As a young voter, I handed out leaflets, I knocked on doors, I was even a scrutineer, and later I did election-night commenting on TV. But I’ve never been in a demo in which people shouted out their demands as set above above. I don’t have that kind of emotional involvement in politics, and in fact am rather put off by this sort of theatre. Those who engage in it are serious, I have no doubt, but I have no wish to join them. I don’t sign petitions, either. I have done so twice, and regretted it instantly on both occasions.
I think the chanting is best seen as a sign of frustration: something ought to be done, and it isn’t, and it should be, and we will make a fuss until it is. These days the demo is aimed at least partly at the television cameras, which can be summoned to illustrate some action for the evening news bulletins. The most recent ones I have seen were about wages, and about university cuts.
In this post I want to focus on the second demand: NOW. One of the great problems in the quasi-democratic society we live in is that almost nothing can ever ever happen quickly except payments of one kind or another. Changes to the way we behave seem to take forever, no matter what governments say. A rule of thumb for me is that any substantial change in the way things are takes about a generation — 25 years.
In the area of road safety, in which I have been involved for the past fifteen years, it took about that time for seatbelt use, and avoiding drink if you were driving, to become more or less accepted as the new way we are. Seatbelt use is now nearly universal, and it is worth noticing that 30 per cent of the deaths in vehicle crashes occur to the 3 per cent who don’t wear seatbelts. Avoiding alcohol and observing the rules about that is much less universal, but so far as we can tell, the level we are at has stayed pretty high for quite a while, after a generation in which people got used to it.
A friend sceptical of the AGW scare was angry about the new Prime Minister’s apparent interest in watering down the carbon tax. ‘I don’t want it watered down,’ he cried. ‘I want it abolished!’ He certainly knew that Mr Abbott had declared he would do just that if he was elected, but even that wasn’t enough. ‘I want it done now!’
The cry for NOW! can sound like that of a child, and reasonable responses are not desired by the chanters. We are used to instant gratification, especially with food and drink, and perhaps that prompts the demand for gratification in other areas. In our society, too, marchers and chanters tend to be from a minority that feels excluded from decision-making. It is not quite the same in Cairo, at the moment, where the demonstrators are numbered in hundreds of thousands.
In the case of ‘climate change’, a great deal of unpicking will have to be done. To begin with, the forces of orthodoxy are entrenched, and are not conceding anything much. The pause in warming is waved away, the fires in Arizona will be attributed to AGW, President Obama’s speech will be touted as evidence that the scare is real, and so on. The orthodoxy believes that warning will resume, and is waiting for it to do so.
To be sure, even the Gillard Government had begun to reduce the size of the orthodoxy within government, and an Abbott Government could keep that going. The new Rudd Government is apparently going to argue that the carbon tax is now to be an emissions trading scheme, even though the tax just went up yesterday.
The carbon tax is embedded in legislation, and to get rid of it new legislation has to be passed. It is true that governments can ignore past legislation, but that is most often the case where we are talking about the fine print. As the saying goes, they will just ‘wing it’, and hope that nobody notices. But a tax is a tax, there are tax collectors, and their job is to collect it.
So I don’t see any quick end to the carbon tax. It does have a stupid name, but most people don’t know or care. The whole notion of ‘carbon pollution’ is nonsense, even though President Obama used it twenty or so times in his recent speech on climate. But there it is. A new Prime Minister Abbott can declare that he will abolish it, as he has promised to do if elected, on day one.
But undoing it will take a lot of time, and energy and patience. If an Abbott Government is elected, it will need a majority in the Senate as well. If it doesn’t have one, it would need to try to pass the abolition bill twice, and if unsuccessful, ask for a double dissolution. One likely result of a double dissolution is that the Greens and minor parties, plus Independents, will find it easier to get elected. Neither major party wants such an outcome.
My sceptical friend will have to bide his time. I don’t think there’s much future in his forming a group to chant ‘What do we want? An end to the carbon tax! When do we want it? NOW!’