There is heaps around the blogs giving some detailed analysis of the government’s greenhouse green paper, (which doesn’t seem very green at all to me). I’ve put a bunch of links at the end of this post.
Given the seriousness and urgency of the threat, I’d rather a focus purely on the policy assessments of whether what’s been put forward is likely to have enough of an impact in adequately reducing Australia’s emissions (and I’d have to say it looks like this falls seriously short). However, the political strategy, and how the politics might unfold, are pivotal to whether or not the policy will improve.
There will be two crucial factors in where the politics goes from here. Firstly, how the Liberals decide to deal with the emissions trading legislation when it reaches the Senate. Secondly, whether community pressure can be strong enough to create the political will for the Labor government to be stronger than it is being to date (and to negate any potential political damage that might be caused by Liberal opposition).
As Ross Garnaut’s comments at his recent Brisbane public consultation forum made clear, public pressure is crucial in creating the necessary political will to do what is needed. As the party politics plays out over the next year or two, public pressure for stronger action will be crucial in tilting the decisions of the political players in the right direction.
If the Liberals whinge and complain about all the pain being inflicted by Labor’s scheme, but then let it through the Senate anyway, it will mean a weak scheme being put place – possibly even weaker than what’s been put forward in the Green Paper, once those with vested economic interests have had time to put the squeeze even more on the government and the government reacts to any negative focus group polls that pick up on any of the Liberals’ ongoing attacks. One could say that would still be better than no scheme at all – although I’m yet to be convinced of that – in part because it could always be improved and strengthened over time.
The alternative is the Liberals oppose it all in the Senate, in which case I can’t see it getting passed. This would also open the real prospect – indeed possibly even an obligation – for the government to pursue a double dissolution election sometime in 2009. Having the emissions trading scheme fall over in the Senate would reduce the greenhouse debate pretty much back to little more than political finger-pointing, mud flinging and blame games until the next election, with very little room for rational policy discussion or even greater emphasis on the necessary public behavioural/cultural changes needed.
Personally, I think Labor could come out of a double dissolution election based on climate change quite well. They could easily paint the Libs as having failed to act on the climate change crisis for the last decade while in government and then after they got tossed out, blocking Labor’s ‘balanced’ and ‘moderate’ attempts at action. Given their record on the issue, it is hard to see the Liberals coming up with any alternative for action that will be seen as credible by those who believe urgent action is needed (which is a majority according to current polls).
Not that I think Labor’s Green paper position is very balanced – unless you define balance in terms of balancing on a barbed wire fence. It is extraordinary that Ross Garnaut is now being painted as by at the extreme end of the debate. His report is reasonably strong, but far from extreme. It was also clearly constrained by the terms of reference the government gave him (which probably underestimated the level of emission cuts needed). He also made clear there was no certainty that what he was putting forward was going to be sufficient.
Whilst they will no doubt keep adding their views to the debate, the Greens and other Senate cross-benchers only come directly into play on emissions trading legislation if the Liberals decide to oppose Labor’s already very minimalist emissions trading/carbon pollution reduction model in the Senate. To get anything through the Senate without Liberal support, Labor needs BOTH the Greens and Steve Fielding from Family First. Given that Fielding’s main populist policy push for the last year or so has been to make petrol cheaper than it already is, and the Greens will rightly look to strengthen the application of Labor’s scheme, it is hard to see how Labor could reach agreement with both, no matter how compromising and negotiating the Greens aim to be.
It is impossible to predict precisely when Labor would have the trigger to call a double dissolution election on emissions trading legislation. It is partly in their hands, depending on how quickly they produce the legislation, and especially how quickly they re-introduce it if it defeated in the Senate. But the government can’t control how long the inevitable (and essential) Senate inquiry into the legislation would be, and probably not the length of the Senate debate either.
However, it’s probable the trigger would be in place by mid-2009. That would be at least a year in advance of when the next election would normally be called. On an issue as important as this, putting the whole thing on ice for a further year until an election (possibly) sorts it out is a problem, unless an alternative pathway for driving major emission reductions is put forward – which is certainly not visible at the moment.
SOME BLOGOSPHERE REACTION:
John Conner from Climate Institute, who has taken a very non-partisan approach to the debate thus far, gives his initial assessment at Crikey.
Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy reminds us that Green Papers are not final policy but an opportunity for people to point out to the government were they think it could do better (see my comments above about public pressure). He then points out what he thinks is the major area in need of improvement.
Gary Sauer-Thompson is also not complimentary.
Tree of Knowledge argues a pragmatic approach, suggesting the politics being pursued are necessary in making good policy (or as good as possible anyway).
Joshua Gans gives an economist’s perspective on why the handout of free carbon permits to trade exposed industries is a bad idea (for the same reasons Garnaut thinks it is).
Peregrine’s assessment – “The end result of Labor’s policy is that it puts the onus on the people to push it to take more action. It is almost the minimal possible response without jeopardising the integrity of action altogether.”
The Piping Shrike is not so charitable, taking the interesting perspective that the Green paper “aggravates the government’s basic problem. This government doesn’t have a problem of having to make unpopular decisions. This government has a problem of struggling to find any unpopular decisions to make.”
Possum Comitatus notes that while petrol is being effectively exempted from carbon pricing and coal isn’t, petrol currently has a sizeable excise on it and coal doesn’t. His assessment of the politics is “The overall document is pretty much an acceptable starting gun for a major long term reform …… I couldn’t actually find any seriously problematic issues here for the ALP on the politics of it.”
Andrew Norton is fairly dismissive of efforts that create a perception of conspiratorial, behind the scenes influence, saying it is just a case of democracy in action.
There’s a list of some other blog views and comments at Crikey’s blogwatch.
For a general reminder of just how serious the situation is now looking, and how urgent it is, read this post by Brian Bahnisch. He also notes that, regardless of how good or otherwise the federal government’s policies are, it’s just plain stupid for state governments to continue charging ahead spening billions entrenching business as usual expansion of coal mines (and one could also mention tunnel, bridge and road building, airport expansions, etc).