Australia Gets a Price on Carbon Despite Toxic Anti-Science Campaign

Tue, 2011-10-11 23:08Graham Readfearn
Graham Readfearn's picture

Australia Gets a Price on Carbon Despite Toxic Anti-Science Campaign

THEY paid millions of dollars for adverts on television, in newspapers and online. They flew in climate change deniers from across the globe. They held rallies, engaged prominent right-wing media personalities, threatened scientists and turned the cold non-partisan findings of peer-reviewed science into some kind of blood sport.

But despite what was surely the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign ever waged before the Australian public, from next July major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (about 500 of them) will have to pay $23 for every tonne of their pollution under laws passed earlier today.

The torrent of self-interest, archaic so-called “free-market” ideology and unmitigated greenhouse gas pollution, will give way to modest payments for the right to continue to pollute, while placing billions into funds to finance clean energy projects.

Away from the propaganda, the bare facts read like this. The laws now pass to the Senate for a vote in early November.

The previous Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation also got this far but was voted down twice in 2009 before it was deferred permanently by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

This time though, the Greens who helped forge the bills which make up the Clean Energy Future package hold the balance of power in the upper house. Barring something extraordinary, which noone - not even the Opposition - is able to envisage, the laws will pass.

From 1 July 2012, Australia's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions will have to pay a fixed price of $23 per tonne of pollution produced here. The price will rise to $25.40 per tonne in 2014/15. From 1 July 2015, an emissions trading scheme will be introduced where the government releases a fixed number of permits which major emitters will need to purchase through auctions. In the early stages, major industries will be given permits for free, but the assistance gets scaled back.  The number of permits released by the government will be capped to enable Australia to cut its emissions by five per cent by 2020, based on 2000 levels.

Despite Prime Minister Julie Gillard promising in the run up to the 2010 Federal election that she wouldn't introduce a price on carbon under “any government I lead”, a hung parliament left her no choice. The Greens and independents demanded the carbon price be put back on the agenda, in return for a deal that would keep Gillard in power

Labor and the Greens say the carbon price will open the floodgates for investment in renewable energy. Renewable energy advocates Beyond Zero Emissions have claimed that unless the price gets close to $100 per tonne, then Australia will merely shift from brining coal to another fossil fuel - gas. 

And while Australia acts on emissions produced on its own territory, it continues to cement its position as the world's biggest exporter of coal.

But what of that anti-tax campaign? The one which failed?

Earlier today, Greens Senator Christine Milne told me

This has been an appalling campaign of dishonesty with deliberate misinformation both on the science and on the economics - even to the extent of what is happening on climate change around the rest of the world. It has been highly personal. It is the same suite of interests that have undermined action on climate change for years - they moved on from cigarettes and tobacco to climate change.
Essentially this year's campaign had two aims. The first was to claim the tax would be a jobs destroyer and raise the cost of living to unmanageable levels - claims which didn't bear up to scrutiny. The second, was to undermine the science of climate change.
 
In June, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies revealed it had helped to pay for British climate change sceptic to fly to Australia for a tour, starting with a speech at their annual conference. But before Lord Monckton arrived, he was in hot water after it was revealed on The Drum that he had compared Australia's former climate change policy advisor Professor Ross Garnaut to a Nazi - displaying a large swastika next to a quote from Professor Garnaut.
 
Also supporting Lord Monckton was Hancock Prospecting chairman and mining magnate Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest person, who paid for him to give a lecture at Notre Dame University near Perth. 
 
As reported in Crikey, Rinehart also sprung prominent climate change sceptic, mining entrepreneur and geology professor Ian Plimer on an audience at a lunch at her own home, which included WA Premier Colin Barnett and the Chinese Ambassador.
 
Then in July, the Australian Coal Association and the Minerals Council of Australia joined with other industry groups to form the  launch a campaign against the tax. Reports suggested the group was willing to spend at least $10 million on the campaign (we won't know how much was spent, until the Australian Electoral Commission publishes its annual figures on political expenditure, which for the current financial year won't be until February 2013).
 
In July and August, the “free-market” think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, a proud long-time advocate for climate change denial, also started running full-page adverts in The Australian.
 
The IPA also organised an Australia-wide tour for Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who told audiences human-caused climate change was a “dangerous faith” rather than an issue backed by every major science academy in the world.
 
Former UK finance minister Lord Nigel Lawson, now chairman of the climate sceptic “think-tank” the Global Warming Policy Foundation (which, like the IPA, refuses to disclose its funders) was flown out to speak.
 
All the while, climate change scientists continued to receive abusive and threatening emails designed to get them to withdraw from the public space - a campaign which they have endured for several years. One young researcher had excrement smeared on her car, another researcher was sent a message suggesting the sender would be happy to introduce her children to the local paedophile.
 
Many rallies were organised, where Prime Minister Julie Gillard was depicted on placards as a witch and where crowds chanted “ditch the bitch”. Opposition politicians lent their support and spoke at the rallies, including Liberal leader Tony Abbott, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal Semator Eric Abetz.
 
There was also the “convoy of no confidence” which promised thousands of vehicles would descend on Canberra but, in the end, delivered a couple of hundred, prompting Labor Minister Anthony Albanese to re-title the rally the “convoy of no consequence”. 
 
In return for asking Alan Jones if he was being paid to appear at one rally, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Jacqueline Maley was publicly intimidated. When ABC Radio National journalist Wendy Carlisle attended one rally to hear Lord Monckton speak, she was physically jostled. Lord Monckton even threatened to sue the ABC because many of its presenters had asked him questions he didn't like, at one point calling the organisation's chairman Maurice Newman a “shrimp-like wet little individual”.
 
There were fightbacks, with community advocacy group Get Up! running their own adverts and organising rallies and a group of environmental charities getting behind a “Say Yes” campaign. 
 
The final push from the deniers of human-caused climate change went totally unnoticed. On September 29, president of The Climate Sceptics Party Leon Ashby sent an email to his supporters, indicating they had joined with seven other anti-carbon tax groups in a letter writing campaign to MPs.
 
The attachment with the email contained a template letter and one page of instructions to supporters. The template's author was Malcolm Roberts, the project leader for the Galileo Movement, whose patron is radio shock-jock Alan Jones with an advisory panel which includes News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt and a swathe of climate sceptics including Lord Christopher Monckton.
 
“Help Make Two Weeks of Thunder”, screamed the letter. Recipients were asked to change the wording because “politicians disregard form letters”.  Letter writers should “cc” copies of their letters to media personalities. Roberts told them these personalities should be The Australian newspaper's editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, 2SM radio presenters Carter Edwards and Grant Goldman and, finally, resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson, who the letter claimed was “strongly sceptical” on the tax. A first letter encouraged supporters to target Minister Simon Crean while a second communication encouraged supporters to target MPs in marginal Labor seats.
 
But as it turned out, the thunderous campaigning failed to deliver a lightning strike to bring down the legislation, which passed earlier today by 74 votes to 72.
 
Hours before the laws were passed, Tony Abbott - whose Coalition is well ahead in the polls - managed to turn his anti-carbon tax rhetoric up to 11 on ABC radio by pledging to repeal the laws. 
 
“This is a pledge in blood: this tax will go. We can get rid of it, we will get rid of it, we must get rid of it.”
 
To be continued?

Pic credit: Flickr/mugfaker

Previous Comments

Good job Aussies.  Continue your diligence to maintain the law and allow its effects to take hold.

Yes, finally. And there is 2 years before an election, so they had better get going. Hopefully there is a flow on effect to other countries.

We are a western country with one of the highest per capita CO2 outputs in the world. So it’s not like anyone can say we are doing nothing about it.

If there is no catastrophic impact on the economy & peoples life through the tax, there will be no leg for the opposition to stand on.

Right in time for the electric cars.

http://brisbanetimes.drive.com.au/car-manufacturers-offpeak-power-demand-20111013-1lmzn.html

http://www.goauto.com.au/mellor/mellor.nsf/story2/67F61658B8CA7139CA25772D00202097

 

While the attacks from the Liberals (ie the right in Australia) have been pretty crazy on the anti-science bent, I have to question whether Labor is really trying to do something about the problem or just trying to placate the Greens - who they need to maintain power. 

Normally you’d expect a new tax to be a revenue windfall for the government, but in this legislation they’ve managed to compensate so many industries that they are claiming “broadly revenue neutral” (code for costing more money than it brings in).  If the major sources of carbon are being compensated for their tax load then what’s the real effect of it all?  I just can’t see it being useful in the long term - although I’m happy to be proven wrong.

Added to this, the opposition’s promise to scrap the tax the instant they get into power (highly likely in 2 years given the way things are now) is just causing businesses to view it all as a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent change of the way they plan their costs.  Until it’s seen as a “natural” cost of business the flow on effects are going to fail, and that means no opposition promising repeal and no rebates for big polluters.

“I have to question whether Labor is really trying to do something about the problem or just trying to placate the Greens”

It was Labors policy to begin with so they were just re hashing it.]

“Normally you’d expect a new tax to be a revenue windfall for the government, but in this legislation they’ve managed to compensate so many industries that they are claiming “broadly revenue neutral” (code for costing more money than it brings in).”

Exactly, so it can’t be called a money grab by the government, because it is actually costing them, not making them money.

“If the major sources of carbon are being compensated for their tax load then what’s the real effect of it all?  I just can’t see it being useful in the long term - although I’m happy to be proven wrong.”

It is just a preliminary step to change the cogs of industry & commerce to gear more towards a more clean tech economy. By then it will be an ETS.

and that means no opposition promising repeal and no rebates for big polluters.”

They wont repeal it.



 

It was Labors policy to begin with so they were just re hashing it.

Sort of.  They’d already discarded their old policy and only got serious about it again once the Greens were required to keep power.  Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and the government is very careful to protect that, despite the damage it ultimately does.  I find that ridiculously hypocritical.  Add that to the promises that it won’t affect the price of petrol - how does that result in behavioural change if you’re not changing anything?

Exactly, so it can’t be called a money grab by the government, because it is actually costing them, not making them money.

Who’s calling it a money grab?  That’s an awfully big strawman.  I’d be a lot happier if it WAS a money grab because at least then they’re actually taxing bad behaviour rather than spending money on an ineffective policy stuffed full of rebates for the biggest polluters.

It is just a preliminary step to change the cogs of industry & commerce to gear more towards a more clean tech economy. By then it will be an ETS.

It changes nothing you actually want to change when the rebates negate the incentive to change.  Again, if they were serious about change then they’d actually be trying to shut down Australia’s coal industry instead of making endless promises about not trying to do that.  $23/t would be fine with me *if* they weren’t compensating people and instead were actually taking in the money as revenue.

The correct answer to the Lib’s doom and gloom is “Yes - we’re intending to damage the industries doing the damage to the environment.  That’s the lesser of the evils.”

As for an ETS - I’m not convinced they are a great solution either.  Far too easy for multinationals to manipulate the market.  If you thought real estate was susceptible to bubbles then a market that’s artificially constrained to be more and more scarce every year is an investment banker’s dream!

They wont repeal it.

Doesn’t matter.  They just have to threaten it to significantly damage the whole program, and worse, they’re threatening the abrupt end of clean energy rebates which means anything you can’t implement in a year is not worth doing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they did repeal it though - they’ve enough incentive from their financial backers to do exactly that.

Labor’s primary incentives on this legislation are to recover the green vote for themselves (they are seriously bleeding votes to the greens) while maintaining the union memberships - hence the major rebates going to union-strong industries.  The environment itself is a long way down the priorities, after all, global warming won’t kick in before the 2013 election so it becomes some future government’s problem.

“Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and the government is very careful to protect that, despite the damage it ultimately does.  I find that ridiculously hypocritical.”

I agree.

“Add that to the promises that it won’t affect the price of petrol - how does that result in behavioural change if you’re not changing anything?”

Because it’s just baby steps. It’s about changing the mindset of Australians. If it is complete shock & awe, then everyone will want it repealed. If it is no big deal or little impact, then people will shrug off the hysteria around the carbon tax that it will plunge us back into the dark ages. Then they have room to turn up the legislation knob.

“Who’s calling it a money grab?  That’s an awfully big strawman.”

It wasn’t directed at you. If you are new to this debate it might be the first time you have heard that argument used by deniers.

“Again, if they were serious about change then they’d actually be trying to shut down Australia’s coal industry instead of making endless promises about not trying to do that.”

They can’t. While coal is incredibly damaging to the environment, there are jobs to consider & our present power generation. If we “shut down” our coal industry we shut down our power generation. It will take us decades to get to the point of supply the baseload that coal currently provides. It has to be done gradually. It is irresponsible to say just “shut it down”. If share holders pull their money in fear of an immediate loss, then the power companies will not continue to run the power stations on love alone.

“As for an ETS - I’m not convinced they are a great solution either.  Far too easy for multinationals to manipulate the market.  If you thought real estate was susceptible to bubbles then a market that’s artificially constrained to be more and more scarce every year is an investment banker’s dream!”

Ok, so you are against a carbon tax & an ETS, so what is your proposed method of CO2 mitigation?

“Labor’s primary incentives on this legislation are to recover the green vote for themselves (they are seriously bleeding votes to the greens)”

I don’t think they will ever recover the green votes & you are right, they are bleeding votes to the greens. It’s not just the environment. It’s other areas such as human rights, immigration &  social programs where they are moving to the right. Labor is now more like the Conservatives of the Fraser government & Tony Abbotts Conservatives are essentially a right wing party now. Turnbull & a few others are the few remaining centrist/conservatives.




 

“Because it’s just baby steps. It’s about changing the mindset of Australians. If it is complete shock & awe, then everyone will want it repealed. If it is no big deal or little impact, then people will shrug off the hysteria around the carbon tax that it will plunge us back into the dark ages. Then they have room to turn up the legislation knob.”

I can understand the theory, but don’t believe it from our politicians.  Every new tax becomes a bargaining chip for special interests - whether it’s the unions and green votes on Labor’s side or big money on the Lib’s side.  I just see the whole thing devolving into as big and complex a mess as the rest of the taxation system, where the only real winners are accountants and lawyers.

Personally I hate the idea of the next election.  None of the parties are showing any real sense on pretty much any front.  Reminds me of being back in America.

“It wasn’t directed at you. If you are new to this debate it might be the first time you have heard that argument used by deniers.”

Fair enough - deniers can be pretty dumb.  I think there is a lot of money grabbing going on in the compensation schemes but it’s not from the Government itself.  They’re pretty much over a barrel and screwed whichever way they jump right now.

“They can’t. While coal is incredibly damaging to the environment, there are jobs to consider & our present power generation…”

We export far more coal than we actually use internally for power generation.  Personally I think late model nuke plants should be seriously investigated for power - they post significantly lower risk and environmental damage than any carbon based method, and are far more scalable than current renewable options.

The real problem is jobs though.  Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world, and this (among other things) has effectively driven our economy to be completely dependent on coal and mineral exports to maintain our labor costs and high standard of living.  If we stop being the world’s quarry then our entire economy collapses.  The problem is to battle CO2 emissions we have to stop being the world’s quarry so as a nation it’s more than just a change of mindset on the environment but a complete change in quality of life and other things we largely take for granted.  That’s Labor’s real problem because the unions won’t go anywhere near something that takes money out of the economy and a proper environmental policy can’t do anything else (the Libs have the same problem).

“Ok, so you are against a carbon tax & an ETS, so what is your proposed method of CO2 mitigation?”

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not against a pure and simple carbon tax.  I think it’s better (for Australia) than an ETS because it can’t be manipulated by big international money or cheap foreign carbon credits.  I would prefer to see it set up outside of general revenue to fund research into clean energy sources and acquiring the patents for those sources to make free for everyone.  My pet clean energy source is fusion, but I’m not going to be picky on that detail.

As for your assessment of the Aussie political parties - absolutely agree.

“I just see the whole thing devolving into as big and complex a mess as the rest of the taxation system, where the only real winners are accountants and lawyers.”

Let’s hope you are wrong ;)

“Personally I hate the idea of the next election.  None of the parties are showing any real sense on pretty much any front.”

I agree, it’s a sad state of affairs. The choices are useless, or un-useful.

“We export far more coal than we actually use internally for power generation.”

That’s true & it sucks, but how do we stop the shareholders from getting spooked & pulling their money from coal investments? It’s ok for the state run coal plants, but for the privately run & the actual coal mines, it’s a real dilemma.

“Personally I think late model nuke plants should be seriously investigated for power - they post significantly lower risk and environmental damage than any carbon based method, and are far more scalable than current renewable options.”

That is a whole new debate & we could go for pages on this topic alone. Yes coal destroys the planet as a whole more & even locally, particulates play a hazardous role with coal. But the psychological barrier for nuclear is too much for many. It’s the waste & the risk of explosion. I think when Gen IV generators arrive on the scene, we may make a very quick move to nuclear. 10 years shelf life for waste as opposed to gen 1-2-3 500 year shelf life is a real bonus.

I would prefer to see it set up outside of general revenue to fund research into clean energy sources and acquiring the patents for those sources to make free for everyone.”

Sounds like the cap & dividend plan. It’s a good plan, but it doesn’t get much support from Conservatives, because they are suspicious of how well managed that distribution of funds is managed. It seems with each policy, there are serious drawbacks, but we need to do something.

Real Climate has a good story this week on the cost of inaction.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/10/the-cost-of-inaction/




 

I agree with basically everything you’re saying.

Saw this today, which basically sums up my feeling on Aussie carbon policy: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3575684.html

…how do we stop the shareholders from getting spooked & pulling their money from coal investments? It’s ok for the state run coal plants, but for the privately run & the actual coal mines, it’s a real dilemma.

Absolutely a dilemma, but at some point we have to acknowledge that the ultimate goal is to shut down these energy sources.  I just don’t see how investors can be protected in the long term at all.  In the end, it’s the risk of investing in a polluting industry.

“But the psychological barrier for nuclear is too much for many.”

Sadly true.  I would love to see the Greens get behind Gen IV reactors but I suspect it would be a bridge too far, and yes, off topic.

“Sounds like the cap & dividend plan. It’s a good plan, but it doesn’t get much support from Conservatives, because they are suspicious of how well managed that distribution of funds is managed.”

As much as I like to think of myself as conservative, Governments are the only way to put through social policy that doesn’t have an immediate economic benefit.  There’s plenty of ways to ensure transparency and independence in fund management (the methods used for the clean energy council in the Labor plan are actually pretty good, for example).

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