On a reliably frigid Canberra morning holed up in a ramshackle hotel bereft of anything resembling heating, the sound of Anthony Albanese seeping out of the clock radio to claim total credit for the passage of the carbon tax seemed too much to bear.
Today’s historic introduction of 18 separate pieces of legislation was part of a grand Labor journey decades in the making, Albo reckoned.
“It’s time to act,” he told Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National. “We’ve been talking for 19 years. We’ve had 35 parliamentary committees. We’ve had international reports from the international panel on climate change, we’ve had the Garnaut review, we’ve had the Shergold review, we’ve had commitments to putting a price on carbon adopted by both political parties going into the 2007 election. We’ve had the issue over whether we ratify Kyoto or not.
But the talk had to stop somewhere. “One day the government has to act and that day is today.”
Later in the House, Albanese calmly laid out his personal investment in the process, symbolised by his sponsorship of a private climate members’ bill under John Howard. Next up, Craig Emerson name-checked a 1989 Hawke government document — “Our Country Our Future” — and his 1990 establishment of a national greenhouse office as evidence for Labor’s pre-eminence.
But behind the grandstanding and backslapping lies an uneasy truth – in stark contrast to the ill-fated and weak-kneed CPRS, this time around the carbon package was crafted not by Labor but by its Green-tinged partners on Christine Milne’s Multi Party Climate Change Committee.
Among senior Greens MPs such as Milne, the progenitor of today’s carbon tax is neither Albanese nor Emerson but the voters of Melbourne, who picked Adam Bandt over Cath Bowtell and with the help of the crossbenchers forced the government’s hand.
Labor is officially loath to emphasise the role of their inner-city eco cousins, for fear of pouring fuel on loony right allegations about who exactly is running the government.
Now, Greens insiders are keen to depart from that narrative. They say it was the Greens that proposed much of the detail during never-ending sessions between Milne and Greg Combet inside the MPCCC. Today’s landmark is a sweet day indeed after the Greens were frozen out and refused to vote for the previous scheme.
Where unchangeable targets were locked in for 15 years, now, five-year rolling emissions reduction targets will be overseen by the independent climate change authority pursuing emissions reductions of 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. Energy efficiency grants and biodiversity funds governed by an independent board are both Greens ideas. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency take care of renewable energy — both brainwaves presented to the MPCCC and flicked to Combet’s department for amendments.
One senior Greens source was candid this morning: “Pretty much all the innovations in the package are Greens ideas, the fundamental one being targets recommended by the Climate Change Authority and the big renewables funds with independent boards determining how the money should be spent. That’s a really radical difference.”
They said impressive tweaks such as an expanded Productivity Commission role in immediately reviewing compensation to emissions intensive trade-exposed industries was also a key victory. And the inherently conservative Australian Energy Market Operator will include scenario planning for 100% renewable energy.
Crikey understands that a gang of four key advisers — Milne policy adviser Oliver Woldring, Bandt spinner Damien Lawson, powerful Bob Brown chief-of-staff Ben Oquist and Milne media adviser Tim Hollo — were at the centre of the negotiations.
Between them, they were up against Combet’s staff, gaggles of prime ministerial minders, Treasurer Wayne Swan’s office and cabals of Climate Change, Treasury and Prime Minister & Cabinet public servants.
The outcome, the fruits of which now sit in the House of Representatives, was negotiated in good faith with Combet and the final result is regarded a joint effort. But in most cases, the fresh policy momentum was coming from the four key players and their bosses in Milne and Bandt.
The approach differs markedly from the approach on the other side of the House. This morning Ken O’Dowd was denying humans caused climate change and George Christensen produced a torrent of abuse instead of debate, bizarrely quoting lyrics from Simple Simon as a reason not to act.