June 15, 2022

A reply from Kevin Rudd on the Greens and the CPRS

By Kevin Rudd
Cartoon image of letter and pen

Russell Marks’ attempts to exonerate Bob Brown’s Green party over their catastrophic decision to block climate action during my government (“Greens card”) is factually flawed on two counts.

First, he claims the Greens simply “didn’t have the numbers to make a difference” to whether the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme passed parliament. This is completely false.

The arithmetic is simple. We had 33 senators voting for the bill, comprising the Labor Party and two principled Liberal moderates, Sue Boyce and Judith Troeth, who crossed the floor. If the five Greens had joined us, we would have had 38 votes to the Opposition’s 36. Instead, the Greens sided with Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce, and it went down 33 to 41. The Monthly should retract this demonstrable falsehood. [Editor’s note: The original has since been corrected in relation to this point.]

If the Greens had stood up for their beliefs, we would now be 12 years into an emissions trading scheme steadily decarbonising our economy with targets escalating at conferences in Doha, Paris, Edinburgh and beyond. Having attracted some Liberal support, Abbott could not have repealed it without unleashing a devastating civil war. Unlike the subsequent carbon price, which was legislated without any Coalition votes, it would have stuck.

Marks’ second falsehood is grounded in a failure of analysis. He claims the Greens were motivated by “policy purity” when the evidence demonstrates it was actually rank political opportunism.

The sticking point in Climate Minister Penny Wong’s negotiations with the Greens was our starting-point emissions-reduction target of 5 to 25 per cent by 2020. They were insisting on cuts of 25 to 40 per cent, branding our proposal a “complete fraud”.

Wong repeatedly tried to compromise with Brown and Christine Milne, even flying to meet them in Tasmania, but they refused to negotiate. The Greens’ target would have been impossible to pass through the Senate. We would have lost the two dissenting Liberals. And even if it had miraculously passed, the harsh economic adjustments required would have caused massive social upheaval, poisoning whole communities against climate action.

Why did the Greens take this position? It was not policy purity, but political performance. They wanted to skewer the Labor Party as weak on climate so they could peel away left-leaning voters at the 2010 election. And it worked, doubling their parliamentary representation.

The proof of these motivations is how they behaved after the 2010 election. After campaigning so viciously against Labor’s 5 per cent emissions-reduction target, what new target did the Greens negotiate for the new carbon price under Julia Gillard? You guessed it… Five per cent! And without any buy-in from the other party of government, that policy was swiftly repealed after just a few years.

These are the simple facts. While it may be uncomfortable for the Greens today, it’s exactly what happened. 

Let’s hope this new generation of Green party MPs has finally learned to train their attacks on the conservative forces, rather than opportunistically siding with them for political advantage. Somehow, though, I doubt it. Their real political target has always been the Labor Party – as demonstrated by the opportunistic campaign to unseat one of the most progressive women in the Queensland parliament, former deputy premier Jackie Trad. If history is anything to go by, the Green party will continue to choose partisanship over politically sustainable progressive change.

Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd AC was the 26th prime minister of Australia.

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