Carbon Pollution Reduction Green Paper

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.

dk.au at Larvatus Prodeo is seriously unimpressed.  Other posts at LP examine the politics of the issue, while a major discussion thread (continuing some links to posts on other sites) is here.

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).

(AND Tree of Knowledge responds to some of the commentary (including mine) about double dissolution election option – links here to my comments and his further response.

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64 Comments

  1. I imagine we should be fine. After all, our land (and labour) is probably more expensive, and as a well-off nation, we’re more likely to be exploiting others.

  2. One of the senior scientists who believes that humanity is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, is the head scientist at NASA, James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies -he’s highly respected and recognised as an expert on the subject of climate change and its effect on all forms of life.
    I’ve just listened to Tim Flannery on ABC 702 (Sydney) who always says interesting things I find. He said, much to my surprise, that the “atmosphere” is 5 times smaller than the oceans – like many, I thought, that the “atmosphere” was everything – out there? He also said, that the warnings re the damage of climate change are worse, twice as bad as originally thought.
    I’ve read several articles in GreenLeft ( weekly newspaper – can read it online) that prints much of the info available, but deliberately not published by corporate media, and certainly not by politicians, whose only goal is to protect their wealthy interests.Read, “How to crash a planet:just follow Garnaut” by Renfrey Clarke. Politicians and others are more than willing to inform us of what won’t happen, but won’t even mention what the damage might be if the Great Barrier Reef or the Tasmanian and other forests are gone. The Amazon for example? If the temperature is high enough to destroy these, what other damage will be done? The oceans rise, resulting in loss of life and countries even.
    I don’t think that the incidence of cancer should be just a ho-hum that’s life (or death) situation. There are 3 recognised causes of cancer; genetics, environment and stress/personal components (smoking, over eating/drinking etc). I query the environmental causes?Toxins;how do they affect us?. Why do babies get cancers?
    LORIKEET, medical science is one of the reasons(better nourishment, hygiene etc) why our kids survived past the age of 5 – and their mothers too! Apparently, the average rainfall hasn’t dropped that much – it’s just not falling in the ‘right’ places; too much of it is wasted – down the

  3. Muzz:

    What about the Japanese dumping their filth here?

    What about Chinese buying all our coal, while keeping theirs in reserve?

    Isn’t that exploitation?

  4. On the ABC news at midday today, it was reported that the Chinese own almost 100% percentage of one Australian mining company, and are looking at purchasing another.

    They don’t need to bring in a huge army to take what we have. We are handing it to them on a silver platter and thanking them for the opportunity.

  5. LORIKEET – Re China and its presence in Aust. At least China doesn’t send in its military to keep the people down, oppressed and poor while they ‘steal’ their resources, unlike the US; and Australia does too. Look at the disgraceful ‘agreement’ with East Timor over gas and oil due to Downer’s bullying tactics – an impoverished country, whose children are malnourished, hundreds not housed etc deprived of $$millions per day. What about Papaua New Guinea, where most of the companies removing the goodies, destroying the sacred sites, way of life, poisoning the waters, ruining/killing fish stocks, and keeping the people in horrific poverty are Aust owned or majority shared? Solomon Islands? We’ve been doing it for years, with military ‘back up’ too.

    We’re (BHP Billiton)in Iraq helping the US steel Iraq’s oil from the people, and there’s other companies looking to ‘share the spoils’. We don’t have the right to engage in these practices, and condemn China for engaging in legitimate activities in Aust. No Chinese military in this country, whereas the US has about 700 foreign military bases around the world; usually where there’s resources/multinationals etc, and impoverished people, with destroyed lives and environments. Do you think the US is in Somalia to help the people? No it’s about the OIL. The US still refuses to acknowledge the horrific effects of Agent Orange, even though the effects are still causing death & deformities etc. Aust is also responsible!

    The death toll in Iraq from cancer is escallating due to more (from 2003 on)depleted uranium, of which we’re also responsible! I suppose when Aust service men & women start suffering the effects, they’ll have the same problem – denial by the govts responsible, including ours!

  6. Naomi:

    Well, yes, but think of it this way. How stupid are we, handing everything over, without even a single gun being pointed?

  7. LORIKEET – “How stupid are we, handing everything over, without even a single gun being pointed?”
    I’d have thought, not using ‘guns’ is a positive thing? I don’t understand; do you think we should take up arms against China? Who do you think would win that? Not us, I suspect? What do you mean by “everything”? I think you do exaggerate. How much real estate etc does the catholic church ‘own’? How much tax do they pay, land rates on their properties? I think you’re making a grand sweeping statement. We sell heaps of coal to China I realize, we import lots of clothes from them. There’s TV’s etc too, but it’s demand & supply? Who buys their products? Do you have any figures that show they’re ripping us off? What’s the balance of payments look like? How much tax does the US pay for Pine Gap? Or? What do we buy from Japan, Indonesia?What about the one-sided so-called Free Trade Agreement with the US? Many countries in Latin America have given the US the ‘middle finger’ over their so-called free trade agreement. Why? They know from decades past, that they’ll get screwed-they said NO. That’s why Bush etc are causing trouble in the region. Up to their usual ‘tricks’? The US has invaded over 40 countries since the end of WW2-some more than once. They’re more aggro than any other country. How much land etc do americans own here? What about Indonesia?
    So, I’m not worried about China! I AM worried about the US!

  8. Naomi:

    Perhaps you could tell us the answers to some of your questions.

    Remember that Hitler took over a large part of Europe before a single shot was fired.

    I think we should concern ourselves about all nations with huge fire power.

    Muzz:

    I think Australia is much too small and too stupid for anyone to be worrying about us.

    I think Anna Bligh will need to start auditioning for those toothpaste commercials, instead of selling us out, and doing nothing about our substandard education and health systems. She’s even starting to make the LNP look attractive to voters.

  9. I think countries like Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Noumea are a lot more affected by Australian governments and companies than we imagine.

  10. muzzmonster -I recall watching a documentary about Vanuatu in relation to ‘big money’ building luxurious hotel type accommodation on indigenous peoples’ lands. It will destroy their lifestyle, fishing employment and food gathering, homes etc and the people are being ripped off big time. Australians are in the thick of it, which is very sad, and makes me angry. I haven’t seen/heard anything since, so I don’t know what’s happening now.

    LORIKEET – Indonesia? When Soharto took power in 1965, and then proceeded to purge the country of alledged communists, the Australian Govt like the US govt knew all about it and sanctioned the actions. It was thought that approx 1 million people, including trade unionists, ‘sympathizers’ etc were murdered-a later documentary called, “Indonesia-the years of living dangerously” put the figure closer to 3 million.Many survivors, too scared to return during those yrs have returned, and the stories they told led to the new figure. The ‘spoils’ of Indonesia were divided up-forests to this company, minerals to another and so on. The CIA had given the dictatorhip the names(of activists) and we stood by and let it happen. Apparently under the guise of ‘getting rid of communism’, although anyone who disagreed was rounded up and slaughtered. We also allowed East Timor’s ‘demise’ for about 30 years. Our role of playing ’empire builders’ and ‘colonialists’ is pretty despicable.We’re ripping off East Timor by millions every day, thanks to Howard and Downer?I recall the trouble in Bougainville, West Papua and we have troops in the Solomon Islands, Fiji etc.

  11. I have the feeling that as many Americans don’t realise the impact their governments and businesses have on the rest of the world, so do many Australians not realise the impact our governments and businesses have on our smaller local neighbours.

  12. muzzmonster – Sadly, too true! The US is stirring up trouble in Bolivia and Venezuela as we speak – supporting the minority ‘white’ people in Bolivia, who’ve got wealthy for decades at the expense of the impoverished indigenous peoples.The CIA in conjunction with right-wingers who object to Evo Morales spreading the wealth by initiating policies to counter lack of education, poor health and housing etc. Evo Morales was democratically elected, and recently won overwhelmingly in a referendum. Hugo Chavez or his party have been elected over 10 times in as many years. He has changed the education system from a very high % of people not literate, to being recognised by the UN as having attained literacy and numeracy no’s that comply.

    Women are receiving medical care during their pregnacies for the first time in decades, low paid workers have had several increases, the country is growing more of its food(they used to have to import almost 80% prior to chavez) land (unused)is being taken from the rich to provide employment and improved housing (not a popular move) elderly women are enrolling for university courses; people are encouraged to be involved in all areas of their lives via village radio and community meetings.

    The US wants control over both countries, as Bolivia is rich in gas, and Venezuela is the 4-5th highest oil producing country in the world. Both these leaders have sent the US Ambassadors packing, due to their ‘meddling’ and the pro multinational media are spreading lies about the facts. Both countries have new Consititutions, which were brought about after lengthy discussions with the grass roots, then voted upon by the people, with overwhelming “yes” votes. The Venezuelan Constitution(used to be online) is far better than ours, which doesn’t really guarantee any protections or rights at all, particularly not for indigenous, women or other minorities.

    I salute the people in their struggle for self determination!

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