‘carbon pollution’ and the repeal of the carbon tax

As far as I can understand the situation, the Labor Party in Opposition is not really sure about what to do with respect to the proposed repeal of the carbon tax. There are those who say that the election result shows that Labor should abandon the tax, and allow the repeal to go through.Their position is the classic ‘mandate’ one: the Coalition campaigned hard on repeal (undeniable), which was a central aspect of its election policy for a long time (undeniable), the Coalition won the election, so it has  a mandate.

It is unusual to see members of an Opposition argue like this, and that some are doing so now points, at least to me, to their view that the carbon tax was a bad idea when it was created, and is an even worse one now. I think they’re right, for two obvious reason. The first is that any  reduction in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere brought about by the successful implementation of such a tax would not be discernible even in thirty years. The second is that the role of carbon dioxide in ‘global warming’ appears increasingly to have been over-emphasised, so that the need to tax the production of carbon dioxide seems much less evident.

A rival view is that Labor should stick to its policies, because not to do so would be to suggest that it had no backbone. What will Labor supporters think, so the cry goes, if the party backs away from what its former leader called ‘the greatest moral, economic and social challenge to humanity’ — or something like that? That one puzzles me for two reasons. The first is that parties in government can’t always be right about everything (something Nicola Roxon said in her celebrated speech), and there are times where one should back away from a past policy, transmuting it, if one can, into something more timely.

The second cause of puzzlement is that the carbon tax was never something central either to Labor’s past history or its present set of principles. It was a piece of supposed international do-goodery, in which Australia either showed the world  what ought to happen, or showed that it was on the side of other international do-gooders. You couldn’t easily link it to the problems of the working class, or the need to reduce inequities in Australian society, or the needs of the disabled and their carers.

In fact, the carbon tax was, on the face of it, something likely to make the conditions of Labor’s poorer supporters worse, rather than better. The supposed trade-off, in handouts, was never going to compensate people for the increasing cost of everything, given that energy is a fundamental element in the price of everything we buy. Increase the price of energy, and there is a nasty multiplier there. Those interested in  conserving Labor’s support within the poorest third of Australian society would surely be hostile to any such tax.

Repeal opponents inside the Opposition do include a few true believers, who believe that they know about the science and believe also that the science say that even if there has been a pause in the warming it is still hotter than it used to be, and one day it will get hotter still, and we’ll all fry.

Another element in all this is the likelihood that the Government will have the numbers to repeal the tax anyway, come June next year. So why spend energy in defending something that no one likes anyway, and will go down the legislative gurgler in a few months? Put all this together and you have a real dilemma, and Mr Shorten seems not to have worked out what best to do. He has some time to decide, because Parliament has yet to meet, and there won’t be a serious debate on the issue until next year.

But I thought it might be good to ask him, and others like him in the Opposition, to stop talking about ‘carbon pollution’. Yes, I know that it was in the title of the bills that were to usher in the Emissions Trading Scheme (the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bills of 2009 and 2010), but it was a use of language that George Orwell would have called ‘Newspeak’. I thought it offensive at the time, because it was nonsensical, and bills ought not to have nonsensical titles.

The Leader of the Opposition needs to know that carbon is a solid, not a gas. The relevant gas is carbon dioxide. It is not a pollutant, but the life support of all plants and animals. Yes, like any other good thing, it can be harmful in certain situations. Human beings will die if they have to breathe nothing but carbon dioxide, despite its importance to life. They will also die if they have nothing but nitrogen to breathe, and yet nitrates are an important fertiliser.

Defend the tax by all means, if you must, but for heaven’s sake find language to do so that is not so empty of meaning, and so plainly ignorant and deceptive. Language is not trivial.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Patrick says:

    Good post as usual Don. I have just finished reading a book by Fritz Vahrenholt & Sebastian Luning titled ‘The Neglected Sun’. This comprehensively illustrates the complete nonsense of the IPCC computer models of Earth’s climate. There are numerous processes which have been completely omitted from the models. There are numerous cycles (solar and oceanic) on all sorts of time scales, all capable of interacting, augmenting, dominating, interfering. It is quite clear that the IPCC models are no more than dressed up curve fitting endeavours which have been fine tuned with arbitrary injections of ‘aerosols’ at various points in time and to an extent which enables the so called ‘hind casting’ to bear some resemblance to recorded temperatures. This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone seriously interested in climate.

  • PeterE says:

    ‘international do-goodery,’ that says it all. It is another sign that the ALP changed from a ‘workers’ party’ to a party dominated by the university-educated middle-class. Doing good is a commendable goal but the world is replete with examples of energetic enthusiasm going wrong because it had not been thought through – the crash that follows the attempt to crash through.

  • Colin Davidson says:

    By Colin Davidson
    In my view, parties should stick to the policies they put in front of the people at the last election. In that way they keep faith with the people who voted for them. This is important – people who vote for representatives have only one way to influence the laws being passed, and that is to select representatives who will vote for what the elector believes. If the representative subsequently dioes not vote that way, he is breaking the implied contract.
    Three occasions where representatives have not kept faith:
    1. The Democrats went to the GST election on a platform supporting the tax, but not on food or stationary/books. After the election, the Party Members tried to get the senators to change this. Natasha Stott-Despoia and several others did not vote in accord with the election policy – they abstained, to their great discredit, effectively robbing the people of their say.
    2. The Great Carbon Tax Swindle of 2010, where the entire Labor Party caucus, every single one of them, covered themselves in dishonour by voting for a tax, when an explicit promise had been made that they would not be intoducing that tax, and, finally,
    3. Unbelievably, the Labor Party went to the recent election with an explicit promise that if elected to government they would repeal the Carbon Tax. But they are now about to cover themselves in dishonour again, by opposing repeal of the tax. To quote Lord Nelson (speaking of the Sicilians) “they previously had little honour, but they’ve lost whatever they had”.
    My question for the Labor (or Liebah?) Party is twofold:
    A. Which of your policy statements should we believe in the future?
    B. Why?

  • Peter Lang says:

    Don said

    It is unusual to see members of an Opposition argue like this, and that some are doing so now points, at least to me, to their view that the carbon tax was a bad idea when it was created, and is an even worse one now. I think they’re right, for two obvious reason.

    I have two reasons too:

    1. An Australian ETS will make no difference to the climate (and no one is going to follow Australia’s example as was so clearly shown by Rudd’s failure to get the world to follow ‘Australia’s example’ at Copenhagen); and

    2. the ETS would reduce Australia’s economy by $1,345 trillion cumulative to 2050, which is the equivalent of a one year loss of GDP).

    And, for those arguing that an ETS is better than ‘Direct Action’, I question what is their criteria for ‘better’? Is it cost or reduction of global GHG emissions (because only global matters)?

    Regarding the pros and cons of ETS and ‘Direct Action’ policies:

    – ETS could, if applied as designed by the Greens, cut Australia’s GHG emissions by 5% by 2020, but probably at huge cost and huge economic damage. The cost to achieve the targets is not limited. And Treasury’s projections of the cost are based on impracticable and unrealistic assumptions. The cost of achieving the GHG emissions targets would almost certainly be far higher than Treasury’s projections.

    – ‘Direct Action’ limits the amount of taxpayer money we are prepared to waste on trying to cut Australia’s GHG emissions, but Australia’s GHG emissions reductions are not guaranteed. But, really, the emissions reductions are not that important in the absence of a world agreement because there would be no benefit anyway, because no matter what Australia does it will a negligible effect on global emissions. Furthermore, one of the great advantages of ‘Direct Action’ is that it can be easily modified or dumped at little cost as it becomes more clear what the world’s large emitters are going to do.

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