Image for Tony Abbott’s Great Big Carbon Tax Lies – Part 2

It’s been a while since I wrote Part 1 of this article - Abbott’s Great Big Carbon Tax Lies – Part 1 - but around the politics of carbon pricing in the leadup to September 7 not a lot has changed.

Kevin Rudd announced he’s going to move to an ETS a year earlier, taking money from the Biodiversity Fund to do so, and Abbott failed yet again to grasp that just because carbon dioxide is an invisible gas doesn’t mean it can’t have a harmful effect. Julia Gillard, one hopes, is enjoying the respite from the constant pummelling she received from the Opposition and the media for taking the first meaningful legislative action on carbon pollution that no doubt future generations will thank us for.

Essentially, though, nothing’s changed. The Australian public are still exhibiting the same breathtaking stupidity;in a recent survey 28% rated boat arrivals of refugees fleeing god-knows-what horrors in their countries of origin as one of the most important issues facing the country.Fully half the Australian public are concerned about the economy and jobs, a figure that’s doubled in the last three years despite that fact Australia, unlike just about every other country in the OECD, sailed through the GFC with nary a financial scratch. And climate change? That threat of threats, with all its implications for rising sea levels, increased droughts, floods and cyclones, mass extinction of species including possibly humans? It seems only 6% of our country can muster up any concern about whether we pass on a viable planet to our kids and grandkids. That’s right folks,the stats show the dream of ever-increasingconsumer spending power trumps the survival of life on Earth in the hearts and minds of the Australian people 94% of the time. I wonder if the ANZACs would have been so willing to sacrifice their lives for our generation if they’d known how we would begrudge sacrificing just a few dollars a week so the generations after us could enjoy the relatively safe, stable climate we’ve grown up in.

Meanwhile the mainstream media, helmed by power-mad Rupert Murdoch, is still pretending that a 40% melted Arctic and 30% acidified ocean are no impediment to running theinherently insane model of infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Having given up any pretence at real journalism a few years ago, most of the MSM now excels at what has been dubbed ‘churnalism’, serving up unsubstantiated rumour and opinion masquerading as ‘news’, with brief crossovers to the obligatory latest football scandal or celebrity divorce. That’s not to say, however, that the mainstream press lacks integrity. On the contrary, in their failure to accurately report the impacts of serious climate change, and their absence of any hard questions to the Coalition on its Direct Action policy, they have shown remarkable consistency. In decades past, when political discourse dared to address such boring issues as policies and plans for the nation’s future, when Australians demanded a little more from their potential leaders than three word slogans, when we cared about this incredible country and the people in it as much as we cared about our bank balances, the decline of standards in the MSM might have attracted some attention. Now, in this age of self-absorbed complacency, its bland, shallow tone hits just the right note with the unthinking masses.

So, assuming the Tasmanian Times audience is a little more sophisticated than the MSM’s target audience, let’s ask some of those hard questions now. Such as, given Tony Abbott’s entrenched opposition to the carbon tax, what is his party’s alternative? How does the Coalition’s Direct Action policy work, and what is its true cost? How does it compare to a carbon tax in terms of its effectiveness in solving carbon pollution, and will the Coalition’s policies equip Australia for the decades ahead, in an increasingly competitive global economy where rapid shifts of economic and political power could challenge Australia’s smug complacency as the ‘lucky country’ in ways as yet unforeseen?

The best description of the Coalition’s Direct Action policy comes from the party’s former leader Malcolm Turnbull, who in moment of honesty all too rare in politics, wrote this on his blog (excerpted):

“It is not possible to criticise the new Coalition policy on climate change because it does not exist. The fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming.The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is “crap” and you don’t need to do anything about it. Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental figleaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now open to the charge that we are also without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted to keep our word or maintain a consistent position on the issue of climate change.”

Bearing in mind that for three years Tony Abbott branded Julia Gillard a ‘liar’ over the carbon tax at every opportunity, read the words Turnbull uses about the Liberal’s own policy: it’s ‘a con’, his party is ‘without a credible policy’ and also ‘without integrity’. The Liberals ‘cannot be trusted’ on the issue of climate change. Which political party, which political leader, is telling the biggest lies about this issue?

Turnbull isn’t the only one to have a low opinion of his party’s policy on climate change. In a survey of 140 economists, almost 85 per cent said they did not think the Coalition’s alternative “direct action’’ plan was a sound economic proposal to reduce carbon emissions.

And why would they. No rational person would if they looked at the key points of Direct Action:

• The scheme is entirely voluntary. Given the historical willingness of big business to part with their money for the greater good, this means the scheme will either be overly generous in order to get them to participate (that is, a rort) or will just not be taken up.

• Where the carbon tax lets the market decide winners and losers, Direct Action is basically a giant government-administered grants scheme. Winners and losers are chosen by the government (again risking billions of taxpayer funds to lobbying, corruption etc), which will require a huge administration to assess and monitor the projects.

• Direct Action is unbelievably expensive. A recent Australia Institute report found that the Coalition’s $3.2bn cap would realistically buy only a 1% reduction in carbon emissions. Remember, they’ve committed to a minimum target of 5%.

• Not only will Direct Action not even meet its minimum target of 5%, to scale it to the kind of emissions reduction needed by 2050 will be unaffordable. Remember, the carbon tax is self-supporting. Under Direct Action, if $3.2bn buys a 1% emissions reduction, then an 80% emissions reduction, which experts say is needed by 2050,will cost $256bn.

• Of course that’s assuming the Coalition could even get the logistics of their scheme to work. To plant enough trees to achieve an 80% emissions reduction would require an area 30 times the size of Sydney. The trees can’t go on farmland, we need that to feed ourselves. They’ll have to go on semi-arid land, most likely in regional or remote areas. Who will do the work, and how will they be transported, fed, and housed? Who will monitor the scheme? Abbott and the Coalition are yet to answer any of these questions.

• In fact Abbott and the Coalition are not going to release any costings at all on their Direct Action scheme ahead of the election. That’s right, despite Abbott’s constant calls for the Labor government to be ‘held to account’ over its policies and the need for it to be subjected to ‘scrutiny’, the Coalition, with breathtaking hypocrisy, refuses to reveal the most basic details and financials of its central policy.

Abbott fancifully claims that ‘the world is moving away from carbon pricing’: in truth the exact opposite is happening. Yes, the US has been forced to legislate to reduce emissions because the loony Republican right in Congress has blocked all attempts at passing an ETS, but Obama has expressed on many occasions his preference for a carbon tax. And in governments that aren’t hampered by the destabilising, obstructive tactics of right wing extremists, emissions trading schemes are being implemented worldwide.

Despite the obvious advantages of a price on carbon and the obvious flaws in the Coalition’s Direct Action policy, if elected as Prime Minister on September 7, Abbott still insists his first step will be to draft legislation to repeal the carbon tax. Having spent three years ceaselessly whinging about it, even dramatically avowing a ‘pledge in blood’ to abolish it, he can hardly do otherwise.

Abbott has also pledged to dismantle the Climate Commission.This is the department tasked with educating Australians about the science behind, and impacts of, climate change. Professor Will Steffen recently gave an excellent talk at UTas on the Commission’s report ‘The Critical Decade’, showing the warming of the planet is tracking at the upper range of projections, meaning dangerous climate change is heading for us within our lifetimes and certainly within the lifetimes of our kids and grandkids. Abolishing the Climate Commission in a time of a melting Arctic and rising sea levels is the governance equivalence of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting ‘na-na-na’. However Tony Abbott’s never taken on board a message he doesn’t want to hear, and he certainly isn’t about to start now.

But the worst thing Abbott plans to do if he becomes Prime Minister, worse than saddling our country with a heinously expensive plan to address a problem that he and his party don’t even believe in, worse than shooting the messenger by abolishing the Climate Commission, worse even than his breathtaking hypocrisy in branding Julia Gillard a liar when for years he has told the biggest whoppers about climate change, refugees, and the economy ever heard in Australian politics – worse than all these is his plan to permanently shut down the renewable energy fund. Called the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the CEFC’s role is to support Australia’s transition to a low-carbon economy, supporting renewable energy schemes like large-scale solar power stations, and investing in low emissions and energy efficient technologies. However if Abbott gets his hands on the reins of power those dollars will be redirected towards things like paying - or more accurately bribing – the dirtiest coal fired power stations with taxpayer funds to shut down.

So as the rest of the world gets on board with renewables, a Coalition government will ensure that Australia goes backwards.The following quote betrays Abbott’s inability to imagine a world that has transitioned away from dirty fossil fuels:

“Without coal, a modern economy is almost inconceivable. But instead of seeing coal as the foundation of a first world economy, the authors of the carbon tax think that it’s poisoning the planet.”

With Abbott at our country’s helm, we will lock in investment and expansion of the coal industry, which as my earlier ‘Doing the Maths with Bill McKibben’ article shows is a massive investment risk due to the growing ‘carbon bubble’. With the Coalition in power Australia’s transition to renewables via the CEFC and carbon tax funds will be cut dead, and when the great global shift to clean energy happens, as it must within a decade, Australia will have squandered its immense natural advantages so that a few rich and powerful coal miners in this country can make a few more billions for a few more years at the expense of our kids’ planet. What are these natural advantages I’m talking about? An almost perfect environment for solar, wind, wave and geothermal energy, plus some of the smartest and most creative scientific minds in the world.

However with Abbott and the Coalition in power they’ll be wasted. Wasted because of a mainstream media focussed on protecting the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of our kids and grandkids future.Wasted because of a complacent, selfish and wilfully ignorant Australian public that is more interested in the continuation of their tax cuts than in ensuring the continuation of the safe and stable climate in which human civilisation has flourished. They say that in a democracy, the populace gets the government it deserves. Having demanded so little of our leaders, having allowed the media to turn our parliamentary processes into a cross between Game of Thrones and Big Brother, the polls tell us Abbott and the Coalition will be the government we deserve for the next three years. Of course, the Australian public could do better. We could educate ourselves on the facts and implications of climate science, demand integrity and civility from our politicians, insist on truth and factual reporting from the media. But we’d have to first care, and then act with integrity. And at this time, in this country, the qualities of caring and integrity seem to be a lot harder to find than they used to be.

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Miriam Moriarty is a Tasmanian writer with a focus on environmental and social issues.