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Senator Milne: A few stings in the tail of the boring budget

Every Australian knows that, if you have two credits cards, it is very bad management to pay off your debt on one of them by racking it up on the other.

Last night’s Budget pulled down the national economic debt, but it continued the process of racking up our ecological debt.

Once again, the funds allocated to renewable energy, public transport and energy efficiency pale into insignificance next to the tens of billions to roads and the military.

The $652 million of new money to renewable energy, saved due to the decision not to even attempt negotiations with the Greens over a carbon pricing system will be welcomed by an industry which has been starved of funds for so long. Even since the Rudd government’s election, the promise of new funding has still been just that – a promise. Virtually none of the Renewable Energy Development Fund has been spent, and the Solar Flagships were only short-listed last night.

Piecemeal subsidies to renewables will only mean we will import technologies from overseas – where they take renewables seriously as an alternative to coal – to supplement a handful of coal fired power plants with some solar power.

We won’t see long-term jobs or manufacturing set up here unless we get a policy framework in place that will actually deliver a transformation – and that does not mean a CPRS which is designed to secure ongoing investment in coal. The Greens will be pushing hard in the Senate and the election campaign for some of those policies – such as a feed-in tariff for all renewable energy, a significant increase in the renewable energy target, loan guarantees for large-scale renewable energy developments and a levy on big polluters.

The missed opportunity is stark, and the cuts to on-the-ground environment programs from Landcare to green car innovation to water tanks will be devastating to thousands of people. But the biggest sting in the tail – the decision which is likely to have the most far-reaching implications – is the government’s decision to incorporate their entire commitment to climate financing for developing nations into existing aid budget promises, instead of making it additional.

You may recall that one of the few rays of hope at last December’s Copenhagen Conference was the commitment by rich nations to allocate some US$30 billion to a fast-start financing program to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate changes already locked in. The understanding at the conference was that this commitment would be additional to existing aid budgets – indeed additional to promised increases under the Millennium Development Goals.

Outgoing Secretary of the UN climate process, Yvo de Boer, has repeatedly warned this year that the key challenge this year is to rebuild trust between developed and developing nations. Just this week, de Boer warned that if developed nations take their climate financing funds out of existing aid budgets it will be seen as “climate washing” and “not conducive” to that vital process of rebuilding trust. For a consummate diplomat like de Boer, this was very strong language.

The Rudd government has allowed domestic climate action to languish with yet another budget failure. But it has delivered an unforgivable blow to international climate negotiations at a time when we desperately need progress.

The Rudd government may think that racking up ecological debt in this way suits their short term political agenda, but it is not wise management for the future and it will not be appreciated by an electorate increasingly concerned about the impact of the climate crisis, extinctions and peak oil on their lives.

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  • 1
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    By throwing pennies at developing nations, the government tries to buy forgiveness to the future victims of a damaged climate, when we should be spending billions to replace all carbon-based fuels.

    For that matter, there is no voice in Parliament that comprehensively condemns coal, oil and gas. The environment desperately needs the Greens to ditch their antinuclear stance and take on a credible voice of climate conscience.

  • 2
    Eponymous
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    A lot of Greens voters would disagree with you on nuclear Roger. Not sure supporting nuclear would be in the Green’s best interest.

  • 3
    Jeremy Williams
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Christine I mostly agree but surely however poor the cprs was it would have been better than nothing. At least it would have said to industry its game on now and the government is puting a price on carbon. I think it would have encouraged more investment in clean energy than there is now. The european union ets started weakly but it was improved over time, it could have been the same in australia.

  • 4
    Jeremy Williams
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Hey Roger
    I have nothing against nuclear either but I think this debate about nuclear being the only baseload alternative to coal is misleading. Of course the minerals council, media etc have pushed this view but there are a number of reasons why australia doesn’t need it. Firstly Australia has a lot of room for energy efficiency and renewables. Solar could drastically help with peak load in summer when all of those air conditioners are cranked.
    Nuclear is not co2 free the concrete involved in building a plant is very c02 intensive and it takes a long time to build. Mining it requires ongoing co2 emmisions and nuclear is also very expensive.
    Solar thermal and hot rocks both provide baseload power.
    My thoughts are that a debate for or against nuclear is irrelevant because there are so many easy options to start with.

  • 5
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy’s technical questions can be answered with technical numbers, eg the article and discussion
    http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/04/21/time-to-bust-some-myths-about-renewable-energy/

    However the Greens also have a more political concern: that prohibition of nuclear energy prohibits nuclear war. In particular they are concerned that reprocessing of used fuel rods (aka “nuclear waste”) may allow diversion of fissile material into a bomb-making process. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    However the climate damage is developing into a greater evil. It may become more attractive to Green voters to allow nuclear to replace carbon for the sake of the greater good.

    The shift would be then be from prohibition to policing. The IAEA already police the traffic in uranium, including Australian uranium. Australia is also signatory to the GNEP, which restricts reprocessing to nuclear-club countries.

  • 6
    jenauthor
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    At the time of the CPRS I begged the Greens to consider that the small steps gained by passing it would be better than nothing. Then it could be beefed up as the economy adapted and the rest of the world came online.

    Now the Greens want to absolve themselves for part of the responsibility that that decision entailed. Which was NOTHING HAPPENED! What the govt did last night was small steps — something you people refused to take!

    The coal industry might be the pollution demon in your eyes but your unrealistic attitude accomplished nothing. And you gave the coalition and it’s lapdogs at the mainstream press the opportunity to blame the government for THEIR backflip.

    Coal has to be encouraged to clean itself up — not destroyed outright over night because that is unrealistic to the extreme.

    I understand your principles. In a perfect world, they’d be great and I’d applaud them.

    But we don’t live in a perfect world … we need to adapt what we have, changing it over time, rather than cutting off hands that feed too many in this country. Right now coal is integral — like it or not — and gradual adaptation is the most sensible course of action. (And no, I have absolutely no involvement in the coal industry — so I am not speaking from vested interest.)

    Thanks to your lack of common sense, you’re are now facing the possibility that the coalitions crackpot climate deniers might even grab power again! I’d like to see the members of the Greens sitting and explaining the extra 5 or 10 years of delay to their grandchildren and how their refusal to compromise delivered inaction so long that our country was doomed to become an ecological wasteland.

    Now you want to bag the govt for the few initiatives they did make? How about you look into your own backyard — the Greens do not have the responsibility of actual govt and never will have — so it is easy to pitch stones. If you were in the govt’s position and knew the actual logistics what would you REALLY do? You’d be as hamstrung by minor parties and lack of funding as the govt currently is. You;d compromise like the rest of them — and then you’d make small steps — forward.

  • 7
    Eponymous
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Please remember people that it wouldn’t have mattered if the Greens did support the bill; still needed Xenophon and Fielding on side. Fielding is barking mad.

  • 8
    jenauthor
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Yes Fielding is barking mad — but the fact that the greens did not support it allowed other green minded libs to sit back and not cross the floor.

    If the greens had shown support, it might just have given those who might have wavered, the courage to do like the two lib senator who did support it.

    With those two libs, and the greens, it would have passed.

  • 9
    Eponymous
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    This may be true Jen, but my suspicion is that those libs only crossed the floor because they knew it wouldn’t pass.

    Also, by that stage, the scheme was utterly unpalatable. Watered down to buggery in negotiations with Turnbull; I actually agree with the Green’s decision not to support it. It was a bloody terrible system with far too many ‘market distortions’ and WAY too much money for polluters.

    The new US bill has been released and contains some interesting ideas. Import charges rather than domestic support to cover off the possibility of carbon leakage.

  • 10
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    The ETS traded in rights to pollute; it never actually punished any wrongdoing. On the other hand, a carbon tax punishes a bad. Definitely morally superior, from a green standpoint.

    Nevertheless, we need to be vigilant when the pollies begin to talk about “compensation”, because we can be sure as eggs they are going to put money back into the hands of the bad guys. It could be a function of the Greens in Parliament, to insist that the tax is applied to the carbon itself, as it comes out of the ground. Otherwise we will be back into the horse trading of the ETS, where it seemed that almost everybody was either excused or “compensated”.

    Why on earth do we need the CT to be revenue neutral, anyway? The government drawing its revenue by taxing wrongdoing, surely that is a good thing?

    By introducing a carbon tax, a government has a marvellous opportunity to look generous as they reduce the other taxes. By reducing company tax, they would give some applause-winning relief to the polluters, but they would be giving an equal tax relief to their carbon-free competitors.

  • 11
    Jeremy Williams
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I think we all agree the ets was very bad but at the very least would have sent a message to industry that we are now in carbon constrained economy. Bob Carr wrote an interesting piece in the OZ on the weekend talking about the projects that would have taken place if we did have an ETS(even a bad one).
    The other unfortunate consequence is that I think now with no ets this will further entrench the sceptics in the media.
    @Roger perhaps you misunderstand what I was saying - I realise the standard renewables right now will not provide baseload power. What I was saying was that there are enormous improvements and reductions in co2 that can made now with with energy effiency and renewables.
    Remember any nuclear power plant will be at least 10 years before its complete. There is a lot of co2 in their production.
    Solar thermal is being used now.
    The renewable and energy effiency options should be saturated first by which time I sure there would be better options than the very slow and expensive nuclear.
    Australia has so many options that we’re ignoring

  • 12
    Eponymous
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Have you got a link for the Carr article Jeremy?

  • 13
    Eponymous
    Posted Thursday, 13 May 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Can that, here it is.

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