There’s a new front in Australia’s climate wars – the battle of the frames.
Actress Cate Blanchett has appeared in a TV advert to urge her fellow Australians to back the Gillard government’s proposed carbon tax.
But Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal Party (that’s conservative in Australia) weighed in with this comment:
"People who are worth $53m have a right to be heard – but their voice should not be heard ahead of the ordinary working people of this country."
"You do not give special weight to celebrities . . .
''You do not give special weight to people who live half the year in Hollywood where there is no carbon tax.”
Abbott was using the “people vs. the elites” frame that has worked powerfully in the US. He set out to cast Cate Blanchett as a symbol of wealthy left-liberal elites who say they want action on climate change but are out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of “ordinary people”. It all comes down, once again, to “who pays?”.
Cate Blanchett has come back with a double-frame of her own – “fighting pollution” and “protecting children”.
'Everyone will benefit if we protect the environment. There is a societal cost of increased pollution and that's what I'm passionate about as a mother. That's where it gets me in the gut,'' she said. ''I can't look my children in the face if I'm not trying to do something in my small way and to urge other people.''
The fact that Cate Blanchett is a mother of three adds an authenticity to her statements. In speaking out, she embodies her narrative.
But the real impact of the row may be to shift attention away from the advert’s message and on to personalities. So Cate Blanchett has tried to frame the argument around protecting the environment.
And she made an interesting aside:
''I understand that if you use the word tax, people are rightly and understandably concerned about their standards of living.”
The UK’s coalition government is bringing in a carbon tax too. They and climate hawks in this country should be relieved that the tax is officially called a “floor price for carbon” and will work within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The frame may blunt some of the attacks that are surely coming.
Footnote: Check out this new article from The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly about the updated 2011 Garnaut report on climate change. Kelly says:
Garnaut repudiates every basis on which Tony Abbott relies for his campaign against the expected multi-party compromise to put Australia on the historic path to a carbon price.
Garnaut's conclusion is unmistakable – [Prime Minister Julia] Gillard is advancing the national interest while Abbott is reviving a regressive past of sectional interests.