and has been ever since. That is not changing at the moment and seems particularly unlikely to change with Shorten as its leader.

The other route many on the Left take is to gleefully talk about a #libspill. Many have focused their attention on Abbott as the sole problem, hoping beyond hope that if he disappears everything will get better. Much of this comes from an infatuation with Malcolm Turnbull. Ever since he lost the leadership over the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and then came out in favour of same-sex marriage, Turnbull has become a favourite of some on the Left. It is a very weird kind of love. Malcolm Turnbull is in no way a progressive leader — he is a right-wing neoliberal champion just like the rest of his colleagues.

So here is the problem. The realistic alternatives we have at the moment are not real alternatives at all. A Bill Shorten prime ministership would just give us a “…labor government who are far more adept to implementing neoliberal policy & brutalising refugees without the PR gaffes.” The same can be said for Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull would not actually represent much of a progressive break from this Abbott Government, but would simply bring it a more popular figure-head.

And this becomes all the more difficult when we take into account how the left would react to these changes. The current evidence — the nostalgia for the Gillard years and the ongoing swooning over Turnbull — would suggest that a shift to either would see the left dampen its attack on these right wing policies. There is plenty of evidence of this from the Labor years — an unwillingness of many to attack the policies of the Government in the way we should have. In many ways we let the ALP have a free-ride, entrenching their right-wing agenda with it.

Whilst the alternatives we have to Abbott therefore are better in some policy areas, at the moment, in many ways, they are significantly worse. The willingness to let either the ALP or Turnbull have a relative free-ride — at least compared to Abbott — will remove our chance to capitalise on both the crisis of the right and the crisis of politics. And in doing so we will continue the propping up of the political class (through our new desire to support its leaders), further entrenching the rightward swing we are seeing in our society.

We need time

So what is the Left to do? There are a number of things that we should start with, and should start with soon.

First, we need to accept the situation we are in, and that we need to take time to rebuild. It has been a strange sense of irony that many in the Left have started using much of Abbott’s tactics to bring this government down — for example calling in a vote of no confidence in the Government, or arguing for parties to block the budget in order to force a new election. We even see people screaming for an ‘election now!’

Yet, these approaches are fraught with problems. They are about playing the very sort of political games that Abbott was so adept at — tearing down a government using whatever tactics available to him. And we only have to look at the evidence of how Abbott has succeeded to see what sort of result that will bring us. These are the very games that many in our community hate so much — games that have rightly led to a hatred of the political class.

So what do we do instead? I think Tim Hollo explains it best:

We’ve had years of a creeping shift to the Right, aided by Labor often, but really   driven by the Liberals, years when we’ve been able to pretend to ourselves that we were still the egalitarian society we believed we were, long after it had been eroded beyond recognition. The bubble has now been burst.

That gives us the opportunity to really fight back. Not just to use right-wing tactics to kick out a government we oppose, but to actually do the hard yards of rebuilding a caring society, a daring society, a sharing society.

Tony Abbott provides us with an opportunity that if we capitalise on could lead to a significant shift. Not only is he exposing the crisis within the Right, but he is also exposing the crisis within the political class. He is laying it out for us all to see, and giving us the chance to turn things around. But instead of doing so we’re just playing his very games — with the only options we’re providing being ones that would further entrench both a right-wing agenda and the authority of the political class.

Instead what we should be doing is using this opportunity to rebuild a Left and an anti-politics movement. That is a difficult approach. It means accepting our lot for now — accepting that Abbott will be Prime Minister for now and dealing with it. But it also means recognising that we can use that to our advantage — highlighting the failures of the Right and the entire political class to shift people towards an alternative — to fighting for a society that’s focused on people rather than the elite.

The Right are already doing this — initially through the growth of the Katter Australia Party, but now through the Palmer United Party. Whilst the Left are insistent that Palmer only succeeded because of the money he spends on elections, another part of it has to be that the message he is selling — one of anti-politics — is working. Recent evidence out of Europe — the success of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain — suggests the Left has the capacity to do that too. It’s about creating a genuinely populist, left-wing alternative, which does not focus within the rules of the current system and the political class. It’s about articulating a new system.

The outline of that social system still doesn’t exist in Australia, but we now have an opportunity to start that discussion. Instead however we’re spending our time talking about votes of no confidence and demanding an “election now!” It may be fun in the short term, but it will not help us in the long run.

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat

Discussion29 Comments

  1. Pete Moran says:

    I would agree with the need to communicate stronger understanding of progressive ideals, I don’t think there is any shortage of understanding of ‘how to implement’ such ideals. One just has to look at reality/science for guidance.

    I agree with the language problems like “election now” and “I want my country back”. These were the petulant sobs of the infinitely deranged like Ltd News, IPA and anti-science deniers.

    I disagree that we have time. It will not be possible to come back and re-implement the NBN properly. It may not be possible to recover from a destruction of renewable energy industry, we have coal by the throat and in terms of viability, we have to press that advantage.

    Things like HECS/HELP changes can be undone. Further disadvantage to those least able to afford it via dismantling of Gonski or anti-poverty measures will cause a generation to be lost, and especially so for our First Peoples.

    I’m sorry, the most important thing to do is block supply. A temporary Labor lead Govt would give the real left time to get a new movement going.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      “A temporary Labor lead Govt would give the real left time to get a new movement going.”

      I don’t think there is anything to indicate this is true. Look at how the last ALP (then ALP-Greens) governments were met with few substantial protests compared with what Howard faced. What has changed to make us think it would be different this time?

  2. Nathan says:

    I take issue with classing Palmer’s party as a Right party. I suppose “anti-politics” is closer to the mark, but he is (surprisingly) espousing views very much of the centre(where elections are won and lost, of course). Populist springs to mind, but as a democracy we shouldn’t be all that critical of ‘populist’ politicians and parties. A way of putting it is un-populist politicians are another “un” word: unemployed.

    As for the current tactics of the left. I enjoyed what you wrote, but some of it did come across a bit “Ivory Tower-ish”. Should the left disappear into a castle of solitude to have an important team building session? This would be happening at the same time as many progressive policies of the last 30 years are actually being destroyed by this government?

    You cannot put it too bluntly: the conservatives are making a play to change the lives of many ordinary Australian’s for the worse. This isn’t tinkering around the edges, and it isn’t about stopping the forward march of a progressive Australia; it is about eroding the (perhaps limited) gains of the last generation.

    The field is as it is. We can’t wish away the realities of modern Australia, or global politics.

    However, and I find this curious that you left this out, the international situation for some progressive policies appears to be changing fast: U.S climate change policy.

    That Obama should be about to embark on a program designed to quite quickly reverse US emissions policy is a momentous event for the Australian political class. It means that our policy debate which is centred on how to repeal the ETS, will now be on whether repeal is appropriate in light of international politics.

    Be prepared with U.S media scrutiny (from both sides of the political spectrum) on what our political system is doing with regards to climate change policy. I’m sure the News Ltd publications will love that.

    Maybe we should actually beef up the ETS? How will repealing affect our trading position? The conservatives, both in the media and in the parliament, are not in any way prepared for this eventuality. Abbott’s position may become untenable not because of anything the domestic left does, but because of external events well beyond our borders.

    Seeing an Australian conservative government weakened by international events would be interesting.

    • Simon Copland says:

      Hi Nathan,

      On two of your points. First, I agree that Palmer is taking many surprisingly progressive policies. But I still think he is in large a creature of the right – particularly when we look at his economic agenda. Not agreeing with the worst of the Abbott Government doesn’t make you ‘not right-wing’.

      On your point about me being ‘ivory-towerish’. I’m intrigued by this sentence: “Should the left disappear into a castle of solitude to have an important team building session? This would be happening at the same time as many progressive policies of the last 30 years are actually being destroyed by this government?”

      I don’t think I ever suggested the left don’t fight against what Abbott is implementing. I think we have to do as much as we can to oppose the worst of this Government and I think we have the tools to do so (mainly a Senate that can vote against most of this agenda). But at the same time we actually have to think about ‘what’s next’. I think the history of the ALP Government over the past six years points to this. For a decade the left fought against the Howard Government but we clearly, for some reason, failed to develop a proper alternative option. Instead what we got was a right-wing ALP Government. I fear that we are heading down this same path – fighting Abbott tooth and nail, but failing to actually articulate and fight for a genuine alternative. We need to do both fighting the right and articulating a new alternative – I don’t think we’re doing that at the moment.

    • Warren Ross says:

      I am enjoying Clive’s participation too but he also has a strong libertarian anti-tax position which is disturbing.

  3. Simon Copland says:

    Thanks for the comments Pete, but I’m sorry to say (as you can imagine) that I don’t agree.

    My argument is certainly not that we shouldn’t oppose many of the destructive policies being proposed (yet not implemented) by this Government. The sorts of policies you are talking about – the cuts to health and education, the HECS/HELP changes, the GP co-payment etc etc. Each of these can be opposed and I think voting against the particular pieces of legislation makes absolute sense. Those are good campaigns we should be running.

    But blocking supply is a very different thing, and one that I think could significantly hurt our chances. As Tim Hollo pointed out (linked in the article) – there is no guarantee that blocking supply would lead to an election and if it did I think there is a strong chance of a backlash against the ALP in particular for putting us in that situation. It actually perpetuates the crisis in the left rather than solving it.

    I think we need to look at the evidence of the past six years when talking about whether ‘a temporary Labor lead Govt would give the real left time to get a new movement going.’ If anything, the past six years have shown that instead of doing that, the Labor lead Governments lead people to putting all their energy into defending the ALP instead of doing that rebuilding. And whilst I’d like to think this time could be different, I don’t think we’ve had enough of that debate or rebuilding yet to do that. The fact that people are talking so lovingly of the Gillard years is proof of that for me. We’re not in the position just yet for that rebuilding. So we need to do the work – oppose the worst of this Government but do the rebuilding as we need to. This Government provides us with that opportunity – so we need to take it now!

    • Pete Moran says:

      “the past six years have shown that instead of doing that, the Labor lead Governments lead people to putting all their energy into defending the ALP instead of doing that rebuilding.”

      Absolutely no question. They would need to reform, urgently. Labor members I speak to I believe, understand more widely that this really is about their last chance to rebuild. They’ll vanish next and unfortunately the Greens could find themselves saddled with malcontents rather than people genuninely on the journey.

      Blocking of supply is certainly problematic. As I understand it, there really is no alternative other than an election. The Senate refuses to pass Appropriation 1 (and/or 3), suggesting to the HoR they will only pass either bill if an election is called. If an election is not called, and supply is blocked, Govt shuts down, then the GG would ask Shorten to form a minority Govt. No-confidence would be immediately voted and we’re off to an election.

  4. Hrimnir Benediktsson says:

    I think that only a strong Direct Democracy movement in Australia where our corrupt to the core Representative Democracy system of government is dumped into the bin of history, can save us from inept and corrupt politicians and the associated damage to our country.
    Politics without Politicians –
    How does such a movement get built? Where to start?

  5. bjkelly1958 says:

    Your argument is very similar to that which I have put to a number of people who want a Double Dissolution. Essentially there is no progressive alternative.
    The ALP is still more to the right of centre than it needs to be to create change and is lacking in leadership or strong alternative policy options. The Greens have more progressive policies in some areas but do not as far as I can tell, have a coherent platform on all aspects of governing a nation. The other factor is that they, too, have joined, or at least trying join, the political class as well.
    Politics, or more correctly, being a politician has become a profession, a career and it should not be. These people, elected by their constituents, should be making policy decisions based on balanced expert advice for the good of all, the common good.
    A left of centre, progressive group is essential to balance the current lopsided direction demonstrated by both of the major parties. Certainly there will be people who will claim that this would lead to an Party being formed but I don’t believe it is necessary. If this group becomes known for its balanced progressive agenda and commands popular appeal, existing parties would seek its input in policy development. If such a group were to arise and gain a great deal of popular support, it should make the existing parties realise just how peripheral they have made themselves to what the Australian people believe in and want.

  6. David Jackmanson says:

    I think anyone to the Left of the ALP should actively oppose an ALP government, either by voting informally or simply preferencing Liberal above ALP.

    The strategy of denouncing Labor policies but effectively campaigning to funnel preferences to the ALP has proved pretty ineffective. Maybe the Left should try some anti-politics, and say “Labor’s useless, kick them out”.

  7. David H says:

    I/we don’t believe that we have to accept our lot for now — “accepting that Abbott will be Prime Minister for now and dealing with it.” I can’t spare the time or the financial penalties about to be imposed by Abbott, Hockey, Pyne and Andrews. My children are nearing the end of High School and have indicated a career choice which necessitates the attainment of a university degree. I am a state govt employee on modest wages and my wife works part time. We are in no financial position to assist our children to fund a tertiary education so even if our children decided to attend uni, they will be leaving with a potential debt of $50,000 + . A massive disincentive to attend uni.

    I agree with your sentiment that a measured rebuilding attack from the left is needed but time does not permit that. A “neoliberal” Labor/Green govt is vastly preferable than the fascists currently in charge.

    • Simon Copland says:

      Hi David,

      That comment was not to suggest that we should just let Abbott’s agenda slide through. We should certainly oppose it and with the Senate we have I think we can. I just don’t think doing all we can for an ‘election now!’ is actually going to yield the outcome you, and I, are looking for.

  8. Peter Murphy says:

    Long time listener – first time caller. I just came up with this amount of verbiage: I hope it’s appropriate here, and makes sense.

    Left Flank has been putting out some amazing stuff lately – this article included. It’s turning out to be like a miniature Quadrant magazine, except that it’s for niceness, and without needing undercover funding from the CIA. My compliments aside, let’s get onto why I think this article is essential.

    Today has been one of those days where #libspill has been trending across the Twitterverse. I like the idea – I love the idea – but my god, let’s think about the consequences. Let’s say everything goes pear shape for the Liberals, and Biff Snooten gets in this year. He’ll lead the sort of ALP government that will almost certainly be better than its opponents, but will be a bit too technocratic for its own good, support a few horrible things as well (Pacific Solution 3.0, anyone?), and then there will probably be some ICAC-style calamity that will take everybody by surprise. At the moment, the ALP’s base appears to be pretty much those who dislike the Liberals, but are too cautious to punt on the Greens or the Sex Party.

    And then when the ALP falls, I have a guess it will fall – not to the Liberals, but to Palmer. One of the oddities of Australian politics has been how the conservative side likes to engage in creative destruction every couple of decades, while the ALP keeps going like the Duracell ad. Well, Palmer knows where quite a few of the skeletons are in the Liberals, and has been quite clever in who he has poached. Moreover, he doesn’t have the reputation for “racism” (deserved or imagined) that has stuck to other anti-political figures: Farage in the UK, Le Pen in France, or Hanson in Australia nearly 20 years ago. None of those people in Palmer’s position would have done what he done: grab those three Indigenous party members from the NT and pop them into the party. He’s not scaring the chooks.

    But that’s now. What happens if Abbott fall? With few exceptions, the federal Liberal frontbench and backbench appears to be hollow of talent and ideas beyond ressentiment and privilege. Tea Partyism has affected the party like a fungus eats out the core of a tree. And if it shatters, Palmer – who I presume has been very careful – is there to pick up the pieces, choose and discard as appropriate, and pick other talented “outsiders” to fill his party. And in 2016 (or 2017), he could be using the forces of anti-politics to ride himself to the Prime Ministership.

    So really, “we” (ALP, Greens, progressives, what-have-you) really have to work out an alternative system. But we also need to grab some of Palmer’s anti-political mojo. (Where do you think he stores it? Maybe in a bottle behind the teeth of the Tyrannosaurus Rex behind the golf course. )

    Or perhaps we could manufacture our own: a “how-to” guide for the budding independent or leftie person to harness the power of anti-politics to change the system for good. Or create a new system.

  9. Owen Richards says:

    Dear Simon,

    Sorry if this comes across as overly polemical, it’s just the way I’m grappling with the ideas in the article.

    The “Left”

    “As Abbott stumbles there is a real question of how the Left should react. What should we do to capitalise on the crisis of the Right?”

    I don’t think this question can be answered without clarity on just who Left Flank means by “the Left”. If it means all-and-sundry to the left of The Liberals, which I fear it does, it amounts to a hopelessly contradictory formation that no amount of Left Flank articles could possibly congeal into a united force. (I suspect behind this vague conception of “the Left” lies a fear of making prescriptions directly to those that would actually consider them – the revolutionary, socialist left.)

    This lack of clarity leads to the following. In the above article, and Left Flank generally, you get statements like this:

    “ […] This is best highlighted by two alternatives to Abbott’s leadership provided by many in the Left.” Many on the Left? Who exactly? Anyreference?

    Or this:

    “… a meme is currently floating around with a picture of Gillard and the caption “Miss me yet?” Many in the Left are looking back on the Gillard years as a positive”. Again, who is this “many on the Left”? (I saw the same meme, but I never assumed it was supported by “many on the left”.)

    See what I mean? Who is Left Flank’s “Left”? We never get evidence of this “Left”. A random meme in the universe of memes is unconvincing to say the least.

    If we had clarity on what actually constitutes the left, we might know how to advance. But if we think an ALP-Green-socialist-anarchist left is going to foment some indignado-type struggle, well frankly that’s fantasy.

    Again: “…Turnbull has become a favourite of some on the Left”. Really?! Who?

    Simon writes, “ … what we should be doing is using this opportunity to rebuild a Left and an anti-politics movement. That is a difficult approach. It means accepting our lot for now — accepting that Abbott will be Prime Minister for now and dealing with it.”

    I’m not convinced rebuilding the left means accepting Abbott as permanent PM. If we’re serious about bringing down the whole “political class” (sic), surely that could also be hastened by a permanently oscillating regime and a deepening of the political crisis. Further, Abbott is the target of popular anger and mobilisation. The people want his head. Trying to move that focus risks demobilising the incipient movement.

    Not to mention the impossibility of explaining to the masses about to lose their benefits, pay a sick tax, lose their jobs, etc., etc., but “don’t worry, it’s better if Abbott stays in”.

    • Alex78 says:

      Great comments. Among the great analysis on this site the vague and shifting definitions of ‘Left’ , ‘Right’ and ‘neo-liberal’ are a real let down.

      • Dr_Tad says:

        Hi Alex78

        I think we’re pretty consistent on “Left” and “Right”, even if lots of people don’t think we should count the ALP (and sometimes the Greens) in the Left. But we do count them.

        On “neoliberalism” there are differences between the contributors as to what it is and isn’t, and positions have shifted over time (mine certainly has). We’ll have to refer the renegades to the Left Flank Central Committee for disciplinary measures. ;-)


    • Marc Newman says:

      Cross-post from FB:
      “Owen – since it is rare to see any treatment of the sort of subject matter under consideration that does not use the term left, what definition of “left” do you propose? One so narrow as to amount to the same thing as “far left”, or are you just concerned to exclude the whole social democratic spectrum as “not the real left”? Please declare your interest, so to speak. Ours is deliberately inclusive, because what is required is a class response, not the response of an alliance of sects. Does our usage present a group internally riven by contradictions, yes. But it reflects the reality of a broad community of opinion on the Left, where at least certain values and outlook are shared. And here I don’t necessarily mean good ones – a lot of what is shared is a partisan way of looking at the world that is wholly counterproductive. But it is a combined and uneven body of people with a common outlook and some common aspirations. There’s more migration between the tribes than anyone likes to admit (yes, even into Labor). So there is a Left, you’re in it, and you don’t like some others who are. It is what it is.

      Heaps of people around Labor and the Greens think Turnbull is all right, and have illusions in both the likelihood of his ascension to leadership and its effects. The Gillard meme and its functional equivalents are quite widespread in that space, extending into the feminist left. I get it in my feeds a lot. The level of incredulity you’ve shown over such a banal observation might be taken to indicate a narrowness of contact, more than a well founded basis for disbelief.

      Nowhere does Simon say “permanent PM”. What he does say is *right now* the left can’t displace Abbott on any other basis than electing Shorten, and *right now*, that is likely to lead to demobilisation. I think you’re kidding yourself if you don’t accept both of these things are true. I also think one of the things that is shared by most of the left is a set of profound misunderstandings of the nature and contemporary condition of Laborism, which is one reason why it is then easy to miss why the ‘oscillation’ model is unlikely to work. The standing assumption is that it is preferable from the point of view of the level of struggle for Labor to be in Government – yet the record over the last 30 years is quite the opposite, that such a situation suppresses, actively and passively, the level of struggle.”

  10. Warren Ross says:

    Terrific article Tad. We cannot turn to the old solutions. Labor has disappointed too many times. The problem we face was explained by Philip Mirowski during his talk at UTS last year. The right wing is very organised and the left has found no way to counter them. As Tim Hollo explains, we are simply trying to hold the line and going backwards daily. Here is a link to Mirowski’s talk. I think he makes sense:

  11. Andie says:

    I share much of the sentiment of this piece in terms of thinking what is the great alternative to Abbott that the Left could want right now and also why do so many in the Left persist with thinking Turnbull is their friend and finally, why adopt the dubious tactics of the Right in calling for an election etc.. BUT I don’t understand why you think the Right is in crisis.. and I tried to follow your links and got error messages so sorry about not engaging with what has been previously written. Yes, it’s an unpopular budget, they knew they’d be delivering one so they’re plenty prepared for it with lots of time for sweeteners and big fancy infrastructure projects and ‘see, it wasn’t as bad as you thought’ voter complacency before the next election. Sure, some are getting nervous, nobody likes bad polls even when they know they’re coming.. sure, delivery of the budget message isn’t going as well as hoped.. but I don’t see crisis. I see playing the long game.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      Hi Andie, we’ve fixed the broken links from Left Flank about the social basis of the Right’s problems.

  12. Tony says:

    I think Nathan has made an important point here that has not really been addressed: As he points out, the international situation regarding some progressive policies appears to be changing fast. Climate change policy in the US is a key one. Economically, the associated rapid decline in the global prospects for coal and the significant shift towards renewables also present opportunities.

    In these areas, Abbott et al are taking Australia in directions that are opposite to those increasingly being pursued in the US, Europe, China, and even India, (although we’re yet see what energy and climate policies Mr Modi will bring into government). Abbott’s “climate change is crap” argument is increasingly at odds with the rest of the world. While China and India turn away from coal, and prices for thermal coal dive, Abbott is telling the fossil fuel industry here that there are “few things more damaging to our future” than Australia’s coal not being dug up and sold. Meanwhile, his government is tearing down Australia’s renewable energy industry. As our government shuts down renewables and ramps up coal, the rest of the world is rapidly going the other way. Brilliant economics Joe and Tony! Our income from coal exports will decline, while, at the same time, we’ll miss out on the opportunities offered by renewables.

    Furthermore, the next Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to be held in Paris November next year. The conference will seek to establish an international agreement on a post-2020 regime that will bind all the nations of the world, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, by a universal agreement on a response to global warming and climate change.

    Word is that tomorrow President Obama is to launch climate plan that could cut US carbon pollution by as much as 25%,undertaking the most significant action on climate change in American history and all of a sudden making making Australia’s great and powerful ally a global leader in the reduction of CO2 emissions.

    Obama has indicated that he’ll then seek to leverage climate commitments from big polluters such as China and India. If he’s serious, he’ll have to have Australia – the highest CO2 emitter per capita in the world – in his sights too.

    As Nathan says, this is a momentous event for the Australian political class. There will be the focus and pressure on the Abbott government to commit to major CO2 reductions at COP 2015; there will be the decline in income from our largest export earner, and; there will be direct pressure from the US to respond positively on climate change.

    All this will be compounded by the impression on the public mind created by the imminent El Nino weather system that is likely to cause drought and record temperatures across much of Australia over the next 12 to 18 months, once again pushing climate awareness to the front of the national mind.

    This could mean a huge crisis for the Abbott government, peaking around the time of the next election in 2016. It could be a moment for a “genuinely populist, left-wing alternative, which does not focus within the rules of the current system and the political class.” A moment to articulate a new system to a genuinely receptive electorate. Who’s going to do it?

    • Nathan says:

      Its becoming truly bizarre how this issue is being avoided by many commentators in the media and the blogosphere.

      I’ll put it bluntly: The US is pledging to cut its emissions substantially. It will pressure other countries to do the same. It will make this a focus of US policy for at least the next 2 years, and with the likely ascension of Clinton, the next term. This global debate will be happening at the same time as our national debate is heading in the opposite direction.

      I imagine things will move quite quickly. Abbott is about to meet Obama just as this debate flairs up in the US. Can you imagine the joint press conference PM’s and Presidents usually hold? How will Abbott avoid openly contradicting the most powerful man in the world, and our greatest “friend and ally”?

      Will he avoid the whole thing? That in itself will be momentous: “Abbott snubs Obama”

      Interestingly the debate in the US is centring on the health implications of emissions, something advocates in this country have barely touched on(highlighting their self centred blindness to the communities concerns IMO)

      Obama is making this a national social justice issue….are we?

    • Nathan says:

      Oh and don’t the US and Australia both have their main game elections in 2016??

      Presidential election 2016 and Federal election 2016…both in the later third of the year?

      Oh My!

  13. Stephen says:

    What the Left needs to accept is that it sucks at politics and all its political instincts are wrong. Like the focus on changing leaders (LIB to ALP, or Tony to Malcom) that you describe and ignoring the fact that the political environment is hostile to Left ideas (no matter who’s in charge). Getting rid of Tony Abbott is pointless if we can’t get rid of his ideas. And more importantly, if Left ideas dominate the public debate then Tony Abbott as PM is not such a problem. What the Left needs to do is get its ideas out there, to go on and on about them, until they are considered reasonable and normal.

    To be frank, I think your post follows a common pattern of the Left: long on critique, short on action. Vague talk about rebuilding the Left is not enough and calls to start a discussion always annoy me. Such discussions are always ongoing, they don’t require waiting for a referee to call a time-out. Further, most people, including ‘expert’ political advisers and politicians, are stuck in a rut. Even if you convince them they are doing something wrong (and this is no easy task), they are unlikely to change. Instead one needs to show them a new way, to provide leadership, to be the change one wants to see. Perhaps you could title your next piece ‘This is how we rebuild the Left’.

    PS. I hope this comment doesn’t come across as too snarky and rude, I struggle with tone on the internet.

  14. […] Originally published at Left Flank, 1 June, 2014 […]

  15. […] Simon Copland: The Left and Tony Abbott’s ‘inevitable downfall’ […]

  16. It is entirely possible that the Abbott “conservative” government may be defeated by its own grass-roots rather than any organised opposition from the political Left. When your own base doesn’t turn up, you’re left surrounded by the Enemy. Abbott may learn this lesson the hard way, although nobody should presume what the future hold for electoral politics – stranger things have happened in the past.