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Leading article Australia

Burning down the house

12 January 2013

9:00 AM

12 January 2013

9:00 AM

The imagery couldn’t have been more apt. Standing in the smouldering ruins of the Dunalley Primary School hall in Tasmania, Julia Gillard appeared lost for words and ideas. Waffling on about climate change, begging for donations like some Irish pop star, and obfuscating about rebuilding the school in the tragic aftermath of a lethal bushfire, the scenario encompassed everything that is wrong with Labor’s chronic mismanagement of our nation’s affairs over the past five years. Money wasted when and where it wasn’t needed, so that there is none when it is needed.

Fully aware that the federal government has little left in the kitty, the Prime Minister left it to her state counterparts to make vague commitments while she indulged in TV-friendly, touchy-feely sentimentalism about ‘mateship in Tassie’ and ‘tax-free donations’. The irony that the billions Labor inherited from the Howard government were frittered away building superfluous school halls across the land presumably escaped our Prime Minister.

The lion’s share of Labor’s $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution was spent ‘combatting’ the global financial crisis. Quite what lavishing funds on such unproductive infrastructure as ‘covered outdoor learning areas’ had to do with revolutionising our education system was never explained. Sadly, there has been no demonstrable subsequent improvement in our educational results, which languish among the lowest in the developed world for primary schools.

Every time there is a ‘natural’ disaster, the Left quickly blames climate change for the ‘severity’ or ‘frequency’ of such disasters. Yet arguably it is often green policies that have exacerbated the damage: national parks without adequate fire hazard reduction plans, or a dam designed to mitigate against destructive flooding creating it.

Although carefully choosing her words, Ms Gillard was keen to leave the impression that climate change was vaguely responsible for the rubble she stood among in Dunalley. That billions are being wasted on frantically building accommodation for Sri Lankan boat people, or futile climate change initiatives, again with no demonstrable positive outcomes for Australians, is more salt in the wounds of these ravaged communities. Regardless of the truth or otherwise of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, a responsible government — in the wake of so many recent floods, storms and fires — should be focusing every effort on preparing for such disasters, with sufficient funds set aside to bring automatic relief and assistance.

Instead, our government wastes untold sums on hugely expensive ideological pursuits at home and abroad, endless financial mismanagement and incompetence from Canberra to Christmas Island.

At least the Prime Minister didn’t blame the fires on sexism and misogyny. But it’s early days yet.

The bet

Lord Lawson is not a man whose insights should be taken lightly. Having served as Chancellor during Britain’s most successful post-war period (as well as having edited The Spectator in the late Sixties) it is clear his advice is worth heeding.

So in our opinion it was very ‘brave’ — some may prefer ‘insane’ — of British cabinet minister Oliver Letwin to enter into a wager with the great man in 2008 on the subject of climate change.

Mr Letwin was smugly adamant, as were so many supposed conservatives both here and in the UK back then, that the world was on the cusp of a major, binding agreement to curb carbon emissions. Indeed, only a few weeks later Malcolm Turnbull became Liberal leader here convinced that we should be in the vanguard of such a scheme.

Lord Lawson wouldn’t have a bar of it. (Nor in fact, would this magazine, arguing it was ‘mad to slash Australia’s carbon levels… when no nation that matters would follow our lead’. )

He and Mr Letwin publicly bet 100 quid on a global agreement occurring or not. To Lord Lawson it was ‘always blindingly obvious that the positions of Europe, the United States and China were much too far apart for a truly global successor to Kyoto to be negotiable’.

With Kyoto now expired and only Europe and Australia pretending there will ever be anything other than the ‘platitudes’ Lord Lawson warned of, Mr Letwin has coughed up, acknowledging he was wrong.

As Lord Lawson drily notes: ‘It is disconcerting that UK climate change policy has been based on the advice of someone so totally divorced from any understanding of practical realities.’

He should meet Greg Combet.

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