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Guardian

Jun 25, 2014

Explainer: did Clive Palmer just save the planet?

Clive Palmer dropped a bombshell on climate policy tonight. He's a fair bit greener -- and Tony Abbott will be fuming. Crikey explains what just happened.

Kingmaker Clive Palmer has saved the furniture on climate policy, in a bizarre press conference with environmental crusader Al Gore. Spin and media fiction aside, here’s an explanation of what Palmer’s announcement means.

Palmer confirmed that yes, his Palmer United Party party will vote to repeal the carbon tax. That means the carbon tax is gone, and there will be no other form of carbon price to replace it. This part is a victory — a very predictable victory — for Tony Abbott.

Some conclude that means Gore has failed entirely. But Palmer has long vowed his party would vote to scrap the carbon tax. Was it really to be expected he would do otherwise?

Here are Palmer’s other promises from last night — and Palmer has gone partially green.

A slightly breathless Palmer announced his senators would not vote down the Renewable Energy Target (RET), a crucial part of Australia’s climate architecture. The RET obliges electricity providers to buy a certain proportion from renewable sources (we’re talking about wind here — solar power is in the scheme, but makes a tiny fraction).

Now, there is no legislation to scrap the RET, and it’s not even Abbott government policy. But Abbott has been moving towards gutting or scrapping the scheme. Palmer has cut that off at the pass. The RET will survive — a very inconvenient truth for Abbott.

Palmer also announced his senators will keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That is big news. The CEFC is the government’s green bank — it has $10 billion to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. It’s new, and its investments seem to be working fairly well.

The Abbott government wanted to scrap the CEFC and until today, that looked like a pretty sure bet. Now the CEFC is saved.

Palmer said his senators would also vote to retain the Climate Change Authority. This is a government body which gives top-level advice (especially economic advice) on addressing climate change. The Abbott government wants to scrap the CCA, and until yesterday it looked dead (half the staff have already left, and the rest have been eyeing off the office furniture).

“The RET will survive — a very inconvenient truth for Abbott.”

So what Palmer has done is reel back some of Abbott’s plans to dismantle Australia’s climate policy.

But did he just herald the start of an ETS? No, and here’s why not.

Palmer said he’d attach an amendment to the CCA bill (note to Fairfax: not to the carbon tax repeal bill) stipulating that Australia would have an ETS with a zero carbon price, and that when Australia’s main trading partners established a similar ETS, Australia’s ETS would crank into action (i.e. the carbon price would rise). He named those partners: China, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Korea.

The EU and Korea have a carbon price. The US has no national carbon price and is not moving towards one (some states do have one). Instead, Obama wants to directly regulate emissions from coal-fired power stations. China does have various carbon prices in some regions and is moving towards linking them up with a national scheme. But this is taking time; it is some years away. Japan is not doing much on climate change and is not moving towards a carbon price.

Another issue is how would this bill get through the Coalition-dominated lower house? If the Coalition gives up on scrapping the CCA, the bill will die off and the ETS would not be established. Why on earth would the Coalition pass this bill in the lower house?

So in all, Palmer’s ETS sounds like a phantom one — his conditions would not be met for quite some time. They have certainly not been met now. So the carbon tax goes, and the ETS does not replace it.

And if you listen closely, what Palmer says on an ETS — Australia will have one when our major trading partners all have one — is actually what the Coalition says. It’s just that Abbott says it pretty quietly and not very often.

It could be argued that Palmer’s phantom ETS is nothing but greenwash to allow the PUP to get on with its election promise to vote to scrap the carbon tax.

But, in moving a small (and possibly futile) step back towards carbon pricing, the announcement has some significance. It leaves the Coalition more isolated in being hostile to pricing carbon. From now on, the ALP, the Greens and the PUP will all say they believe in an ETS. It kicks the can along the road in the debate over carbon pricing.

And in the other announcements — the RET, the CEFC, the CCA — Clive has greened up quite considerably. That’s why the genial Gore stood next to him.

It will be interesting to see what Abbott does now. If Palmer stands his ground on these bills — and if his senators toe the line (which might be a live question) — does the Coalition government go to a double dissolution election on the CEFC or the CCA? Given the carbon tax repeal, Abbott’s sacred cow, will go ahead, that seems unlikely.

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37 comments

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37 thoughts on “Explainer: did Clive Palmer just save the planet?

  1. Wobbly

    He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.

  2. Flickknifetipsy

    That is so true Wobbly!

  3. botswana bob

    Clive is a sly old fox presenting himself as the Green miner. He has totally flummoxed phoney Tony, making Australia’s leading climate change refusenik look more like a bozo then he usually does.

  4. Wobbly

    Clive to Tony tomorrow: “Just about to come over for that meeting mate. You sure I can’t bring anything? Hang on a sec mate…”
    Clive (muffled) “Al – can you wrap those shit sandwiches in Glad Wrap mate. We’re off to see Toenails.”
    Clive to Tony: “yeah we’ll be right over. See ya.”

  5. Chris Hartwell

    Sly old fox indeed. As always, Clive looks out for Clive. But, and this is always the hard part, Clive looking out for Clive may just benefit the rest of us as well.

  6. Simon

    Well at least he looks like he has some kind of vision. (even though he doesn’t).
    … and it doesn’t seem to matter if he looks like he’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic (or maybe too many sandwiches)

  7. Liamj

    Isn’t the populist good cop Clive lovely after Tony wingnut bad cop. But all the wind turbines & pv panels in the world wont themselves solve climate change, and i do wish Oz journo’s would stop writing the LNPPUPs press releases for them.

  8. Gregory Oakes

    Not a bad result all up, but I’m not going to place in faith in Palmer until he does something like divest his coal mining interests. After all, a fortnight ago Waratah Coal announced that is will pursue legal action against the Qld State Government for rejecting a proposed rail corridor in central Queensland. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-11/clive-palmer-coal-company-sues-qld-government/5516262

  9. Fiona

    And he still hasn’t stated his position on the Emissions Reduction Fund, apart from stating he thinks it’s a “waste of money”. Will he or won’t he support its implementation? Because if he doesn’t, then Australia is left with one small scheme aimed at reducing emissions – the Carbon Farming Initiative (on which the ERF is based), and it can’t generate enough to meet even the 5% reduction Abbott is committed to.

    It’s all very cute but in the meantime, there are real people trying to implement actual policy on the ground, and the uncertainty while people play politics and grandstanding is insane.

  10. beachcomber

    Well done on the best attempt in today’s media to make sense of the scramble that spills out of Clive Palmer’s mouth.
    I don’t think Al Gore had any idea why he was there, or what Clive was saying.
    Nor do most people including journalists today.
    But Palmer has allowed Abbott to lead the only Government in the world that is repealling action on Climate Change.
    And there will be nothing to replace it.
    No Direct Inaction.
    And an ETS that works only when everyone else on the planet gets one before us.

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