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Kevin Rudd, Australia’s New Prime Minister

Craig Neilson, WorldChanging
Who is Kevin Rudd and what are the details of his new government’s plan? From what we’ve heard so far, his shade of green is decidedly bright.

The Australian Labor Party has won the Australian 2007 Federal Election, a change of government for the first time since John Howard took office in early 1996.

Saturday’s election win for Labor leader Kevin Rudd was the final day of a six week campaign in which climate change and environmental policy played a significant part.

Perhaps the most notable environmental facet of Australia’s new leadership is that Rudd has pledged full support for the Kyoto Protocol and promised to ratify as one of his first actions.
(27 November 2007)

Quick shift required in foreign policy

Tom Kevin, Eureka Street
Kevin Rudd takes office at a dangerous but exciting moment of fundamental challenges to the traditional national sovereignty-based international agenda.

Foreign policy is about prioritisation of effort, assigning scarce Australian policy-making and diplomatic-practice resources to the highest priority needs. Three urgent issues require deft and speedy footwork by the new Labor government to bring Australian foreign policy into line with reality, after 12 years of misdirection under John Howard.

First, the scientific consensus on damaging climate change is at last being recognised by the international political community. The UN Secretary-General is rightly warning that December’s Bali review meeting on the Kyoto treaty must be a defining moment for real global action by governments.

No less important, we now approach – or may have passed – the world’s peak oil supply. The effects of this realisation on world energy markets will be progressively, dramatically destabilising, even within Rudd’s first term and certainly in his second.

…Similarly with Kyoto, there is urgent repair work to be done. Labor must use Bali to register the fact of real policy rethinking in Australia. It would send an appropriate signal for Rudd to lead the Australian delegation to Bali, and to apologise for Australia’s past bad faith in negotiating Kyoto, in first pressing for watered-down Australian commitments, then reneging on joining the treaty. The statistics of Australia’s per capita CO2 emissions are now so damning that it will take a dramatic new public diplomacy to repair Australia’s badly tarnished international reputation.

On peak oil, Australia is, like the rest of the world, at the mercy of iron laws of supply and demand in international energy markets. Peak oil’s market impact will drive oil prices sharply upwards. This will fuel inflationary pressure in the global and therefore Australian economy.

This emphasises the urgent need for rapid reforms in Australian energy production and exports, to encourage the fastest affordable transition to a renewable energy-based economy. Australia’s domestic and international energy policies will need to be mutually consistent and supportive. These are uncharted waters for Australian foreign policy. Ross Garnaut needs to offer Rudd interim policy guidance, now.

These three challenges – climate change, peak oil and US-Iran – actually manifest the same underlying challenge to Australia’s traditional foreign policy vision. How can Australia move from our historic narrow concept of national interest, which has over-emphasised US bilateralism in international security and the obsessive pursuit of maximum resources-export dollars? How do we recover the larger vision, that both Whitlam and Evans pursued, of Australia as an active good international citizen, from which true national security flows?
(29 November 2007)
Eureka Street is “a publication of Jesuit Publications Australia.”

The party’s over and Liberals will soon be history

Steve Biddulph, Sydney Morning Herald
The Liberal Party is in trauma. The corporate sector is attempting to calm its nerves, and even the victors in the Labor Party cannot quite believe the seismic change in the landscape of power. But the ramifications of last Saturday may be much greater than just one election won or lost. In a way that seems unthinkable to us now, 2007 may mark the end of the Liberal Party itself. It won’t happen overnight, but just watch it happen.

… Labor is the right party to manage [the coming transition]. Despite the widespread belief after years of cynical politics that politicians are all the same, Rudd and Gillard are not in power for power’s sake. I am willing to stake my 30 years as a psychologist on this, but I think many observers have also come to this conclusion. Kevin and Julia, as Australia already calls them, want to make this country a better place for the people in it. In the coming times of deprivation, they have the value systems that will be needed to care for the sudden rise in poverty, stress, and need. They also have the unity.

So what will be the new polarity in future elections? It’s the ecology, stupid. The Greens will emerge as the new opposition, though this will take probably two election cycles. By the 2010 election, 20 per cent will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children’s tomorrow. The Liberal Party will be lucky to attract 30 per cent, which is the habitual, rusted-on portion of the community that thinks greed is good.

By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right – Labor and Green – and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.

Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.

The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade – superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won’t be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die.

Steve Biddulph is a psychologist and author.
(29 November 2007)
I wonder if the same story will unwind in next year’s U.S. elections? -BA

Oil price will be a test for Rudd

Nigel Wilson, The Australian
SOARING international crude oil prices and their impact on road fuel prices are set to provide the new Rudd Labor government with an early test of its economic management strategy.

Retail diesel and petrol prices are close to record levels and are expected to move higher as movements in the Singapore benchmark petrol price flow through to Australian refiners during the next week or so.

Unleaded petrol prices in some parts of Sydney in the past few days hit 143c a litre.

The Australian Institute of Petroleum’s weekly report published yesterday showed the national average price for unleaded petrol in the week to Sunday was 133.4c a litre, up from 131.0 a week earlier.

At the end of last week diesel had reached 137.5c a litre in Sydney and Perth and 141.7 in Darwin. Prime Minister designate, Kevin Rudd, promised before Saturday’s election that Labor would establish a national petrol price commission that would have formal powers to investigate petrol prices as part of consumer watchdog, the ACCC.

The aim was to crack down on unscrupulous petrol retailers and to reduce the impact of spiralling petrol prices on consumers.
(27 November 2007)