The Emissions Trading Scheme We Elected To Miss Out On
Just think: had John Howard won the last election we’d probably have an emissions trading scheme enacted by now. And it would be very similar to the one his Liberal successors defeated and Kevin Rudd has just run away from. So says Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald, while WWF says the Government should negotiate with the Greens and other willing senators to put an interim price on carbon immediately, and then implement an emissions trading scheme by late 2011.
Ross Gittins in Sydney Morning Herald (3 May 2010):
Just think: had John Howard won the last election we’d probably have an emissions trading scheme enacted by now. And it would be very similar to the one his Liberal successors defeated and Kevin Rudd has just run away from.
It would be similar because Rudd’s scheme was heavily modified to accommodate business interests (as Howard’s would have been) and because both schemes would have been designed by the same bureaucrats who produced Howard’s Shergold report on climate change.
It would have been passed by the Senate because all the Coalition climate change deniers who’ve emerged from the closet since the election – Barnaby Joyce, Nick Minchin, Andrew Robb and, more self-servingly, Tony Abbott – would have stayed in the closet, bound by the party line, cabinet solidarity and by the same motivation that drove Rudd to dingo last week: a willingness to put retaining the spoils of office ahead of personal principle.
It would have been passed because Howard, a strong leader too canny to ever let himself be seen as weak, would have kept such a central election promise. And because his minister prosecuting the scheme would have been the only senior man left in Parliament with a genuine commitment to fighting climate change – and the only one willing to put his job on the line over it – Malcolm Turnbull.
The bitter joke is both Howard and Rudd went to the 2007 election promising similar emissions trading schemes, the public favoured Rudd, believing Howard to be a convert of convenience and Rudd to be the true believer.
How wrong could you be? It turned out Rudd was the fair-weather friend. From a policy perspective, the two big promises that got him elected were rolling back Work Choices and introducing an ETS.
Core promises don’t come more core than this, and Rudd has broken it without apology. Why? For the weakest of reasons. Because public support for the policy had slipped somewhat – largely due to his refusal to argue for it – and because Abbott’s ”great big new tax” scare campaign might have cost him a few votes. When the going gets tough, Rudd cuts and runs. The one thing that wouldn’t have happened under Howard was our ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Howard was too proud to recant on that one.
But what difference would that have made? None. Kyoto turned out to be no more than first in a line of grandiloquent gestures, full of self-congratulation and chest-thumping that counted for nothing.
While the expedient behaviour of all the parties – including the Greens – has contributed to this national failure of will, with all the powers of incumbency at his disposal the ultimate blame rests with Rudd.
Don’t believe his line that the perfidious Liberals have stopped him keeping his promise. He could still have got his legislation passed had he the courage to call a double dissolution followed by a joint sitting of Parliament. But he ran from this choice because it would have put climate change and his ”great big new tax” at the centre of the election campaign. He simply lacks the bottle to fight for a controversial reform – unlike Howard, who went close to defeat in 1998 to get approval for his goods and services tax, a genuinely ”great big new tax on everything”.
And don’t believe Rudd’s line that he’s merely delayed the implementation of his trading scheme until a more propitious time. His courage is unlikely to have returned by 2013, which will be the year of the following federal election.
He’s unlikely to have an easier run then than he has now. He’ll be dealing with a Greens-controlled Senate, but is unlikely to be willing to compromise with them in a less business-friendly direction.
(This is why they, too, have done the nation – and the planet – a grave disservice by refusing to support a less-than-perfect scheme. Held out for perfection; ended with nothing.)
Rudd must be praying a miracle – or an ecological disaster – gets him off the hook: other countries’ leaders show more strength and foresight than he can muster, the Liberals abandon their climate-change denial, or further evidence of damaging climate change stiffens the public’s resolve.
Business, too, has badly miscalculated. It white-anted Rudd’s scheme in pursuit of sectional advantage – it could tell a soft-touch when it saw one – giving comfort to the distorters and denialists.
For its trouble it’s been plunged into uncertainty about whether, when or how we’ll ever see a price on carbon. This is likely to delay major new investments – particularly in power generation – or encourage some firms to press on with installing new dirty technology that locks us in for the next 30 years.
The Shergold report assured Howard that getting on with the adjustment to a low-emissions world without waiting for a global agreement would greatly reduce the ultimate adjustment cost to Australia, and Rudd preached the same message to Howard’s successors.
Now he’s condemned himself out of his own mouth. To fail to act on ”the great moral and economic challenge of our time” constitutes ”absolute political cowardice, absolute failure of leadership and absolute failure of logic”.
But Rudd himself will pay a heavy price. He’s just trashed his credibility as a leader. Who will ever believe what he says again? His decline and demise began last week.
Ross Gittins is the Herald’s Economics Editor.
WWF comment (28 April 2010):
The Australian Government’s decision to delay the carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS) is grossly irresponsible both in terms of the environment and the economy, and is a betrayal to those who voted the Rudd Government in, WWF-Australia CEO Greg Bourne said.
It also flies in the face of a new opinion poll which shows an overwhelming 79 per cent of respondents believe Australia should either begin reducing carbon pollution before other countries, or start reducing regardless of when other countries choose to act.
“It is clear the Australian public wants action now, and not when it is politically beneficial,” said Mr Bourne. “Delaying the scheme elevates opportunism over the welfare of future generations.”
The Government’s decision ignores environmental and economic advice from a wide range of experts recommending immediate Australian action, including the CSIRO and the Garnaut and Shergold reviews.
Both Garnaut and Shergold recommended the immediate implementation of an emission trading scheme irrespective of the positions taken by other countries because it would advantage Australia in the long run.
The new opinion poll of over 4,000 Australians living in metropolitan areas was conducted for WWF-Australia by AMR Interactive. Only13 per cent of respondents said Australia should wait until other countries take action on reducing their carbon pollution.
Despite the overwhelming public support for action, Australia’s carbon pollution remains the highest per-capita in the developed world. Australia’s carbon pollution is currently growing at twice the world average.
Respected Australian and international economists charged with assessing options to reduce carbon pollution have all found an emissions trading scheme to be the most efficient, cost effective and environmentally sound method to reduce Australia’s carbon pollution.
“Australia’s carbon pollution keeps going up and up. The longer we delay setting a price on carbon, the more it is going to cost Australian households and Australian businesses,” said Mr Bourne.
“No matter where you look, the advice is the same. We need a way to set a limit on carbon pollution and begin reducing it.
“The Australian Government should negotiate with the Greens and other willing senators to put an interim price on carbon immediately, and then implement an emissions trading scheme by late 2011.”