Perhaps the most revealing recent comment on the Government’s approach to climate politics was from the Prime Minister. On The 7.30 Report he dismissed criticism that the emissions trading scheme makes too many concessions to the big polluters by saying that the Government was being attacked from both the left and the right but would pursue a balanced position.

If Mr Rudd believes science that demands urgent action lies “on the left”, he has adopted the denialist viewpoint that science is political and therefore open to selective use.

The Green Paper confirms that the Rudd Government does not really get climate change, neither its urgency nor its seriousness. Any form of compensation or concession for coal-fired generators — who have for a decade willfully failed to adjust to the inevitable — is ethically indefensible.

More importantly, the proposals for compensation will fatally undermine the effectiveness of the system by removing the incentive for behavioural change. It is plain from reading the Green Paper’s Chapter 10 that the Government has been completely snowed by the arguments and threats of the generators.

It’s an extended apologia for a forthcoming act of political capitulation and should be marked down as another huge victory for the greenhouse mafia in Canberra.

It is tautologous to say that all structural change means job losses. If jobs are not being lost in the domestic polluting industries then the ETS is not working; the whole point is to reduce investment in polluting industries and stimulate investment in the alternatives, which should lead to more and better jobs.

The Government’s political strategy seems to be to make vague promises that it will get tough later. It is hoping there will be a better time to introduce a policy that works, and in the meantime do something that has only the appearance of action.

The Government was elected on a wave of community alarm about climate change, so what is the Government hoping will happen over the next three to five years to make it easier to get tough?

Is it hoping that the coal-fired generators will suddenly become altruistic and do the right thing, directing their investments into low-emission sources? Why would they? Rent-seeking and heavy lobbying has worked so far, why wouldn’t it work again?

Is it hoping that the white knight of carbon capture and storage will save the day? Even the Government knows that there are a good five election cycles before that could happen.

Is it hoping that the effects of climate change will become so severe that all opposition will fall away? That would be stretching cynicism too far.

The Government’s stance presents the Greens’ senators with a dilemma. They will try to amend the ETS legislation in the Senate, but will be unsuccessful. So do they vote for a scheme that will have virtually no impact on Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions for several years, and hope that the Government will subsequently find some backbone?

Or do they vote it down to highlight its failures? Given that the polluters have got everything they wanted, they will be lobbying the Coalition to let the legislation pass, so in the end the votes of the Greens’ senators may not count.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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