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Mar 9, 2011

Climate change cage match: Abbott debates Abbott

Tony Abbott goes mano-a-mano on climate change and a carbon price with his toughest opponent yet -- Tony Abbott. Let's look back on all the times Abbott has spoken about climate change.

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As the Gillard government’s plan for a carbon prices sends Coalition stocks soaring, attention is increasingly focusing on what opposition leader Tony Abbott believes in about climate change and how to deal with it. Today in Crikey, Tony Abbott debates one of his most formidable opponents on the issue — Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott: Climate change is a relatively new political issue, but it’s been happening since the earth’s beginning. The extinction of the dinosaurs is thought to have been associated with climate change.

Tony Abbott: I’ve always thought that climate change was real because I’ve always known about the ice age and other things which indicate that over time climate does change.

Tony Abbott: I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have significantly increased since the spread of industrialisation, but it seems that noticeable warming has only taken place between the 1970s and 1990s.

Tony Abbott: We have a clear policy on climate change. Climate change is real.

Tony Abbott: I mean in the end this whole thing is a question of fact, not faith, or it should be a question of fact not faith and we can discover whether the planet is warming or not by measurement. And it seems that notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man-made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped. Now admittedly we are still pretty warm by recent historical standards but there doesn’t appear to have been any appreciable warming since the late 1990s.

Tony Abbott: It’s quite likely that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has had some effect on climate, but debate rages among scientists over its extent and relative impact given all the other factors at work.

Tony Abbott: We can’t conclusively say whether man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to climate change. If they are, we don’t know whether they are exacerbating or counteracting what might otherwise be happening to global climate. Even if they are adding to climatic extremes, humanity may be able to cope with only modest adjustments.


Tony Abbott: What we can say, though, is that we should try to make as little difference as possible to the natural world. As well, prudent people take reasonable precautions against foreseeable contingencies. It’s the insurance principle.

Tony Abbott: OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth,  the climate was considerably warmer than it is now. And then during what they called the Dark Ages it was colder. Then there was the medieval warm period. Climate change happens all the time and it is not man that drives those climate changes back in history. It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays.

Tony Abbott: I am confident, based on the science we have, that mankind does make a difference to climate, almost certainly the impact of humans on the planet extends to climate.

Tony Abbott: The argument is absolute crap.

Tony Abbott. We believe climate change is real, yes, we believe humans make a contribution towards climate change.

Tony Abbott: There may even have been a slight decrease in global temperatures (the measurement data differs on this point) over the past decade despite continued large increases in emissions associated with the rapid economic growth of China and India.

Tony Abbott: I think that the science is far from settled but on the insurance principle you are prepared to take reasonable precautions against significant potential risks, and that’s I think why it makes sense to have an ETS.

Tony Abbott: I think there are all sorts of ways of paying for this that don’t involve a great big new tax that we will live with forever.

Tony Abbott: There is much to be said for an emissions trading scheme. It was, after all, the mechanism for emission reduction ultimately chosen by the Howard government.

Tony Abbott: What we need is environmental direct action. We need action which is actually going to make a difference. What we don’t need is a whopping great new tax masquerading as a green measure.

Tony Abbott: The Howard government proposed an emissions trading scheme because this seemed the best way to obtain the highest emission reduction at the lowest cost… On the other hand, artificially created markets could be especially open to manipulation… For this reason, many now think that a carbon charge scheme directed at the least environmentally efficient producers would be simpler and fairer than an emissions trading scheme.

Tony Abbott: We have a policy to reduce emissions, not just to make them more expensive.

Tony Abbott: In the absence of wind that never stops blowing, sun that never stops shining and tides that never stop turning; in the absence of hydrogen cars; and in the absence of nuclear power stations to supply most base-load electricity, big reductions in emissions are impossible without a big increase in people’s cost of living or a significant change in their lifestyles.

Tony Abbott: The important thing is what will it do to people’s cost of living and if it drives up your cost of living it is a tax. It’s effectively an increase in the rate of GST — that’s what it is.

Tony Abbott: If Australia is greatly to reduce its carbon emissions, the price of carbon intensive products should rise. The Coalition has always been instinctively cautious about new or increased taxes. That’s one of the reasons why the former government opted for an emissions trading scheme over a straight-forward carbon tax. Still, a new tax would be the intelligent skeptic’s way to deal with minimising emissions because it would be much easier than a property right to reduce or to abolish should the justification for it change.

*Taken from Tony Abbott’s biography Battlelines and speeches, media transcripts and articles since mid-2009. Additional research by Crikey intern Nikki Bricknell.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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56 thoughts on “Climate change cage match: Abbott debates Abbott

  1. jimD

    Thanks Bernard (and Nikki) for an illuminating compilation of Abbott’s utterances on climate. Seems to me Julia Gillard should easily be able to make the case that, following the last election, her own views on the importance of acting on the climate began to change, at the same time as the opportunity to pass legislation that might achieve something arose. Compared to the whoppers that John Howard told throughout his term of office, and the incoherent, inconsistent gibberings of Abbott on the subject as recorded in Bernard’s article, her transgression could quite easily made to look forgiveable. A hard-hitting summary of Abbott’s idiocy on this subject should be obligatory reading for all Labor members, and they should transmit this message relentlessly to the media at every opportunity: Abbott does not know what he is talking about on climate; he has been inconsistent on all important aspects of the issue to a laughable degree; how could a Party with him as leader get anything done on this issue? His only suggestion on what he will do will look increasingly ridiculous as the figures on what his direct investment solution will really cost continue to roll in.

    What else has Abbott got on this issue? The ridiculous figures O’Farrell and others are bandying around on what a carbon tax will cost households are easy to deal with: it can easily be calculated that the cost is trivial (Alan Pears, writing in the SMH Business Day on March 1, suggests that even a $30 per tonne of carbon tax would cost the average household $3 to $4 per week) and Gillard need not wait for agreement on the tax provisions to foreshadow that in fact it will be quite unlikely that consumers will actually pay anything like the full amount of the tax themselves. Even with full compensation to consumers (or a tax cut to offset it, which opens up more opportunity to incentivize reducing household energy usage) there would still be plenty of revenue left over to subsidise low carbon technologies (hopefully on a competitive grants or loan basis, to keep them honest). Finish this argument off with the reminder noted earlier of how much Abbott’s proposal for addressing climate change will cost, and his scare-bag will be starting to look pretty empty.

    The Gillard team really need to get this sort of stuff out there now; batting away Abbott’s attacks with the response that all will be revealed when the multi-party committee gets through with the design aspects looks and sounds like a typical bureaucratic escape clause, because that’s exactly what it is. There is plenty to say now: Abbott doesn’t know what he is talking about on climate, and doesn’t know what he wants. He can’t defend his direct action solution as the numbers on what it will cost are increasingly available. He is frightened of his front benchers – many of whom do not like his approach, and he is afraid of his right-wing – especially the National Party drones – who do like his present do-nothing approach, but who are no more capable than he is of suggesting something that might work. Abbott is now saying that his mission is now a truth campaign. It’s a bit difficult to see how he could tell the truth on this issue when he very clearly does not know what the truth is.

    For goodness sake, Julia: do something, now.

  2. Catching up

    Yes the poll is bad, but that was expected. When you have captains of industry calling for the nastiness to stop and get on with the business of putting a price on carbon to bed as quickly as possible. Where in the Constitution does it say that there has to be an election if there are bad polls?

    How long can Mr, Abbott keep going around the country, ranting “liar liar”. At some stage most people will tire of hearing this.

    When the public turn their attention to the substance of the announcement, they will start asking themselves if a price on carbon is needed, and is this the best way to go. There, I would imagine be a closer look at Mr. Abbott, the Opposition Leaders plan. Ranting “liar liar” will not hide that his plan is found wanting by many.

    Much of the scare campaign at this time is not based of facts. In the next few weeks, as the Climate Change Committee works through it agenda, we will be given the data that we need to make an opinion of the proposed carbon pricing. This is very unlikely to support the scare tactics that are being foisted on the public now. It will be similar to the previous PM plan but personally I hope, not so much given away to the polluters.

    The final aim, as many believe to use less power is not strictly true. The aim is for our power to be produced by carbon free processes. In the short term, until alternative sources of power is in place, we need to restrict our use of power produced by coal.

    If coal can be burnt clean, it may play a part in the future. Putting a price on carbon will encourage the coal industry to do the research for this to occur.

    There will, I believe about 1000 companies that will be paying the cost of carbon pricing. It is not coming out of the ordinary taxpayers pocket. When the GST was introduced, the GNP went up around 4%, even allowing for the compensation given to taxpayers and industries. It is suggested that the price on carbon will be around 1%, even without compensation. The wealthy may pay more, but the majority of Australians, in a well planned scheme will not.

    The Opposition’s plan is very expensive, will cost the tax payer and is believed will not work. The money has to come from somewhere, unless Mr. Abbott, the Opposition Leader has found the magic pudding or his god will come to his aid with a repeat of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Mr. Abbott, the Opposition Leader is relying on methods of reducing carbon that are not at this staged, scientifically proven. Mr. Turnbull said on QandA that there will be a cost, no matter the scheme.

    People will or should become concerned that Mr. Abbott, the Opposition Leader is will to place Australian Industry in danger because of his plan to dump the propped price on carbon, even if it takes a couple of elections. He will leave industry with no security, and us years behind in moving to a carbon free economy.

    Another myth being spread through the community is that no other country has done anything, that we are going it alone. This is not true. There are 30 countries, and 10 states in the USA have similar schemes. The UK has been addressing the problems since the days of Thatcher, a lady not known for wasteful spending.
    China, it is true, is not looking at carbon pricing, but do they need to do this to cut back on carbon. There are stories that China is beginning to address the problem, even if it is to clean up their smog. The coal power stations are supposed to be the state of the ark, but they are looking at alternatives methods of producing energy.

    Can anyone remember how the polls treated the ex PM Howard when he introduced the GST.

  3. John james

    The Australian public do not have a problem with politicians changing their minds, or altering their position.
    But they have a problem with Prime Ministers, 2 days before a national ballot, specifically ruling out a policy position, in order to assure wavering voters, ‘winning’ government ( if you can call Labor’s last election outcome a victory! ) by the narrowest of margins, and then promptly doing precisely the opposite.
    It is a LIE, ‘bald faced’ and calculated!
    Worse, it smacks of breath taking political ineptitude .
    Just ask NSW Labor Premier, Kristina Kenneally.
    She had structured her entire re-election strategy around trying to convince voters Labor would address cost of living increases better than Barry O’Farrell. And wham!
    O’Farrell couldn’t believe his luck. This won’t be an rout in NSW, its a massacre! Labor will be lucky to have enough seats to still claim ‘party status’
    Moreover, Gillard already had credibilty problems because of rumbling Kevin Rudd.
    After you’ve asked Kristina what she thinks, have a quiet chat to Kevin. The ‘Red Queen’ advised him to drop his ETS, then assasinated him because his polling took a dive.
    Her polling is worse!
    The only other piece of political ineptitude that has emerged that ranks with the above would have to be that of Malcolm Turnbull.
    The ABC, Labor, and the Left, love him, of course.
    There he was last week quoted as saying that he didn’t support Labor’s plan and he didn’t support Tony Abbott either.
    No wonder this guy fractured the Conservative base. That any Coalition Federal member could be seriously entertaining the proposition that Malcolm could one day lead again is mind boggling.
    Urbane and intelligent Turnbull may be, political leader he is not.
    George Brandis and Joe Hockey, please take note!

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