Monday, 22 July 2013

The Great Undebated: Rudd and Abbott on climate change

"You call that a slogan? I'll show you a &^%ing slogan."

Kevin Rudd was disappointed when Tony Abbott failed to show up for the debate he’d unilaterally called for at the Press Club recently. But fear not. The Observerant has managed to get its hands on the lost transcript of what would have been said, had it happened.

Moderator: Let’s start with each of you explaining your respective climate change policies.
Tony Abbott (TA): Yes, let’s talk about the Big Fat Carbon Tax, Mr Rudd.
Kevin Rudd (KR): Gladly. And please, call me Kevin. The Royal Baby does, so too the President of-
TA: Just get on with it.
KR: Fine. I’ve made a decision to terminate the carbon tax and bring forward the move to an Emissions Trading Scheme.
TA: Why?
KR: Because I’m acting decisively. I'm consulting myself before I make any decisions and this is one of them. The Australian People deserve that.
TA: But what’s the point of ending the fixed price period, I mean - the Big Fat Carbon Tax - a year early?
KR: So I can relieve industry of some of the cost pressures, and deliver real outcomes for Working Families who are doing it tough.

TA: [shuffles papers]. You…just…stole my lines!
KR: Now that you raise your lines/slogans/empty words Tony, tell us, what’s your policy on the climate issue?
TA: The Coalition has a Real Solution. It’s outlined in my Real Solutions Plan.
KR: So what is it then?
TA: It’s a Direct Action Policy.
KR: [flicks through Real Solutions]. I can’t seem to find that in your Real Solutions Plan Tony.
TA: No, it’s not detailed there. You’ll have to Google it and find it on Greg Hunt’s website.
KR: So what is the plan then? 
TA: The Coalition is going to do the things that really work to reduce carbon emissions, so we can protect our planet for our children and our children’s children-
TA’s media advisor: Sorry Mr Abbott, I think I accidently got President Obama’s speech notes mingled with yours…
TA: Christ. Ok. Where was I? [Looks down at newly arrived pages]. Aaahh yes. I was talking about a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.
KR: What does that even mean Tony?
TA: It’s a sentence filled with double-negatives, with no mention of ‘no’.
KR: So what’s your PLAN?
TA: The carbon tax – the Big Fat Carbon Tax- will be gone under the Coalition.
KR: It’s gone now, Tony. I’ve already terminated it. [Gestures to young woman in audience] Oh, is that a smart phone in your pocket? 
Girl in audience: Ummm...
KR: Selllfiiiie time folks! Excuse us Tony...
TA: We don’t believe in an Emissions Trading Scheme either. THAT won’t happen under a Coalition government that I lead.
TA: We’re also going to plant trees – 20 million of them in fact – to soak up all the carbon being emitted by the dirty polluters. And we’ll establish an Emissions Reduction Fund to pay for farmers to store carbon in soil.
KR: How does that work?
TA: Look, I’m not…heh heh heh….purporting to be the world’s most informed person on this stuff – but look, it’s like the soil is a sink, and we can tip the carbon in there…
KR: So you’re not doing anything punitive to the big polluters? No need for them to buy permits to emit CO2? No cost pressure to change their dirty, stinking habits?
TA: That’s right. Industry needs incentives, not sticks. We’ve got to remember that there’s no climate without an economy. And looking around the world, our Direct Action Policy is consistent with what the other big Western economies are doing…
KR: Yes, well. Why wouldn’t Australia follow America and Europe? I mean, they did so well comparative to Australia in keeping their economies afloat during the GFC. Ha ha ha. I’d just like to remind the Australian People that when I was the PM – the first time-
AUDIENCE: [Groaning]. NOOOO! Don’t mention how you saved us from the bloody GFC again!

Moderator: So Kevin, you’re bringing forward the ETS, which means less cost to energy companies, which should reduce the price of electricity for households. So you’ll scrap the ‘carbon compensation’ package, right?
KR: Wrong.
TA: How do you justify compensating households when the carbon tax no longer exists?
KR: The same way you do, Tony. Suicide. Political. Get it? The folks at home, doing it tough, they need the Household Assistance Package to buy that extra plasma TV.
TA:  How will Labor pay for this?
TA: You're making people fill out logbooks to count kms? 
KR: Yes, but-
Joe Hockey [interjecting]: 1998 called and wants its red tape dispenser back!
KR: Aaaah heeellloooo?? It’s 2013 Tony. They can download an App!
TA: You’ll devastate the car industry!
KR: It’s already devastated! [Clears throat]. Excuse me folks. Labor believes Australia is good at making things. We believe in our manufacturing sector. How are YOU going to pay for the carbon compo package?
TA: We’ll let the Australian People know that prior to the election.
KR: That’s now, Tony.  
TA: For f&^%s sake, just call the election date!
KR: Calm down you boxing Blue!
TA: Call the election date before I wring your Ruddy neck!

Rudd and Abbott descend into a wrestling match on the floor, pummelling each other with indistinguishable sound bites. 

Moderator: And that concludes the Climate Change debate. We hope you’ve gathered insights into the political and philosophical viewpoints of the major parties to help you make an informed decision at the election.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Global climate change politics: an inconvenient truth

Polar bears. Bloody whingers.

On Sunday, Greens Leader Christine Milne called it on the ABC’s Insiders program: “In all this discussion about changing to a flexible price, no-one is talking about the impacts on the climate.” And she’s right.

Barely a month ago, President Obama gave a speech about climate change that reframed the challenge as a global, imminent concern that threatens not only our livelihood, but our life. 
It was the sort of impassioned plea that Malcolm Turnbull made in Parliament in 2010 – about preserving the planet for future generations. 

Turnbull said, “Climate change is the ultimate long-term problem. We have to make decisions today, bear costs today so that adverse consequences are avoided, dangerous consequences are avoided many decades into the future…”

That was three years ago. Australia was still reeling from the Black Saturday bushfires, where a record number of people lost their lives in a raging inferno that followed a two-month, unprecedented heatwave. In 2011, Japan shuddered from the fifth most powerful earthquake in Earth’s history, Christchurch also crumbled, and Queensland and Victoria were inundated with floods. Climate change seemed palpable. It was happening all around us and even as skeptics brushed them off as cyclical events, we shifted uneasily in our seats and wanted something to be done.

Now, America is feeling that same sense of urgency. As Obama said in his speech, the country has had its hottest year on record, the artic ice cap is melting to record levels and extreme weather events have cost the country millions.

But in Australia, we’ve become complacent. Victoria has a desalination plant that the Naphine Government has said we won’t need to draw from until at least 2016, because our dams are up to 74 per cent capacity. We whinge about the plant’s cost, forgetting how recently we would anxiously eye the ‘water storage’ calculator on billboards, watching levels plummet to below 35 per cent.

Do we even remember why we have a carbon tax/price in the first place?

Let’s recap. In 2006, Al Gore presented one of the most powerful PowerPoint presentations of all time in the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Suddenly, work that scientists had been quietly toiling away at for years became of interest to the mainstream. It was compelling stuff. We watched as the graphs soared into unchartered territory and we emerged alarmed and afraid of what we were doing to the Earth.

“DO SOMETHING!” the masses screamed. And governments did. Well, they started to. The British government released the Stern Review in October 2006, outlining the effect of climate change on the world’s economy. In Australia, John Howard kicked things off in 2007 by laying the groundwork needed to set up an emissions trading scheme, as recommended by the Shergold emissions trading task group.

Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd declared, “Climate change is the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.” He was voted in, and then no sooner was the ink dry on his signature to the Kyoto Protocol; he suddenly lost his mojo for the environment that had been so convincing earlier. A new kid had come on stage – the GFC. The message shifted to bugger the planet; we need to get people out buying plasmas again.  So the planned Emissions Trading Scheme that had been worked on for years, and which Malcolm Turnbull had fallen on his sword for in lending bipartisan support to get through, was suddenly off the table in 2010. The greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time could wait another few years (until 2013) said Rudd.

Back then, Rudd’s capitulation on climate change marked a turning point for him in the polls, and soon, the faceless men came for him, quickly installing Gillard, who went into the 2010 election declaring a carbon tax a “never-ever” under her Government. But we know how that turned out, and in fairness, a hung parliament wasn’t on the radar when she said it.

Gillard created a Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, comprising members of the rag-tag Parliament to prepare a report on ways to introduce a carbon price. The result was the Carbon Pricing Scheme introduced on 1 July 2012, which required big emitters to purchase carbon emissions permits at a fixed price for the first two years, after which time the number of available permits would be capped and the price floated in line with an emissions trading scheme. As Milne told Barrie Cassidy on Insiders, the current scheme has been vilified as a ‘tax’, “…when in fact what we legislated was an emissions trading scheme with a fixed price period.” But don't let that get in the way of a good Coalition slogan eh? #bigfatcarbontax

It was part of the Clean Energy Future Plan, which provides investment in clean technologies, support for manufacturers and farmers to reduce their environmental impact, and help for households and businesses to reduce energy consumption and switch to cleaner sources. And it’s working. Just one year in, the Clean Energy Future Report notes that carbon pollution from electricity is down 7.4%, primarily because we’re switching to cleaner sources. The report states: “…renewable energy output increased by almost 30% and the output from the seven most highly-polluting coal generators was down 14% from the same period in 2011-12.” 

That’s a pretty good result, huh? So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Rudd has announced he’ll scrap the second fixed-price year and move straight to the floating price. This means it will cost a lot less for big emitters to pollute, just as their emitting behavior was starting to change.

Tony Abbott’s been imploring me to read his Real Solutions Plan, so I had a flick through to find out what his vision is for the climate. In 50 pages, ‘climate’ is mentioned once. The ‘Real Solution’ outlined is to shut down the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), established by the Gillard Government to invest in businesses trying to get innovative clean energy proposals off the ground.  He’ll also suspend the operations of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (no need for a regulator if you’re not collecting the carbon tax anymore).

The (other) Real Solution is to implement the Direct Action Plan on climate change and carbon emissions. But there’s no detail about that whatsoever in the Real Solutions Plan, so I Googled and eventually found it on Greg Hunt’s website. Not the Coalition’s website mind you, but I digress. The plan has slightly curled leaves on the front page, which seems like a good omen, but in actual fact, the leaves represent the entire plan. 

Yes, that’s right! The Direct Action Plan is to plant 20 million trees to suck up all the extra carbon being emitted into the atmosphere! Well, that, a few incentives for old and dirty businesses to clean up their act. No sticks here, just leaves and carrots.  Oh, and here’s the kicker. Abbott will scrap the carbon tax but keep the compensation to households (so will Rudd). Bills will go down. Power usage will go up and the compo cheque’s in the mail so you can go ahead and buy that third plasma TV. Direct Action to not change behaviour. Brilliant work, Tones! No wonder Turnbull said the policy was bullshit

We’ve lost sense of what action on climate change is all about. As Obama repositions the debate from parochial concerns about jobs and rallies Americans to lead the world on creating a greener planet and industries, the political leaders of Australia appeal to our hip pockets, and back away from the hard decisions that are needed to transition industry and attitudes, work once deemed so important.
Fair-weather politics at its worst.