Brave Thinkers 2011 November 2011

Julia Gillard

More
What's Your Take?  Rate this Brave Thinker:
1 star = Not taking much risk | 5 stars = Risking it all

Prime minister of Australia
Canberra, Australia

Reversing a campaign pledge, the Labor Party leader bets her job on a plan to tax greenhouse-gas emissions.

When Julia Gillard took over as Australia’s prime minister last year, her predecessor served as a pretty good cautionary example. After all, the political opening Gillard seized upon to win her job was presented after Kevin Rudd botched efforts to pass a law taxing greenhouse-gas emitters.

Gillard seemed to heed the lesson. “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,” she said while campaigning.

And yet, today Gillard is championing a massive new climate bill complete with a carbon tax—and risking her political life in the process.

Nudged out onto this limb by the politics of coalition-building, Gillard chose to make her about-face in order to align her Labor Party with the newly influential Green Party, concluding that a bold carbon tax is, after all, what Australia needs to fight climate change. Whether you see the move as politically expedient or as a principled course correction, there’s no denying the risk that it entails in a country where climate change is a wildly contentious issue.

Brave Thinkers 2011Currently, about 80 percent of the country’s electricity comes from coal, helping to make Australia the worst per capita carbon polluter among wealthy nations. Australia is also the world’s leading coal exporter, and vocal factions of the powerful mining industry say the tax scheme will destroy jobs and sink the economy. Such fears help explain the prime minister’s horrendous job-approval numbers.

Still, Gillard is resolute. She says that by targeting industrial polluters, Australia can, by 2020, accomplish the equivalent of removing 45 million cars from the road. And by 2050, Australia hopes to have cut emissions by 80 percent from its 2000 levels. When Parliament decides the issue this fall, the vote will be close, but Gillard expects to prevail. “This is going through,” she has said. “This is done. Full stop.” Of course, she’s been wrong before.


Illustration: Anje Jager

Geoffrey Gagnon is an Atlantic senior editor
Jump to comments
Presented by

Geoffrey Gagnon is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In