THE carbon tax is gone and with it any chance of Australia’s meeting the emission targets it signed up to. Despite the rhetoric from Messrs Abbott and Hunt, the price on carbon has reduced emissions. Their action this week pushes the problem onto our grandchildren. Bernard Keane in Crikey described it thus: “It's an attack, primarily, of old white men, men in complete denial about climate change, on the future and on the young.”
Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott speak to the media on Thursday after the Senate voted to abolish the carbon tax. Photo: ABC
The refusal of these men to accept the work and advice of scientists on reversing climate policy is akin to introducing creationism into our schools. The government has constantly misrepresented the increase in power costs as being “due to the carbon tax”, whereas the main driver of cost, in the vicinity of 50 per cent, has been the installation of redundant transmission line capacity. Interestingly, we don’t see any move to address the loophole that allows the power companies to be rewarded for unnecessarily increasing transmission capacity.
Ever since Mr Turnbull was rolled from the leadership, the coal and petroleum lobby has been in firm control of the Abbott Opposition and now the Abbott Government. For whatever reason, Mr Hunt has not been content just to remove the price on carbon and the provisions for an emissions trading scheme already on the statute books. He has also sought to remove all climate measures, including the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority, and is seeking to destroy the Renewable Energy Target.
His attack on the RET masquerades as a review but his appointment of Dick Warburton – well known as a climate denier – as the head of the review panel is cynical. It sets the RET up for scuttling. The Government has constantly misled the Australian people about the impact of the RET and the fixed price on carbon.
The Prime Minister stated on ABC’s Four Corners: "All of us should want to see lower prices and plainly at the moment the renewable energy target is a very significant impact on higher power prices."
In fact, the RET contributes just 3 to 4 per cent to energy prices. The real problem is that renewables, wind and solar energy, attack the pricing power of the coal-based generators. Solar panels produce maximum energy when demand is greatest, ie. during heat waves when everyone switches on their air conditioners. This is premium time and used to attract premium prices. Renewables are eating the coal-fired generators’ lunch.
Mr Hunt has masqueraded as a progressive in the past, under the Howard government and of course “loyal” to Mr Turnbull. Now he is at the heart of the most reactionary policy, seeking to wreck all measures put in place to address climate change, thereby transferring the cost of addressing climate change to future generations.
It is Mr Hunt who will be remembered by future generations as the architect of the destruction of Australia’s climate policy. He will be remembered as the reactionary environment minister who turned back the clock and exposed Australia to international ridicule. His Direct Action policy, a non-market based approach that is intended to replace the price on carbon if Clive Palmer lets him, is laughable and will probably be spent on coal-based project follies such as “clean coal”.
What is the outcome of Mr Hunt’s endeavours? Bernard Keane reports: “The repeal of the carbon price will cost the government around $4 billion a year in lost revenue, at a time when there is such a "budget emergency" that high-income earners have been slapped with a deficit levy.”
Conservative bodies such as the federal Treasury and the International Energy Agency advise that delaying the decarbonisation of the Australian economy will increase the cost of dealing with climate change.
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says, it is better to tax bad things than good things. Visiting Australia this month, he compared an emissions trading scheme and the Liberal Party’s direct action approach. If governments wanted to raise revenue, he said it was better to tax carbon than labour and savings. "It seems to be a no-brainer."
The interesting political perspective here is whether there will be a backlash against the Abbott Government because of the extent of the actions taken to prevent climate change action and prolong the dominance of coal in our economy. While the right wing is strong in the party, there are a good number of progressive thinkers among their constituency.
Remember Sophie Mirabella had a similar margin of safety in her seat of Indi, with about 62 per cent of the vote, prior to the Voice for Indi move that unseated her. While she was by all accounts not a popular person, Mr Hunt has moved against what many people felt was a crucial step to ensuring our planet’s survival.
Politicians usually value their legacy. It is strange that Mr Hunt has allowed himself to be the patsy of an ideological government clearly operating at the behest of big coal. With the government on the nose because of a budget seen by most people as unfair, and perceived bungling of legislation, could a backlash of Indi proportions unseat him at the next election?
Next week: Greg Hunt responds.
July 19, 2014
What a disappointment Greg Hunt turned out to be. Did you see and hear Barnaby Joyce standing in Canberra (freezing day) and commenting re the temperature and the nonsense of climate change? Does not understand the difference between climate change and weather. I have never met anyone yet who admits they voted for Tony and his merry men.
Yvonne McRae, Wonthaggi
July 19, 2014
Thank you for your article, Michael. It is the best one I have read on the tragedy of the loss of the carbon tax. Your article includes the shortsightedness and all the other consequences of the dismantling of a price on carbon.
Felicia Di Stefano