The Labor Party is fighting a battle over terminology. At stake are the decisions political journalists, editors, sub-editors and nightly news scriptwriters will make when they’re referring to the party’s climate change policy. As election day approaches, will it be called an “emissions trading scheme” or a “carbon tax”?

A draft Labor plan for an ETS has been passed to News Corp, and the Abbott government has leapt on it enthusiastically, warning of the return of the diabolical “carbon tax.” Shadow environment minister Mark Butler insists, with a note of desperation, that it’s nothing like a carbon tax, it’s an emissions trading scheme – and these are very different things.

The opposition has already said it’s likely to take a carbon price plan to the next election. The aim of this week’s leak was presumably to force Bill Shorten to drop the idea. The ambush betrays such a simple-minded, reductionist view of political dynamics that we can reasonably conclude it involved people associated with the party’s NSW Right.

In Labor’s perfect world, the issue of climate change would just go away. Back in the here and now, if the party fronted the next poll promising not to take meaningful action, no one would believe them. As Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard discovered in 2010, having no policy is much worse than having one…

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