The passage of the Carbon Tax bill last week reminded us all (as if we’ve ever been allowed to forget) that Julia Gillard lied during the election campaign when she said there would not be a carbon tax under a government she leads. As usual, the reality is a little less simple.
Let’s make one thing clear from the outset: Julia Gillard was extremely foolish to make such an unequivocal statement. It was always going to come back to bite her just as John Howard’s statement that a GST would “never ever” be a part of his policy would come back to bit him. John Howard learnt from his mistake though. He never again made absolute statements. He always gave himself an out. Gillard should have learnt from his mistake too.
I’ve written previously about how government policy is what can pass the parliament because the parliament is the government. As such, the policies of either major party are negated when the Australian electorate chooses not to give either of them a clear majority.
Gillard in fact has several ways to rationalise her pre-election statement. She could tell the truth and say that she is not the supreme leader of this government and that the ultimate decider of policy is what can pass the parliament. Or she could be honest and say that her comments were assuming an ALP majority. Or if she wanted to be cheeky, she could invoke John Howard’s distinction of “core promises.”
The Liberal party has been prepared for comparison to John Howard’s “never ever” statement and remind us that John Howard took the GST to an election. That, he did. However, the Coalition polled just 48% of the primary vote in that election, which is less than the ALP polled in 2010. No-one called that “the death of democracy.”
Then there was WorkChoices. John Howard never said a thing about that in the 2004 election campaign. In fairness to Howard, he probably didn’t know himself that he would do that – he just saw his chance when the coalition won control of the Senate, and grabbed it. When confronted with the fact that he never took it to an election, Howard’s explanation was that everyone knew it had been on the Liberals’ wishlist for 20 years but they’d never had the number for it before. In fairness to Howard, he never said he wouldn’t introduce WorkChoices. He had learnt from his previous mistake. Likewise, everyone knew it was ALP policy to introduce a market-based system for reducing carbon emissions. And it was much fresher in the memory than the Liberal party’s historical desire for industrial relations reform.
Based on the election figures, if Gillard has no mandate for the carbon tax, then John Howard clearly had no mandate for the GST. If John Howard had a mandate for WorkChoices based on the dubious logic that he never said he wouldn’t, then the majority of the current parliament has a mandate to implement policy that they can come to an agreement on. Any one of these is an intellectually defensible argument – but make your mind up and stick by your story.
No leader ever frames their policy statements according to how they would be affected by a hung parliament. So was Howard’s lie of omission in 2004 better or worse than Gillard’s omission of premise in 2010?
The other question is who voted Labor on the strength of Gillard saying there would be no carbon tax? Anyone?