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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Climate Minister Greg Combet announced that the government would devote half of the carbon tax revenue for compensating households.

By promising that the carbon price will be a financial boon for Australian households, Labor is attempting to counter Tony Abbott’s populist crusade against carbon pricing.

For weeks, Abbott and his Coalition allies backed by the polluting industries have mounted a fear-mongering campaign. The story the government wants to tell now is that while the Opposition leader is content to make exaggerated claims about economic ruin, Labor will make sure that you’re economically better off with a carbon price. Labor is determined to win the support of ‘hip-pocket voters’ to take the edge off Abbott’s mob.

The Gillard government is setting up another interesting dynamic. By announcing that householders will be ‘overcompensated’ for the impacts of carbon pricing, they have set a limit for calls for a low price and industry exemptions. The logic goes something like this: The higher the price on carbon, the more ‘overcompensation’ one will receive; conversely, the lower the price or narrower the coverage, the smaller the compensation.

Politics aside, the question now remains – what should they do with the remainder of the revenue? To cement its credibility on climate change the Gillard government must commit to investing the remaining share of the carbon price revenue to lay the foundations of a zero emissions economy. The government has a responsibility to protect low-income householders from carbon price impacts, but it also has a responsibility to invest in decarbonising Australia.

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“In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march; On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem; On desperate (death) ground, fight.” – Sun Tzu (544–496 BC)

“The ancient commanders of armies, who well knew the powerful influence of necessity, and how it inspired the soldiers with the most desperate courage, neglected nothing to subject their men to such pressure” – Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527)

If an election were held now the Labor party would be swept from office. Polling released yesterday confirms that the Gillard government has taken a hit since launching its push for a national carbon price. Both Nielsen and Essential polls show that the Labor’s primary vote is down, so too is PM Gillard’s approval rating—the lowest since taking the leadership. The latest polling comes just one week after Newspoll showed Labor’s primary vote at an historic low of 30 per cent.

When it comes to the carbon pricing agenda, PM Gillard and her Labor government are fighting on death ground—the terrain that the military strategist Sun Tzu described more than two thousand years ago in The Art of War. As The Australian’s Paul Kelly notes, Gillard “has no viable option but to press ahead with her carbon price policy … to retreat would repeat the mistake that ruined Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership.”

If there has been a time for Labor to unite and fight, it is now.

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

The climate change policy debate was reignited last week with Prime Minister Julia Gillard committing to introduce a carbon price from July 1, 2012.

At the start of February, it seemed Prime Minister Gillard was gambling with her climate credibility by adopting a carbon price-only policy. Now, just a few weeks later, and Julia Gillard is gambling with no less than that, her political future, and the future of our planet.

Gillard’s strategy draws a parallel with John Howard’s GST. While shock jock Alan Jones accuses the Prime Minister of lying (remember that cringe-worthy ‘JuLIAR’ jibe?), the argument is not as potent as critics think. Surely Alan Jones would remember that in 1995 John Howard said ‘There’s no way that GST will ever be part of our policy… never, ever. It’s dead.’ As we know, it was Howard who won the 1998 election on the pledge to introduce a GST and did just that in 2000. Gillard is betting that delivering a domestic policy achievement, like Howard, will trump flip flopping in the eyes of the public.

Countering the onslaught of the Abbott-led Coalition and the greenhouse mafia is a great challenge to Labor’s agenda. To blunt these attacks Labor must look beyond the support of the large environment groups, that some argue are ‘impotent’, and the clean-tech industry that is still in its infancy. Labor must demonstrate to the public that it’s serious about the climate change challenge and invest carbon tax revenue to projects that create jobs and help build a domestic clean technology industry. Without this transparent allocation of tax revenue, Labor’s carbon price push could go the same way as Rudd’s mining super profits tax.

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Published by ABC Environment.

At her recent National Press Club address, Prime Minister Julia Gillard rationalised Labor’s decision to cut its investment in renewable energy to fund the flood levy on the basis that these policies “are no longer necessary” with a carbon price. Last week, addressing the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Gillard argued that “a carbon price will drive another sweeping technological revolution like Information Technology did in the 1980s and 90s.”

Both cases reveal that those advising the PM grossly misunderstand climate and energy policy.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has reframed her government’s carbon pricing agenda in an attempt to tap into the chief concerns of the electorate. Rather than making the case for climate legislation with the Great Barrier Reef-destroying rhetoric of her predecessor Kevin Rudd, Gillard is presenting climate change as an economic opportunity. In the words of political commentator Annabel Crabb, the government is ‘…replacing morality with economics.’

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

As climate change advocates start yet another busy year fighting for national climate legislation, new Essential Research polling reveals that the issue is still a low priority for the electorate.

The poor polling performance not only complicates things for those who support measures that address the climate crisis, but also for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who has staked her leadership on implementing a carbon price in the next term of government.

A meagre 10 per cent identify climate change as a top tier concern in the first public polling of 2011 to canvass voter priorities. At a time when climate change should be a high priority for Australians, concern for the issue has dropped six points in 12 months and is ranked a woeful tenth out of 13 issues.* Both the Gillard government and the climate movement will want to turn the poor polling around.

The temptation of some climate activists will be to ramp-up the apocalyptic rhetoric, however this tactic risks alienating the public further. Research published by the University of California Berkeley last December argued that “Dire messages warning of the severity of global warming and its presumed dangers can backfire, paradoxically increasing skepticism about global warming by contradicting individuals’ deeply-held beliefs that the world is fundamentally just” (PDF). In other words, it’s easier for the public to switch off than to engage with climate change when it is presented as an insurmountable problem.

So what’s the alternative? How do we avoid this trap while achieving good outcomes for climate change and renewable energy?

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Published by Climate Spectator.

This week, the Labor government’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) agreed to a set of principles to guide the development of a national carbon-pricing model. While a carbon pricing legislation is a worthy pursuit that will make fossil fuels more expensive, we must not forget that a carbon price alone is not enough to deal with the climate crisis. The mechanism has several limitations that inhibit the deployment of clean energy infrastructure.

Earlier in the year the Head of the Energy Technology Policy Division for the International Energy Agency Peter Taylor argued, “…a price on carbon is needed to send a strong signal to the market, but it’s unlikely this will be enough to transform our energy system. Other policies will be needed to support technology development and deployment.” To ensure effective climate change mitigation and the transformation of our energy system, the Gillard government and MPCCC must be cognisant of the limitations of carbon prices and include additional policies in next year’s climate and energy agenda.

The best public policy approach is to reverse the hierarchy between carbon price and the so-called ‘complementary measures’, such as a feed in tariff, efficiency standards, public infrastructure investments and industry development. An effective carbon price will be the measure that best complements a whole-of-sector reform plan for energy generation, distribution and consumption. After all, Australia must effectively transition its whole energy system to renewable sources as soon as possible.

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This Saturday the state of Victoria goes to the polls. The Victorian Greens party were originally expected to mount a serious challenge to Labor in the inner-city seats of Melbourne, Richmond, Brunswick and Northcote. But that was, of course, before the Liberal party’s decision to preference the Greens party last in all 88 of the state’s lower house seats.

Now, the consensus among political analysts is that Ted Ballieu’s unexpected move has dashed the Greens’ hopes of following Adam Bandt’s success at the 2010 federal election. According to ABC’s election analyst Antony Green:

‘The Liberal decision to preference against the Greens in all electorates is an in-principle decision which will deliver Labor the four inner-city seats where they are under challenge from the Greens. Even if the Liberals don’t campaign strongly, there will be very little flow of preferences to the Greens and certainly not enough to defeat Labor in those inner-city seats.’

Regardless of whether or not the Victorian Greens get new members elected to parliament in 2010, the party will eventually have to address the question of leadership. The Age quote Greg Barber acknowledging an agreement among fellow Green parliamentarians to share the leadership. Will the Victorian Greens elect a party leader in the next term of office or will they continue with the joint leadership farce?

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The non-partisan think tank the Grattan Institute has published a new report that identifies improved teacher effectiveness as the key to achieving better educational outcomes for Australian students. The reform focus, the Institute argues, will allow Australia to increase its international performance and help the nation harness the economic and social benefits of a better-educated population.

The Investing in Our Teachers, Investing in Our Economy report is an attempt to broaden the education policy agenda by looking beyond the narrow focus on class sizes. Dr Ben Jensen, the Education Program Director of Grattan Institute says:

‘Measures to improve teacher effectiveness will deliver better value for our children’s learning outcomes, improve Australia’s economic productivity and be a better use of public funds than reducing class sizes.’

The Grattan Institute adds:

‘The drive to reduce class sizes, whilst well intentioned and politically popular, is found to be without impact in producing better education outcomes for students.’

The report represents a break from the usual policy discourse that places emphasis on quantitative performance indicators.

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Yesterday, it was reported BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers supports a price on carbon. The news was a welcome development for climate change advocates, particularly for those who prefer carbon pricing as the key mechanism for reducing Australia’s carbon emissions.

While it’s true that Kloppers did discuss a carbon price and make recommendations for such a policy in his address to the Australian British Chamber of Commerce, the widely circulated soundbite–‘BHP Boss calls for carbon price’–does not adequately reflect Mr Kloppers’ broader comments about change policy.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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