Tony Abbott's Leadership Lesson
By MARY KISSEL
July 18, 2014 12:32 p.m. ET THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott fulfilled a major campaign pledge Thursday when his government voted to repeal the country's carbon tax, provoking wailing from the political left and green groups about climate Armageddon. The smarter analysis is that Mr. Abbott proved that conviction politicians are rewarded when their ideas have economic merit—and are clearly explained—to the electorate. Republicans should take note.
Australia's conservative Liberal Party started to embrace the questionable science of man-made climate change under former Prime Minister John Howard, and the trend continued after the Liberals lost the 2007 national election. Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, a wealthy banker who hails from one of Sydney's toniest suburbs, had the Liberals endorse the Labor government's carbon-tax proposal. Predictably, the Liberals went nowhere in the polls.
Ordinary Aussies, as it turns out, hated the idea of having their energy prices raised so that elites in Melbourne and other urban centers could feel good about themselves. (Australians already pay some of the highest energy prices in the developed world.) Mr. Abbott understood that sentiment and challenged Mr. Turnbull in December 2010 for the party leadership—and won by a single vote. The same day, he declared the carbon tax "a great big tax to create a great big slush fund to provide politicized handouts, run by giant bureaucracy." No nuance there.
Mr. Abbott spent the next two years touring the country and patiently explaining, at every opportunity, why it would be economic suicide for Australia, which accounts for 1.2% of the world's carbon emissions, to self-impose an energy tax that would do nothing to help "save the planet" and would slow economic growth. He also questioned climate science, as have prominent scientists at Princeton, MIT and elsewhere. The Labor Party ridiculed him for his stance, as did local media worthies like Peter Hatcher, Michelle Grattan and Laurie Oakes.
But Mr. Abbott stuck to his guns. In 2010 he took the Liberal Party to the polls on a pledge to "axe the tax" and would've become prime minister that year, had a few rural politicians not bucked the popular vote in their constituencies and thrown their support to the Labor Party. Last year Mr. Abbott finally did ride to victory—by a landslide—touting the very same message. His government immediately laid the groundwork to repeal the tax, which was sealed by the Senate vote Thursday.
Many Republicans in this country have bought into the idea that the American public is so fed up with President Obama's lousy economic record, bureaucratic scandals (VA, IRS, HHS) and failing foreign policy that they don't have to outline any serious ideas of their own before the November mid-term elections. Mr. Abbott shows what can be accomplished when a politician has a clear idea about policy, explains it, and has the courage to fight elections to get a popular mandate to implement it. As they say Down Under, "Good on ya, Tony."