Monday, July 18, 2011

A final word on the carbon tax debate

To say that the most recent Neilsen poll was bad news for Australia's Gillard Government would be something of an understatement.  It's also been interesting reading comments from the left of centre side of politics struggling to understand just what has happened. That's not a shot, by the way, just an observation.

Part of the Government's present problems lie in the way it has chosen to fuse two very different issues. The first is global warming and the need for a response, the second the nature of the best response.

I don't think that the Government can win on the first because it cannot significantly affect attitudes. People have made up their minds. Nor, to my mind, does it need to win since the Opposition's official position on global warming appears to be similar to the Governments; acceptance that it is actually happening. A simple statement of the reasons why the Government considers this to be an important issue requiring a response is really all that needs to be said.

The second issue, the nature of the response is (or was) arguably winnable in political terms. Since both the Opposition and Government apparently agree that action needs to be taken on climate change, the Government needs to describe the Opposition's proposed response and explain why it is inadequate. Then explain the Government's response and say why it is better. This may sound simplistic, but it really was the best bet, one that has been lost sight of.

In choosing to turn the issue into an Abbott/Gillard gladiatorial test, the Government made another mistake. The burn the shoe leather approach, to use the PM's words, placed a not especially popular PM in direct confrontation with an adept populist, completely overshadowing the issues themselves. Ms Gillard would have been better staying a little above the conflict, leaving her ministers to do more of the heavy lifting. After all, this is what Mr Howard did with the GST.

I do not fully understand the almost visceral dislike of the PM displayed by some. I do know that when she was in opposition I did not like her. I also recognised at the time that my dislike was irrational, based on voice and approach. My personal views changed after she became Deputy PM. I was actually impressed. Now it seems that the dislike factor is back.

I don't want to go into all the reasons for this in this post. However, I think that it needs to be recognised.

I should mention that I am not a Labor supporter, while I have also been very critical of aspects of Ms Gillard's own policy performance. However, I have no reason to doubt the PM's genuine commitment or intellect. In this case, I think that that commitment has led her into errors of judgement. She is PM, she has a variety of matters to deal with. It should not be her role to conduct a mini-election campaign in mid term based on a single issue.

In a radio interview this morning, retailer Gerry Harvey of Harvey Norman (Hardly Normal in the way Australians alter words) said that he was bored with the carbon tax debate. And so say most of us!

I don't intend to write on the carbon tax issue again unless there is something substantive and useful that I can say. I would prefer to focus my limited time on other matters where discussion is likely to be of longer term importance. Much of what is going on at the moment really doesn't matter. It's just chatter! 


Oddly, perhaps not, it appears that Opposition Leader Abbott has panned his own carbon target. I quote from Phillip Coorey's Herald story:

TONY ABBOTT has ridiculed as ''crazy'' the emissions reduction goal of his own climate change policy as the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, assured worried Labor MPs she could fight her way through horror poll results and lead the government to the next election.

Mr Abbott questioned the logic of his own commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 as he was taking aim at Labor's carbon tax, which shares the same goal.

''The other crazy thing about this is that at the same time that our country is proposing to reduce its emissions by 5 per cent, just 5 per cent, the Chinese are proposing to increase their emissions by 500 per cent,'' he told a group of pensioners.

Both sides of politics agree on the 5 per cent target but argue over how to best get there.

Labor advocates pricing carbon while the Coalition supports direct action, in which polluters would be paid directly from the federal budget to reduce emissions.

I have quoted the story because it is relevant to the discussion in this post.

Postscript two

It appears that Mr Abbott is back-peddling quite fast on his apparent rejection of the Opposition 5 per cent target. Now he is saying that it's all about the best way of getting there. And that was one of my points in this post. 


Neil Whitfield said...

On the way home from Sydney yesterday I was reading The Economist and New Scientist. Turning from that to the way the debate has gone here is to enter a parallel universe.


Nice post by the way.

Jim Belshaw said...

You are right, of course.

On the Economist, I used to read it as a kid all the time because Dad had an airmail sub. It was actually my main source of detailed info on the world.

Earlier this year Helen in Copenhagen started reading the Economist and became quite enamoured of it.

For both me then and Helen now it gave a different view of the world. And that illustrates your point!

Anonymous said...

"Let me make it crystal clear."
says Mr Abbott. Yet more proof of your comment that it's all become all too numbingly boring; incomprehensible.

I was hoping you'd extend your thoughts far enough for me somewhere to get in a genuine question as to why this scheme prices in at $20-something, but with a floor price of $15! when it moves to an ETS? And also why (oh why) every government initiative seems always to involve a tinker or two with our much reviled income tax act?

Never mind; I'm just hearing you yet again saying "now kvd is conflating several issues here..."

ps have a good evening.

Jim Belshaw said...

I am not sure that I can answer your question, KVD. I haven't looked in detail at the Treasury modelling. Intuitively, if you are to have a floor price (I am not sure that you need to) it has to be set at a level that will allow price fluctuations. If you set it at the tax rate you might end up with a non-working system because nobody buys.