In a serendipitous coincidence of timing, in the space of two hours this week Australians were afforded a sharp, momentary insight into the two opposing ideological mindsets that are competing for the soul of our nation.
In a Sydney hotel on Monday night, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, an economist who fought against communism, was warning of the new threats to our freedom he recognises in the doctrine of global warming.
Almost simultaneously, in a Hobart casino, Greens Senator Christine Milne was unilaterally announcing, on ABC TV’s Q&A show, that the government would be conducting an inquiry into that section of the Australian media that she finds “extreme(ly) bias(ed) against action on climate change”.
Milne’s every illiberal pronouncement was greeted with applause by an audience that seemed full of tree huggers, bearded public servants and other recipients of government largesse, about the only growth industry left in Tasmania.
Klaus, on the other hand, was speaking to economic liberals and climate change realists invited by the Institute of Public Affairs, the Melbourne-based free market think tank.
“Twenty years ago we still felt threatened by the remnants of communism. This is really over,” Klaus said.
“I feel threatened now, not by global warming – I don’t see any – (but) by the global warming doctrine which I consider a new dangerous attempt to control and mastermind my life and our lives, in the name of controlling the climate or temperature.”
Klaus, 70, who has twice been elected Czech president and is its former prime minister, is one of the most important figures in post-communist Europe. His experiences under totalitarian rule have made him exquisitely alert to the erosion of democratic freedoms.
He said environmentalists have been arguing for decades that we should reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, using various farcical ploys from the exhaustion of natural resources to the threat of “imminent mass poverty and starvation for billions”.
He said those same environmentalists shamelessly talk now about dangerous global warming: “They don’t care about resources or poverty or pollution. They hate us, the humans. They consider us dangerous and sinful creatures who must be controlled by them. I used to live in a similar world called communism. And I know it led to the worst environmental damage the world has ever experienced.”
Global warming alarmists “want to change us”, he said.
“They want to change our behaviour, our way of life, our values and preferences. They want to restrict our freedom because they believe they know what is good for us.
“They are not interested in climate. They misuse the climate in their goal to restrict our freedom. What is in danger is freedom, not the climate.”
He described the parallels he sees between the loss of freedom under communism and the new global warming doctrine. Under communism, “politics dictated the economics and dictated life”.
“Our main ambition during the dark communist days was to change that and create an autonomous society and autonomous economic system with only a marginal role played by politics.
“I am sorry to discover now politics dictates the economics again. And the global warming debate is the same story (in which) politicians dictate the issue.”
He said because of his experience of communism, “maybe I am oversensitive”.
“I am afraid that some of the people who spend their lives in a free society don’t appreciate sufficiently all the issues connected with freedom. So my oversensitivity is like an alarm clock warning about the potential development, which I am really afraid of.”
With Klaus’ words ringing in my ears I went home and watched a recording of Q&A.
There Milne was equating those decent Australians who have been exercising their democratic right to protest at anti-carbon tax rallies with the crazed gunman who killed 76 people in Norway.
“It has been pretty shocking around Australia over the last month or two, particularly to the carbon price. And I think when you look at what happened in Norway … the English Defence League has got its own links here in Australia to the Australian Defence League, it is real. It is happening,” she said.
Coupled with her view that the voices of those in the media who are against the carbon tax ought to be investigated, it was a chilling echo of the attack on freedom Klaus had only just warned against.
The speed at which the arrogance of the Greens has grown since they entered a power-sharing arrangement with the Gillard government almost a year ago, and the shambolic acquiescence of the government to their demands, has caught us unawares. It has lulled us into accepting as normal some remarkably illiberal ideas.
For instance, there is the drastic reshaping of the economy by the unpromised carbon tax, and its six unaccountable new bureaucracies.
There is the media inquiry flagrantly designed by the government and Greens to punish only the media organisation whose newspapers (such as this one) have most embarrassed them and exposed their mistakes.
There is the idea that companies which create wealth and jobs for Australia are evil “big polluters”, and that our most important industry, mining, should be saddled with a “super-profits tax”.
There is the idea that there is something so wrong with private school funding that an inquiry is needed, and that the Greens policy of 30 per cent death duties on estates over $5 million is perfectly reasonable. We are like frogs in boiling water.
Even Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens this week blamed the “increasingly bitter political debate” for declining consumer confidence.
No, the bitterness of the debate comes from the fact people feel their way of life is being compromised by a government which is a rule unto itself and seems to believe it knows what is good for us. The carbon tax is a factor, but the single most unsettling event was the live cattle trade fiasco, which is still unresolved.
It prompted the feeling that if the government can suddenly and arbitrarily stop a legitimate thriving industry in its tracks based on a one-sided television show, with no right of reply, then what can it do to me?
That is a very sobering thought. It is what stops people shopping, and it is what makes the debate bitter.
The more government turns a deaf ear to the people, the louder the people shout.
And then, what is the reaction of an undemocratic government but to find ways to muzzle dissent?