“Giant metaphor strikes Parliament,” is how The Onion might have rendered the power outage that, thankfully, cut Kevin Rudd off mid-sentence on climate change in Question Time yesterday. It was the only interesting moment in a Question Time so boring as to be almost physically unendurable.

The Liberals are making a concerted effort to push the Frontier Economics modelling, and good on them. It’s very brave, because the instant response, not merely from Kevin Rudd but from assembled journalists, is why isn’t it policy, and if it isn’t, what is their policy. That’s a question that remains unresolved.

The best take on the whole business came from — get this — Wilson Tuckey at the doors this morning. “I thought you said enough yesterday,” Ian Macfarlane called as he walked past, but Wilson had plenty more to say. He downplayed being put in his place by Bob Baldwin to the cheers of his colleagues yesterday in the partyroom. “There was the usual ‘hear hear’ in support of a speech on party unity, a speech I myself have given frequently,” Tuckey said, as close to primly as it is possible for someone like him to get. But Tuckey’s substantial point was that both the CPRS and the Frontier Economics scheme are useless and will rely on buying permits from overseas that might not be verifiable.

OK, Tuckey didn’t use a word like “verifiable”. He referred to the Russian mafia selling permits. What you lose in accuracy with Tuckey you make up for with good copy.

“That’s why I support the Government’s renewable energy target,” Tuckey said. “We’ve got to invest in renewable energy. That will reduce emissions. The CPRS and the model presented yesterday [to the party room] won’t.” Tuckey wants the investment from the NBN redirected into renewable energy.

A highly articulate outburst, Wilson.

As we pointed out back in March, the whole process of carbon auditing is only just starting to attract the sort of attention necessary if we’re to be satisfied that an international trade in carbon permits will actually reduce global emissions. There will be international standards for permits, but ultimately no direct guarantee that an actual tonne of emissions is being saved.

And while Tuckey’s image of a Russian thug offering cheap carbon permits might be a little OTT, how about a Wall Street banker slicing and dicing carbon futures? As Kevin Rudd might say, it’ll be a three-level house of cards made of gas.

Both the CPRS and the Frontier model rely on buying lots of foreign permits, the latter especially so (in a bizarre and apparently ignorant rant this morning in The Australian, Michael Stutchbury entirely ignored the Frontier model’s dependence on imported permits and suggested it relied on efficiency from reduced churn). At some point the reliance on foreign permits will reach a point where Australia stops moving toward a lower-carbon economy and simply bribes the rest of the world to stay addicted to greenhouse gases, which is not viable as a long-term strategy, especially when we have huge potential for renewable energy ourselves anyway.

But the more immediate problem is what will be the source of these plentiful, guaranteed permits that we can be sure will actually equate to a tonne of gas? Pressed on the issue on Monday, Frontier’s Danny Price noted the US was likely to have a scheme up and running. Putting the poor quality of financial regulation in the US aside, the US is of course like Australia going to an importer of permits, not an exporter. So are most developed countries, which are likely to be the jurisdictions whose permits will ostensibly be more transparent and guaranteed to reflect actual emissions than other countries with poorer governance and financial accountability frameworks.

And how will we know whether companies are doing the right thing and buying a verifiable foreign permit rather than Dmitri the Executioner’s used permitski? Used permit salesmen might not have much more credibility than used car salesmen.

In Parliament, most of the Question Time debate yesterday was given over to the Prime Minister arguing why his dud emissions trading scheme was infinitely superior to the Frontier scheme, which in any event was simply an excuse for the Coalition to delay. Occasionally, like Penny Wong — whose 7.30 Report appearance was every bit as much a torment as Question Time — Rudd would argue that his scheme was even more pro-polluter than the Waxman-Markey bill, as if that was some sort of clinching argument as to the Opposition’s lack of credibility on the matter.

The weather had the right idea and silenced the lot of them.

Peter Fray

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