The repeal of the carbon tax, and the neutering of the scheduled Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), ended a dramatic few weeks of parliamentary grandstanding and backroom dealing last month. Despite all the drama, the repeal – back dated to July 1 – was completed within the timetable that the Liberals had demanded.
Although the Liberal government had finally ‘axed the tax’, it came out of the first sitting of the new Senate battered. After prematurely celebrating the repeal as a done deal in a prime-ministerial press conference on the first day, the government then lost several votes, and was forced to scramble to string together a number of secret deals with the Palmer United Party (PUP) voting bloc. ‘Official’ politics entered a phase even more turbulent than the Gillard years.
At the centre of the storm was ex-Liberal National Party billionaire Clive Palmer. Following a remarkable u-turn in climate change beliefs in a press conference with former US Vice-President Al Gore, the PUP leader directed his Senators to use their balance of power position to block several votes. Eventually some amendments to the legislation were made.
For the time being the government is unable to entirely abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Climate Change Authority. It was also stopped from reversing some tax and welfare concessions associated with the carbon and mining taxes. This has kept billions of dollars in the budget that the government had hoped to cut.
Far from Palmer having any genuine concern for people or the environment, this coal baron’s motivations were to use his new found power to elevate his new party to a position of importance. Palmer’s appeal to a layer of voters stems from his populism. He wants to be seen as both opposing a tax that would be a burden on people while also defending what people see as agencies that can help mitigate climate change.
He has been able to get an echo precisely because market measures like Emissions Trading Schemes shift the burden away from the big polluters and onto ordinary people by way of companies passing costs down the line. Other companies that were unable to pass on costs received millions in compensation from Labor’s carbon tax package.
When you take these problems together with the fact that the carbon tax measures only ever claimed to reduce emissions by a tiny amount you can understand why people lost faith in Labor’s ability to tackle climate change.
The Liberal’s and big business are not principally opposed to carbon taxes or Emission Trading Schemes. Similar schemes operate across Europe and have not stopped businesses polluting and making profits at the environment’s expense. Tony Abbott himself has previously supported an ETS.
Abbott’s opposition to the carbon tax was more about wedging Labor in the lead up to the last election rather than putting forward a viable alternative. Neither Labor’s ETS nor the Liberal’s ‘direct action’ plans are solutions. Rather than being sucked into a debate about which one represents the lesser evil the environmental movement need to fight for genuine solutions – that is non-market based solutions.
The capitalist market is the source of the climate crisis. A system that puts profits before all else can not hope to solve a problem it created. The only way to combat global warming is to take the big polluters out of private profit making hands. On the basis of public ownership and control of the big energy and mining companies, a plan could be implemented to phase out polluting industries while investing in sustainable energy alternatives.
For policies like this to become a reality we need to break from the parties of big business, be they Liberal, Labor or PUP, and build a political vehicle that unashamedly puts people’s needs and the environment first.
By W. van Leeuwen