Labor’s New Right Fifth Column (in the form of the Forestry Division of the CFMEU) is attempting to have Labor’s National Platform amended to rule out any further reservation of forests for conservation purposes. As one might expect, this move is being backed by some enthusiastic, and characteristically mendacious and inept, barracking from the Murdoch Press.
One such effort is by Steve Lewisin today’s Australian.
The article rehashes the Australian’s house line that anti-environmentalism is popular politics amongst the working class, to whit:
In the drive for Greens preferences, there is a danger for Labor of alienating its traditional support base, particularly in the regions and outer-city electorates so critical to the election outcome.
As I have written previously in this forum and in a number of published articles, it is simply not true that there is a general antipathy towards strong environmental protection and environmentalism in the regions, let alone the outer suburbs. All the available social survey results point in the other direction, as do the results of elections where Labor committed to strong pro-environment policies sufficiently far out from polling day for them to be effectively communicated.
Lewis also manages to misreport what is being proposed in the draft platform. It does not “resurrect” the “2004 Tasmanian forestry policy”. It simply reserves the option of further protection of high conservation value forests – a prudent and sensible option given the possibility of further scientific knowledge which could warrant such conservation, and structural economic change which could ease the employment impacts of such a decision. And Lewis, predictably, overestimates the supposedly baleful influence of Peter Garrett in shaping the policy.
I must concede that Lewis is commendably frank about the extent of the collaboration by the Forestry Division’s leadership with the Howard government and the forest industry bosses, especially in the 2004 election. All that is missing is the phrase “New Right Fifth Column”.
However, Lewis then comes up with this rubbish:
Rudd knows full well that taking on the CFMEU and NAFI and the broader timber fraternity is political suicide.
It was not political suicide for Geoff Gallop and the WA ALP in the 2001 State election, in which forestry policy was a decisive issue. It was not political suicide for Bob Hawke in 1987 and 1990. It was not political suicide for Bob Carr after 1995, and was not political suicide for Peter Beattie when he brokered the South-East Queensland Forest Agreement in 1999. It would not have hurt Latham in 2004 had he accepted Geoff Gallop’s advice and gone for the “thermonuclear option” of protecting 240,000 hectares of forest, without farting around with an inquiry, well out from election day on 2004, and had he not naively trusted Michael O’Connor, Scott McLean, Dick Adams and Pol Lenin not to rat during the heat of an election campaign.
And then the piece de resistance:
The ALP has to win back Bass and Braddon from the Liberal Party to have any chance of winning office… [Howard] relying on Rudd tripping up as he tries to mimic Bob Hawke’s feat as conciliator extraordinaire.
Those of us who are old enough to remember when Bob Hawke came to power in 1983 will know that Hawke achieved this victory without winning Bass, Braddon or indeed any Tasmanian seats. This was because on the issue of saving the south-west Tasmanian wilderness by stopping the Franklin Dam, Hawke was not “conciliator extraordinaire”. By the time of the 1983 Federal election, the Franklin Dam issue was beyond hope of conciliation. Hawke committed to using Federal Government powers to stop the dam, a move which was good policy and, as it turned out, good politics, as the resulting gains on the mainland more than offset the loss of seats in Tasmania. The ratio of mainland seats to Tasmanian seats has increased significantly since then.
BTW, I am not suggesting that Rudd should not try to win Bass and Braddon. In any case one must assume that voters in those seats also have opinions on issues like WorkChoices, climate change, housing affordability and the growing economic squeeze experienced by many Australians despite the economic boom. What I am saying is that Rudd and the ALP should not allow themselves to be bullied into abandoning sound policy by the threat of a repeat of the treachery of 2004.