Feb 252011

The shrillness of conservative zealots over Gillard’s announcement yesterday that Australia will head down the path to pricing carbon emissions, and then on to a market-based trading scheme for carbon emissions, confirms the vacuum in which conservatism finds itself on the question of Climate Change, and more pointedly, genuine public policy as a possible alternative government.

I will use the example of the mindlessness of the commentary appearing on Twitter last night. Scan the #auspol stream, reader, and I can guarantee all you’ll see is baseless innuendo and vacuous claims unsupported by any evidence or even whiff of reality. These people exist in a dream world of defeatism. A world which doesn’t exist and won’t exist in an Australian society and economy which is progressing, not regressing as conservatism would have it be.
Carbon pricing is not new. Market-based trading mechanisms in polluting emissions are not new. Business and industry has been crying out for policy direction, and this government has finally given it. In the wider scheme, this government was always going to give that direction, however it may have been sidetracked by a hostile House of Review. Yesterday’s decision and announcement rests entirely on political pragmatism and reality. Climate change is real, human influence into that process is real. Industrialised, developed nation states across the globe recognise that reality and are moving to address it. China, now the world’s most polluting society, is moving rapidly to address their issues with industrial pollution. Others will follow.
I applaud Julia Gillard and her cabinet for having the courage to take this hardest of all decisions thus far. This policy, the placing of a price on carbon transmogriphying to a full blown emissions trading scheme within 5 years, is the sensible approach to a problem which will plague our society, and our planet for centuries to come. I am not a fan of Gillard as a Labor leader, nor am I a fan of the methods used by the party to put her into power, however I must acknowledge this most difficult of all recent pieces of public policy now finally underway. This is a big decision, and a hard decision because the costs will fall directly to the user. Surely, compensation will be forthcoming from the proceeds of the carbon price impost, but how much is unknown and unknowable until further details of the pricing and subsequent trading models can be thrashed out.
For Labor, this is good politics because it keeps faith with those disaffected voters who shifted to the Greens following Kevin Rudd’s abandonment of an ETS during his term as PM. That abandonment was inevitable as a pragmatic political reality in the face of a hostile Senate. The fall out was plainly evident in the August 2010 election results. Labor presumably believes with this policy move it will regain those disaffected voters. Time will tell.
For the coalition parties, this is next to impossible policy for them, and particularly Tony Abbott to either counter, or come to terms with. Under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, an ETS was agreed as the prudent way forward. Abbott opportunistically played to the denialists within both his party, and the general public, to insight fear and loathing of a yet to be defined ‘Great Big New Tax’ taking no heed of the inevitable compensation to flow from a carbon price. He is on record as stating “climate change is absolute crap” yet claims now some modicum of conversion in order to dilute his true belief in the eyes of a gullible public. When questioned on the matter this morning on ABC Radio National’s AM program, he had this to say:

SABRA LANE: Will you repeal this tax if you win government?
TONY ABBOTT: Well Sabra no-one has a mandate for this tax. That’s the point. The only person who went to the last election supporting a carbon tax was the Green Adam Bandt. That’s one person out of 150 in the Lower House. So I just think this is a tax for which the Parliament does not have a mandate. It shouldn’t happen. We’ll fight it every inch of the way. And I don’t think it will happen.
SABRA LANE: Will you repeal it if you’re in government?
TONY ABBOTT: Well as I said I don’t believe the Prime Minister has a mandate to put this tax in. I think that if she goes ahead with this tax it will look like a conspiracy of the Parliament against the people.
SABRA LANE: Your shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says it would be hard to repeal this tax if Parliament does run its full course. The carbon tax will have been in place by 12 months by the time of the next election.
TONY ABBOTT: Well I don’t think that she is going to succeed here.
SABRA LANE: Do you agree with your shadow treasurer that it’d be hard to repeal?
TONY ABBOTT: Well I don’t assume that it’s going to happen. The Government proposed a mining tax in the last Parliament and it failed even though it was in a much stronger position in that Parliament than it is in this Parliament. So I don’t think anyone should assume that this tax is going to get up. I think there will be a people’s revolt against this because as I said there is only one member out of 150 who has a mandate for carbon tax and 1/150th of the Parliament is no popular mandate.

Bottom line being that he can’t do a thing about a carbon price, has no policy to offer an alternate view because he believes “climate change is absolute crap” and cannot offer a cogent argument in rebuttal. Clearly displayed by his inability to respond to questioning on the issue. The ‘mandate’ issue is a red herring. Abbott’s political mentor took this country to war without a mandate, but in Abbott’s world view, war is okay, but addressing human induced climate change is ‘absolute crap’. But, give him his due. Abbott is playing to his strengths, such as they are, as Greg Combet stated later in the morning, he, Abbott, only has one shot in his locker and that’s to run a scare campaign based on a four word slogan – “Great Big New Tax”. His mooted people’s revolt won’t get off the ground, no matter how he rants for it, or how the zealots reiterate his dogma. The simple fact that an overwhelming percentage of the Australian community accept the reality of climate change remains evident in both the election of Labor to power in 2007, and election result of the premature axing of the planned ETS in 2010. The people want this action, and appear prepared to pay now for the future benefit of generations to come.
This address of the climate change reality by the Gillard government is both courageous and pragmatic. Sooner or later other industrialised nations will travel the same road. Australia can afford to head off on the journey now because our economic health allows us to. We’re not the first, as the conservative zealots want to claim, and we won’t be the last either. This piece of public policy places Australia in the vanguard of the second wave of nations doing something constructive towards addressing climate change. Will what we do make any difference? I believe it will, purely because we have taken the decision to try. Others will see, watch how we go, take note of any speed bumps along the way and improve on their own models. Eventually, and again, inevitably humanity will be travelling the road of more responsible ecosystem management. Isn’t it about time too?

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