ANALYSIS

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Abbott slammed on 'invisible substance'

Tony Abbott has attracted criticism for saying the ETS is a "so-called market" for an "invisible substance".

PT3M18S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2pzoc 620 349

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's depiction of carbon trading as a whole bunch of nothing has revealed a whole bunch of something he has mostly kept hidden.

Laid bare in his comments was what many voters had suspected: that the Coalition's conversion to remedial policy was half-hearted. 

''Just ask yourself,'' Abbott said, his frustration bubbling to the surface, ''what an emission trading scheme is all about, it's a market, a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance, to no one.''

It was a reductio ad absurdum, which runs counter to the message Liberals have been pushing for years, particularly to younger voters - that climate change is real, that it is human induced, and that the conservatives are genuine about addressing it.

Why else spend billions on ''direct action''?

This was also Abbott's first big mistake since the advent of Kevin Rudd and the balance of power shift that his return to Prime Minister has brought.

Laid bare in his comments was what many voters had suspected: that the Coalition's conversion to remedial policy was half-hearted and driven mainly by the search for votes.

This is what is called in sport ''scoreboard pressure'' - the unforced errors that creep into a side when the other side starts kicking goals.

Just four weeks ago, Abbott's universe was known. He was staring at a fixed election date of September 14, facing a deeply unpopular prime minister and riding a huge advantage in the polls - a lead of 57-43 according to the June Fairfax-Nielsen poll.

Crippled by her method of promotion, Julia Gillard was hemmed in by the politically toxic policies she had championed, including a wildly over-promised but undelivered budget surplus, her ''no carbon tax under the government I lead'' backflip, and the continuing failure of her government's ineffectual asylum seeker response.

Stop the boats, end the waste, repay the debt - these natty slogans had said all that many voters needed to hear as an alternative.

Abbott was happy to oblige, as he coasted towards the highest office in the land.

Now, all that has changed and the pressure has swung suddenly, dramatically the other way.

Labor's late manouevres have exposed Abbott's policy cupboard as lightly stocked.

As Rudd (mark II) moves to re-tell Labor's hamfisted economic story and neutralise its main policy failures regarding asylum seekers and the carbon ''tax'', the frustration within Team Abbott may be showing through.

Most galling to Abbott is the possibility that Rudd could effect a half-passable escape from Labor's carbon tax nightmare.

And who knows, with the aid of an opposition leader making his own gaffes, he just might.

Follow the National Times on Twitter