Australian politics, society & culture

Thursday, 30th October 2014


Environment Minister Greg Hunt yesterday struck a deal with Senator Nick Xenophon and Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer that will see the federal government's much-maligned "Direct Action" climate change legislation through the Senate and into law. The government agreed to Xenophon's demand that it establish a "safeguards" scheme which would impose penalties on companies that increase their CO2 emissions. But the biggest deal was with Palmer. To win his vote, the government agreed to retain the Climate Change Authority and request that it conducts an 18-month review into a zero-rate emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The centrepiece of Direct Action is the Emissions Reduction Fund, a $2.5 billion pot of cash over four years that would be made available to businesses who successfully tender for emissions-reduction projects. It's a strange scheme, because it involves a government authority – the Clean Energy Regulator – "picking winners" and creating what promises to be a mountain of paperwork and "red tape", to which the government is otherwise allergic. A market-based ETS seems far more efficient, and more in line with the government's economic philosophy generally.

Until yesterday, Palmer wanted a zero-rate ETS or nothing, and had described Direct Action as a "waste of money". Also being described as a waste of money is the Climate Change Authority's review. Regardless of the review's outcome, the government will never countenance an ETS. (The former Labor government's ETS was due to begin next year, on the back of the now-defunct carbon price.) Then again, as Peter Martin suggests, the momentum for an ETS may yet build over time, as the Climate Change Authority's chair, Bernie Fraser, will deliver three separate reports leading up to the next federal election. "If Direct Action does less to cut emissions than did the carbon tax," Martin writes, "and if it does it at a greater cost, that'll feed into Fraser's report."

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Julie Bishop individualist, not feminist

Julie Bishop all but rejected the term 'feminist' at her National Press Club launch of a 'Women in Media' group yesterday (Fairfax): it's "not a term that I find particularly useful these days". Jenna Price has a good analysis at Daily Life.

Taxing futures

As Joe Hockey considered the future of company taxes in a globalised world (Australian), Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine had a quiet word with Tony Abbott on the timing of the fuel tax debate (Australian). The Australia Institute's Richard Denniss says Labor and the Greens should actually support reindexation if they're concerned about cost of living pressures (Drum).

Meanwhile Tristan Edis at the Business Spectator analyses the bed that Abbott made, and that will make it very difficult for him to lead a "mature debate" on raising the GST.

Here to stay

The ACCC likes the idea of rewarding wharfies for the huge increases in productivity over the 16 years since the 1998 waterfront "reforms" (Australian). But ACTU President Ged Kearney has urged the Senate to reject the Abbott government's plan to require new Enterprise Bargaining Agreements to link pay increases with productivity, because they would clearly make pay rises more difficult to achieve (Australian).

Meanwhile, ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons last night launched a scathing attack on the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and its commissioner, former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon (Fairfax).

Environmental impact

Fairfax reports that the Abbott government wants to fast-track the dumping of dredge from the Abbot Point coal port expansion onto the Kaili Valley wetlands, which meets the criteria for being recognised as a wetland of international importance under RAMSAR. Greg Hunt last night rejected the need for a full Environmental Impact Study into the dumping (Guardian).

Julian Poulter argues in the Guardian that investment is now the main climate change battleground, as in the ongoing war over the ANU's divestment strategy.

Begin-again Bill

Oddly, despite Labor voting for them earlier this month, Bill Shorten has now asked Tony Abbott to review the new laws which make it an offence for journalists to report on "special intelligence operations". As Lenore Taylor reports in the Guardian, the laws have been "attacked by the legal profession, all major Australian media companies" and Anthony Albanese.

Labor also voted yesterday for the second tranche of new security laws (ABC), while the third lot – which would allow greater intelligence-sharing and metadata retention – is set to be passed before the end of the year (Fairfax).

Meanwhile the AFP has defended its power to block websites without judicial oversight (Fairfax).