Green backs carbon price
After five years of Coalition climate policy failure, it’s time to re-evaluate
After 13 years of negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal passed into law this afternoon, still including the odious provisions that allow companies to sue democratically elected governments and bring in cheaper foreign workers without labour market testing. After losing the vote on the TPP, Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson came straight to a conference hosted by The Australia Institute to talk about the country’s ailing tax system, and broke the news to boos all round. “It’s actually quite relevant to what I wanted to talk about today,” he said. He outlined how the bigger debate when considering revenue is the role of government in our lives, and how the TPP deal is an attempt to reduce the role of government “across every aspect of our economy and our community”. This is happening at the worst possible time in Australia, as we face a planetary crisis. Whish-Wilson was one of a number of MPs from all parties briefed on the latest IPCC report last night by a half dozen scientists representing the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science. His takeout? The most important action that a future Australian parliament could take in the revenue space is putting a price on carbon.
“We haven’t talked much about a carbon price in the national debate in recent years,” said Whish-Wilson, who is the Greens’ finance and treasury spokesperson, “but if we’re actually to … achieve what we need to achieve and limit global rises in temperature, we need to show leadership on this globally.”
Putting a carbon price back on the agenda is a significant intervention by the Greens senator, coming after the Coalition’s fourth climate policy in five years, and the National Energy Guarantee, which cratered in August. With shadow climate minister Mark Butler inching towards implementing the NEG, Whish-Wilson’s call ups the ante in the often tense relationship between Labor and the Greens. Support for a carbon price has remained part of the Greens’ policy platform, but leader Richard Di Natale recently flagged that the Greens would work with any future Labor government and were keen to avoid a repeat of 2009–10, when the party voted down Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme.
Whish-Wilson said the Greens worked successfully with the Gillard government in 2010 to introduce a carbon price that reduced greenhouse gas emissions. “It was commonly seen around the world as being the gold standard, and of course history showed that it was ripped up by a cynical government that didn’t want climate action, and the debate was reduced to cost of living.”
Ever since the carbon price was scrapped by the Abbott government, greenhouse gas emissions have risen steadily and are still rising, notwithstanding there has been a revolution in the energy industry with renewables and storage undercutting coal and gas-fired power.
“It really hit home to me yesterday afternoon,” said Whish-Wilson, “when five of the most eminent scientists in our country talked about the IPCC report and how we’re going to get to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees and certainly, if we get to two, we’re in big trouble. They openly said to senators and MPs up there that we’ll lose the world’s coral reefs in 30 years, and that is just one thing … We can’t do it without a price on carbon – not just a domestic one, but a global price on carbon.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Whish-Wilson said that even if Labor and the Greens were to support the NEG, “it would be a lot more effective with a carbon price”.
Richard Denniss, The Australia Institute’s chief economist, also supports a carbon price. “A good principle of tax design is tax things you want less of.” Denniss would prefer a simple carbon tax over an emissions trading scheme. The tax should start small – say, a dollar a tonne – and apply in the sectors where emissions reductions were easiest, such as electricity. “Start it low, let it grow.” He said that a carbon price doesn’t have to raise revenue, although it would be better if it did. “What we do with the revenue is a separate issue … we could compensate low income earners – again – or compensate polluters, or spend more money on schools and hospitals.”
Asked about his position on a carbon price this afternoon, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said he supported very strong action on climate change, but pointed the finger at the government. “The big problem for the country is, the country does not have an energy policy … to get the investment in renewable energy, you need a policy.” Bowen said Labor would go to election the with a policy that achieves its emissions reduction targets – minus 45 per cent by 2030 – and then try to get bipartisanship after the election. He would not be drawn on Labor’s policy framework.
After three years of waiting for Malcolm Turnbull to get his party together, we need to do something concrete and effective, quickly.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
After 13 years of negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal passed into law this afternoon, still including the odious provisions that allow companies to sue democratically elected governments and bring in cheaper foreign workers without labour market testing. After losing the vote on the TPP, Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson came straight to a conference hosted by The Australia Institute to talk about the country’s ailing tax system, and broke the news to boos all round. “It’s actually quite relevant to what I wanted to talk about today,” he said. He outlined how the bigger debate when considering revenue is the role of government in our lives, and how the TPP deal is an attempt to reduce the role of government “across every aspect of our economy and our community”. This is happening at the worst possible time in Australia, as we face a planetary crisis. Whish-...