Monday, February 20, 2017
They're quite justified, of course. When businesses are making hugely expensive investments in generation plants that may last for 50 years, they need to know what the government's rules are – and that the other side won't come along and change everything.
But such a plea assumes our politicians are prepared to give the good government of the nation top priority.
They're not. On both sides top priority goes to winning the next election.
These days, the two sides of politics are quietly busy getting issues lined up in a way that gives them the advantage in that election.
The pollies play an unending game of "wedge and block". You try to take a position on a particular issue that drives a wedge between the different wings of the other party.
It has to decide whether to be pragmatic and take the position it knows is popular with voters, or stick with the position it nominally stands for and favours the interests and prejudices of the party's base.
If it takes the popular position you've taken, it's successfully blocked your move (but left its heartland unhappy). If it stands its traditional ground, its base is happy, but it's lost votes to you.
You've successfully driven a wedge between it and the voters, putting you on the way to winning.
Each side's goal is to manoeuvre the other side into a situation where the election campaign is dominated by those issues that favour you.
You seek to wedge the other side on those issues where you have a natural advantage (your biases align with the voters') while blocking the other side's attempted wedges on issues where it has the natural advantage.
Labor voters are proud of its advocacy of the national disability insurance scheme and the Gonski schools funding reform, yet Julia Gillard damaged both by trying to use them to wedge Tony Abbott at the 2013 election.
She belatedly proposed an increase in the Medicare levy to help fund the NDIS, hoping Tony No-tax-increases Abbott would oppose it, so she could accuse him of hating the disabled.
Abbott woke up and quietly agreed to the tax increase.
Gillard delayed the introduction of Gonski until the election year (meaning most Coalition states wouldn't sign up) hoping Abbott would oppose it and she could accuse him of hating public schools.
Abbott and his elite private-school shadow cabinet denigrated "Conski" until he woke up and claimed he was on a "unity ticket" with Labor on schools funding – a commitment he ditched the moment he'd won the election.
Look behind all the present argy-bargy between the pollies and you see Bill Shorten trying to keep alive all the key policy issues that got him so close to winning last year's election.
He's having remarkable success retaining last time's wedges against the government because Malcolm Turnbull is hamstrung by the dominant hard right faction on his backbench, which is insisting on doctrinal purity.
Last week internal party pressure caused Turnbull to disown talk of tightening the capital gains tax discount for rental properties, even though this would have blocked Labor's use of opposition to negative gearing to attract younger voters (as well as helping the budget).
Far more voters' kids go to government than non-government schools. We desperately need to move to needs-based funding regardless of school sector, so we can get on with the more pressing issue of lifting students' performance.
But Gillard's version of Gonski is way too expensive (incongruously, because of Labor's visceral fear of offending elite private schools).
It's clear the minister, Simon Birmingham, is working on a compromise, but Labor is refusing to countenance anything but "the full Gonski".
It wants to keep the issue alive and the Coalition successfully wedged.
Most voters accept the reality of climate change and want effective action to help limit it, but with the minimum increase in energy prices.
People of goodwill developed a face-saving way for Turnbull to make progress on emissions reduction without much increase in retail prices, called an "emissions intensity scheme".
Since Labor has a similar scheme, Turnbull could have blocked the climate change wedge without political risk. But the disguised deniers sitting behind him were so opposed he had to swear off it.
Neither side of politics has any interest in finding a compromise that would give our energy sector the policy stability needed for it to adjust to the world's low-carbon future.