The political debate surrounding climate change has been something of a rollercoaster ride over recent years. After years of a climate change denying Howard government, many believed things were on the up when Rudd’s Labor government came to power in 2007. To the dismay of many, Rudd’s initial policy approach – the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – proved lacking, and was labeled “worse than useless” by the Greens.
After Rudd’s unceremonious sacking, Gillard took over, stating “there will be no carbon tax” under her leadership. Less than a year later, Gillard announced in February her intention to bring in a carbon tax. The Greens, who now hold the balance of power in both houses of parliament, have used their position to support the new plan.
It is understandable that people have lost patience and enthusiasm in the ability of the major parties to tackle the climate crisis. But polling shows that what people reject more than government ‘action’ on climate change is policy that will lay the costs on ordinary people.
The debate surrounding Gillard’s carbon tax has been an absurd theater of name calling and empty sloganeering. In one corner, the Opposition has mobilised both climate change deniers and those who are simply opposed to the introduction of a new tax. In the other corner, the ALP and the Greens – largely through organisations like Get Up! and Oxfam – have mobilised a layer of largely well-intentioned people on the basis that “something is better than nothing”.
The undeniable winner in this showdown has been big business. Under the proposed carbon tax, compensation for big business polluters will be more than seven and a half times the amount of money earmarked for investment in renewable energy. Government “assistance” for the most carbon-intensive industries will total over $10 billion over the first few years of the scheme!
The government claims that the carbon tax, followed by an emissions trading scheme, will encourage reductions in carbon pollution and promote investment into renewable energy. It is being sold as the beginning of a plan to shift away from producing energy by burning dirty brown coal to less carbon intensive energy production.
Yet almost no section of business or finance believes the carbon tax will negatively impact on the coal industry. More importantly, the coal industry themselves are unperturbed.
Gloucester Coal chairman James McKenzie recently stated that “the industry is pouring investment into the industry, and they wouldn’t be doing that if they believed [there were diminishing returns]”.
To verify his viewpoint, coal exploration rose 12 per cent last year, and last month Treasurer Wayne Swan said he was “optimistic about the future of our coal industry.”
It seems that everyone agrees the carbon tax will not result in less production or less profits for the coal industry.
What is also widely agreed is that the cost of the carbon tax will be paid by ordinary people, through increased prices and public money being spent on private compensation.
Once again it is the working class who must make the sacrifices while market measures are used to guarantee business profits.
We are in the middle of the biggest fossil fuel investment boom in Australian history. Billions are being spent of expanding coal ports, projects to extract coal seam gas, massive gas projects, proposed new coal power plants and so on.
Both major parties are committed to promoting, subsidising and extending the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel industry, despite the fact that almost three quarters of Australia’s emissions come from producing and using energy from fossil fuels.
This is because both major parties, and increasingly the Greens, serve the interests of big business and market capitalism.
The carbon tax and any future emissions trading scheme will leave the question of reducing carbon emissions in the hands of business. They can change their practices or choose not to if it’s more profitable to absorb or pass on the costs to consumers or even employees.
This is why the carbon tax cannot be seen as a step forward. We can’t allow political parties that prop up the needs and desires of big business to divert our attention away from what is actually required in the shift towards a sustainable economy.
What’s required is a dramatic change in the way society operates. Only a socialist economy based on public ownership, democratic control and a plan for sustainable production would be capable of implementing the widespread, integrated changes that would fundamentally put the needs of people and the environment before the pursuit of profit.
By Mel Gregson