June 2014

Arts & Letters

Philip Chubb’s ‘Power Failure’

By Peter Christoff

Black Inc.; $29.99

Climate change has a habit of causing extreme weather in Australian politics. It has done away with four party leaders, including three prime ministers, and played a part in two changes of national government.

Power Failure: The inside story of climate politics under Rudd and Gillard is the first major book to look at the turbulent politics of climate policy under Australia’s two most recent Labor prime ministers. Philip Chubb’s nuanced account draws on interviews with senior politicians, bureaucrats and other key players – including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, although Rudd strangely refuses to be quoted.

The book reads like a Greek tragedy. It is, mainly, the story of how hubris, madness, malice, political misjudgement and misunderstanding bring down an enterprise forged in common sense and goodwill. A series of compounding disasters seems almost fated to lead to the Abbott government’s assault on global warming action.

The two main acts each end in grief.

First, there is Rudd, elected amid overwhelming public support for substantial climate policy reform. Chubb argues that Rudd’s increasingly unstable behaviour undermined Labor’s capacity to govern effectively and thwarted any chance for climate legislation in 2009. 

To reflect on Ross Garnaut’s line about just how “diabolical” climate policy is, what became diabolical in 2010 was relatively straightforward in 2008 and even 2009. Climate reform in Rudd’s first years should have been easier than the successful tariff reforms of the early 1980s or the introduction of the GST in the late ’90s. Chubb lays full blame for the failure at Rudd’s feet, although lack of early interest or enthusiasm for this issue across the cabinet suggests a more complex tale.

Then comes Gillard, who was haunted not only by the way in which she came to power and her inability to explain the real reasons for the leadership coup but also by Rudd’s legacy, particularly in the climate policy domain. Her failure to immediately counter Abbott’s assault on “the carbon tax lie” further undermined her legitimacy.

In late 2010, Gillard announced the establishment of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. Chubb shows how tough negotiations and tight deals produced a reform package that would win support, although it extended lucrative compensation for industry and its targets remained weak.

Still, Gillard’s and Labor’s fortunes sank further even after the bills became law. By the time the price on carbon became a reality, the politics of vitriol had drowned out rational debate. The masses had stopped listening about climate change. They wanted another sort of change.


View Edition

From the front page

Image of former industry minister Christian Porter in the House of Representatives, August 24, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Protecting Porter

Why does the government keep doing this?

Cover image for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘The Morning Star’

Hell’s kitchen: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘The Morning Star’

The ‘My Struggle’ author’s first novel in 17 years considers the mundanity of everyday acts amid apocalyptic events

Image of ‘Bewilderment’

‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers

The Pulitzer winner’s open-hearted reworking of Flowers for Algernon, updated for modern times

Image of ‘Scary Monsters’

‘Scary Monsters’ by Michelle de Kretser

Two satirical stories about fitting in, from the two-time Miles Franklin–winner


In This Issue

Clive Palmer the trickster

The Palmer United Party are anti-politics wildcards in Parliament

Richard Strauss in 1904. Photo by Edward Steichen

A century and a half of Richard Strauss

A look back at the last of the great Romantic composers

Nuclear waste at Muckaty

A trip to the site of a proposed nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory

Follow You (detail), 2013, Wang Qingsong. Courtesy of White Rabbit Gallery.

‘Reformation’ at Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery

Judith Neilson’s groundbreaking collection of contemporary Chinese art


More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘The French Dispatch’

The life solipsistic: ‘The French Dispatch’

Wes Anderson’s film about a New Yorker–style magazine is simultaneously trivial and exhausting

Still from ‘Nitram’

An eye on the outlier: ‘Nitram’

Justin Kurzel’s biopic of the Port Arthur killer is a warning on suburban neglect and gun control

Photo: “Breakfast at Heide” (from left: Sidney Nolan, Max Harris, Sunday Reed and John Reed), circa 1945

Artful lodgers: The Heide Museum of Modern Art

The story of John and Sunday Reed’s influence on Sidney Nolan and other live-in protégés

Detail from ‘Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood’ by Hilma af Klint (1907)

A shock of renewal: ‘Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings’

The transcendent works of the modernist who regarded herself not an artist but a medium


More in Noted

Image of ‘Bewilderment’

‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers

The Pulitzer winner’s open-hearted reworking of Flowers for Algernon, updated for modern times

Image of ‘Scary Monsters’

‘Scary Monsters’ by Michelle de Kretser

Two satirical stories about fitting in, from the two-time Miles Franklin–winner

Image of Colson Whitehead's ‘Harlem Shuffle’

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Colson Whitehead

The author of ‘The Underground Railroad’ offers a disappointingly straightforward neo-noir caper set in the early ’60s

Image of Charif Majdalani’s ‘Beirut 2020’

‘Beirut 2020’ by Charif Majdalani

The Lebanese writer’s elegiac journal captures the city’s devastating port explosion


Read on

Cover image for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘The Morning Star’

Hell’s kitchen: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘The Morning Star’

The ‘My Struggle’ author’s first novel in 17 years considers the mundanity of everyday acts amid apocalyptic events

Image of Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession season 3. Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Ties that bind: ‘Succession’ season three

Jeremy Strong’s performance in the HBO drama’s third season is masterful

Image of a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

The cult of Gladys Berejiklian

What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?