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Will Abbott’s axe really kill carbon trading in Australia?

Tony Abbott is likely to rescind the current cap-and-trade legislation if he wins the next election, but it’s easy to see the potential for a new carbon pricing scheme to develop out of the stump his axe created.

Julia Gillard claimed yesterday that she felt the Coalition would back away from its promise to rescind the carbon tax, telling ABC Radio:

It has been a fast and furious debate but it’s done….If the current opposition was ever to end up as the government, then they’d have a little fiddle and a name change and that would be the end of it.”

Greg Hunt was quickly onto Twitter with the response:

Message to PM: we will repeal the Carbon Tax. We will honour our pledges to the electorate.”

In spite of this, and a range of other pretty unambiguous statements from both Hunt and Abbott about their intent to repeal the carbon price legislation, many refuse to believe it.

You regularly hear the optimistic view: he says he’ll rescind the carbon tax, but that just means he’ll get rid of the fixed price period leaving us with an emissions trading scheme.

Of course Greg Hunt has made clear in public forums, without any equivocation, that they intend to roll-back the legislated carbon price in its entirety, not just the fixed price period. Yet hope remains, largely due to the belief that the loss of taxation revenue would be too great.

The tax revenue raised from the carbon price is expected to be $6.6 billion in 2013/14 and $7.3 billion 2014/15. One would have to think long and hard before giving this up, especially when household income tax has been cut and pensions increased.

But the reality is that tax revenue is highly likely to plunge to about half what’s currently forecast for 2015/16 once trading commences. Some $3-4 billion in taxation revenue is nothing to be sneezed at, but total taxation receipts during that year are expected to be $416 billion.

If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Abbott following through on winding back this carbon pricing legislation.

Nonetheless there is still another glimmer of hope for a carbon price, it’s just it won’t be built on the government’s current emissions cap-and-trade legislation. If you look closely at the 2010 Coalition climate change policy you’ll see the following outline of the program that could be readily reconfigured into an emissions trading scheme:

The Emissions Reduction Fund will use the existing National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme (NGERS) to determine proposed emissions reductions beyond overall base levels already determined for individual firms.

Businesses that reduce their emissions below their individual baseline (‘historic average’) will be able to offer this CO2 abatement for sale to the government…

Businesses that undertake activity with an emissions level above their ‘business as usual’ levels will incur a financial penalty.”

In setting these baselines the Coalition will effectively be setting a total emissions cap, although one that won’t be particularly onerous. Initially the lion’s share of the heavy lifting for achieving abatement will be borne by the government budget as they pay businesses for reducing their emissions below their baseline, or through funding abatement activities in areas not covered by emission baselines such as tree planting. But over time it is entirely possible for the scheme to be tweaked to operate more and more like a normal emissions trading scheme.

Firstly, the Coalition could implement a financial penalty that provided a strong incentive for firms to avoid going over their baselines. Once in place businesses would then push the government to allow them to purchase baseline allowances from other businesses which would be cheaper than paying the penalty. This would then create a trading scheme, rather than just a government budget-funded scheme.

To reduce the cost to the budget the government might then start subtly tightening the cap by not awarding emission baselines to new emitting facilities, such as LNG plants, or only awarding them, say, half of their requirements. Instead, to avoid financial penalties these new entrants would need to purchase emission allowances from firms previously awarded emission baselines.

Steadily over time the government would become a smaller and smaller proportion of the demand for emission baseline allowances and offset projects. And lo and behold a carbon price green shoot would re-emerge from the stump that Abbott’s axe had created.

Will this happen? Over the dead body of many a member of the Coalition cabinet I suspect. But it is entirely feasible to implement and also imminently sensible if the Coalition is genuinely serious about achieving the 2020 emission targets.

*This article was originally published at Climate Spectator

19
  • 1
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    And what cred would Hunt’s twitter have?
    This is a man that garnered university credits for his treatise promoting a cap and trade program to assist in the mitigation of our CO2e emmissions and then follows Bernadi’s mantra that Abbott finds necessary to embrace, to shore up his leadership.
    They are all peas in one pod that are determined to gain the treasury benches on the most opaque of platforms including their Climate Policy.
    We can only be morons some of the time, but for your article Tristan we would extend that period through yet another election cycle.

  • 2
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t an Abbott Government have to get the support of the Senate to repeal the the current cap-and-trade legislation? How likely is that?

  • 3
    Merve
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    But it is entirely feasible to implement and also imminently sensible if the Coalition is genuinely serious about achieving the 2020 emission targets.”

    Well, there is your first mistake.

  • 4
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    What could they do via Ministerial directives and the like ahead of actual legislation. Abbott will have little choice but to make an attempt to wind back the ETS/Carbon Tax - lest he look like …just another politican… Moreover if the LNP win in a landslide they’ll be itching for a DD to sweep the Greens out and take control of both Houses.

  • 5
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Hunt’s “commitment”?
    I seem to recall Abbott, Hunt’s present leader (then as Howard’s “Non-Core Promises Party” government’s Health Minister), giving some “absolutely rock solid, ironclad commitment” to Health and Medicare safety nets, just before the 2004 election?

  • 6
    Steve777
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Of course any effective action on global warming on the part of the Australian government will cease should the Coalition win in 2013. Expect the Coalition to quietly drop their commitment to the 5% emission target. Expect so-called ‘Direct Action’ to be quietly dropped, except to the extent that it could provide a slush fund for spending in marginal electorates. Why spend billions for a problem that most of them don’t believe exists. Just as ‘liberals’ in the so-called ‘Liberal’ party have to bite their tongue if they want career advancement, so will those who believe that global warming is a problem. And should a Labor Oppostion and the Greens in the Senate respect the Coaltion’s mandate to kill off Carbon Pricing? Well, as much as the Coaltion respects anyone else’s mandate, i.e. not at all.

  • 7
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Steve - the irony is that the only way to do anything about climate change is “direct action” - as the latest CPI shows - the carbon tax has had no impact on the inflation rate - so therefore it’s had no impact on the pricing signal and no one has modified their behaviour as a result.

    As James Hansen says - the only way to reduce the CO2 from apx 400 ppm to 350 ppm is planting trees and soil sequestration - with a little help from thorium reactors.

    The other choice is the cliff with a little help from a Lemmings or two … But yer Hunt’s a tool.

  • 8
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Steve 777 - exactly.

    Simon - let ‘em call a DD and halve the quota needed in the
    Senate - more Greens not less! Re. thorium reactors, the idea has been around for years and I haven’t seen one yet. Ask the Finns and French how their new generation (yet far more conservative) reactor construction projects are going.

  • 9
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2013 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Mal - read some Hansen.

  • 10
    Patriot
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    Uh, there will be a carbon tax under the government Tony Abbott leads.”

  • 11
    Adam Smith
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    As of now, the Liberal Coalition fails to outline any sort of policy’s for all Australians. One only needs to ask about their policy for food production. How will they sustain food production on the Australian continent? For example, it takes about 10 Calories of energy from fossil fuel to produce 1 Calorie in food. The Earth’s population is now approaching 7 billion people. If elected to govern Australians, how will the Liberal Coalition policy work to sustain our soils; to in fact change the basis for farm subsidies from rewards for over-production to one that rewards the accumulation of carbon in soils and restores the productivity of the land? I think that the Australian farmers who understand science, the application of science in land management and farming, may well drop the Liberal Party Coalition from their voting ticket, lest they are happy to see their capital invested in farming disappear.

  • 12
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately there is no sign, Adam, of any connection at all between science and the world of journalism and politics.
    When farmers get to communicate via the NBN they can dispense with the latter, the better to protect themselves from idiocy.
    Most politicians and journalists behave as if they were aristocrats at the Court of Louis XVI.
    Sooner, rather than later,they are all for the chop, and science will bury their ugly, stupid mess.
    Be patient.Idiocy is unsustainable.

  • 13
    Adam Smith
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Hamis, I suppose its how we see things, glass half full or empty. Take transport, it seems that here in Australia our overriding principle driving the design of our big cities is “make sure that all the cars are happy.” Yet when one tries to connect with regional centres, many of these roads connecting are sub-standard poorly designed, often more or less upgraded tracks as was used by bullock trains an stage coaches. We are only just achieving some modernisation along the Pacific Highway and even this progress is being frustrated as the NSW O’Farrell Liberal Coalition is considering Road Trains. How clever is the Liberal Party?

  • 14
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Hamis;
    I can only agree with your comments and in particular, your last sentence.
    However the transitional period that we experience today without the totality of the NBN communication means, does throw up some challenges.
    Cubby, Alexander, Tristan and others should be encouraged, for they are only the conveyors of some of the facts to countervail the idiocies our leaders are inflicting on us.
    The climate change debate, over the past ten or more years, is a stark case in point.
    We have had a deluge of misinformation presented in bold type by our fourth estate to protect a few of their advertisers interests and boardroom cohorts.
    While we all look forward to the time when lies and mistruths can be dispensed with and overwhelmed by facts, we do have try to constructivelly use the means at our current disposal to shine a bit of honest light on the facts.
    I look forward to reading your insightful musings in the future Hamis.

  • 15
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the compliment, Mike, but in my case it may be the phenomenon of idiot savant under play.
    The country newspapers, which were available in the local, regional library, to take up your point about encouraging quality, were far more intelligent and edifying in their content than the capital city press efforts.
    Most farmers are now multi-talented and many have teriary qualifications and, compared to their city cousins, consult more closely with specialised technical and scientific advisors on a regular basis.
    And the journalism reflects this, apart from the glaring exception of the family-owned National party rags.
    As an example, a massive, volunteer, tree-planting project operating on a sixty kilometre front near Dalby in the Darling Downs and advancing 100Km towards the coast, can’t remember the number of plantings,and reported in the counrty press, was completely ignored by the city press, who were busilly presenting country people as dopey, environmental vandals.
    Could not be bothered ever to break this ugly artificial divide by reproducing any such articles, (and there were many) in the city press.
    Tough luck finding anything, as well, from The New Scientist, heading towards its sixtieth year of weekly publication, and only supported by its first publisher on the proviso that the “man in the street” understand the articles, and which remains the secret if its success.
    Too much, it seems, for the pathetic MSM to understand or emulate.
    But there is a promised land of intelligent enlightenment on the other side of the barricades of ordure daily added to by the Mudorch journos to herd their readers into ignorance.
    Palce eunuchs of the press, politicians in hiding, though Abbott, former eunuch, has recently outed News as part of the opposition to the government.
    They will be extinct soon, poisoned by their own shit.

  • 16
    Achmed
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Steve777 - if Abbott is not going to introduce Direct Action he needs to drop it before the election. Otherwise he goes into the election with a lie

    Abbott needs to explain how he will ensure price rises down to the CT are removed. Explain how he will differentiate between a CT rise and normal business cost increase to ensure the correct amount is removed. Explain fully and properly where the taxpayer money is coming from in the budget.

  • 17
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Saturday, 26 January 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Achmed;
    We have a good deep low slowly wandering down the Queensland coast at the moment. I suspect a few of the coal open pits that they have just finished dewatering, and we referred to in prior posts, are being inundated again.
    Thanks for your valued commentsand observations Hamis.So True!!!

  • 18
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Saturday, 26 January 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Gavin Moody;
    You are right to suggest that Abbott would need to have the Senate’s concurrance to remove the present Cap and Trade system.
    But over the past two years Abbott has shown a distinct proclivity to ignore and circumvent the normal democratic processes.
    I would care to suggest this attitude to parliamentary process will enable him to emasculate the operation of the law by regualtion and executive fiat, or by simply dissolving the departments that oversee the legislation.

  • 19
    Achmed
    Posted Saturday, 26 January 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Mike
    Been watching with a bit of envy. We could do with some of that rain here. Hoping people keep safe witht the flooding.
    Coal mines will show a downturn in profits due to the flooding but I have every confidence that people will blame the CT.

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