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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 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.

  11. Jimmy

    I cna’t believe the amount of people who think CLive has done somehitng good – if he wanted to he could have supported amending the current legislation to go to a floating price or have a fixed price of $0 from July 1 – but no he wants to dismantle it and start from scratch (he said htis directly on lateline last night). His policy of an ETS is a mere fig leaf to cover his desire to remove the “tax” from his business.

    Also how the hell does Palmer attach an amendment he wants to vote for to a bill he wants to vote against (the repeal of CEFC)?

  12. Umal Tshama

    Is Palmer looking more useful than the Greens?

    Being less predictable he is harder to run interference on and being more pragmatic is more likely to get potentially useful outcomes.

    So, will we seen the next poll showing increased support for PUP at the expense of the Greens?

  13. Patriot

    Sceptics’ dream come true. No carbon tax, no direct action and an ETS that takes effect when China, US, etc. implement one.

    The idea that China would follow our lead was always a fantasy. If it were true they would have followed our example of being a liberal democracy, instead of being a totalitarian state with re-education and hard labour for dissidents and thousands of executions every year.

  14. Sharkie

    Of course you need to take everything Clive says with a truck load of salt, but the press conference yesterday has shown one very clear thing. Tony Abbott and his merry band of denialists have a climate policy that is so much more extreme than the mad miner’s.
    It’s going to be very hard for the mad monk to claim economic ruin at the hands of the renewable energy industry when the mad miner is actually advocating keeping the RET.

  15. Chris Hartwell

    Scientific-illiterates’ dream come true. No carbon tax, no direct action and an ETS that takes effect when China, US, etc. implement one.

    Fixed that for you.

  16. Jimmy

    “The idea that China would follow our lead was always a fantasy” Of the countries listed by CLive without a carbon price, they are the most likely to get an carbon price first – they already have several trial ones operating in the provinces and are making sounds towards adopting a country wide one soon.

  17. Patriot

    Also plan to increase coal consumption by a third in the next 6 years:


    Fat lot of good their carbon price will do.

  18. Scott

    Jimmy, you haven’t read much about the Chinese ETS pilots have you…it’s a dog’s breakfast…All 7 trials (2 are yet to begin) are using different methods, legislation, covering different industries and having different benchmarks.

    Very little commonality…China is years away from a national scheme when they can’t even sort out a consistant approach amongst a limited subset of provinces.

  19. Jimmy

    Scott – “Jimmy, you haven’t read much about the Chinese ETS pilots have you…it’s a dog’s breakfast…All 7 trials (2 are yet to begin) are using different methods, legislation, covering different industries and having different benchmarks.” What is the point of having multiple trials if you have them all the same? Surely the purpose would be to see how each of them perform and then choose the best model to adopt?

    And all I said was they were the most likely – it isn’t a high bar when you look at the republicans stance in the US, Japans complete inaction and Korea’s flip flopping.

  20. Scott

    Don’t think they are the most likely at all…I think China will be a long way down the list.
    The Chinese ETS pilots seem like thought balloons to me…China has tapped the 7 provinces on the shoulder and said “make it happen”, and the provinces have just done it randomly and independently with no strategic thought/co-ordination at all.
    It will end up being a hodge podge of schemes with no linkages and China will then say, “we can’t make it work” and shut it down.
    At least Japan, US, or Korea would come up with a scheme that would actually work and has the proper legal and commercial safeguards to ensure it could be rolled out across the country.

  21. Jimmy

    Scott – YOu may be right we will just have to wait and see, but with the republican party denying climate change is real and Japan ignoring the situation altogether the fact they may come up with a better model is kind of a moot point.

  22. Jimmy

    Patriot – “China- With the world’s largest clean energy capacity at 191 GW, China installed a record 12.1 GW of solar — setting records and emerging as a major global solar market. In addition, China installed 14 GW of wind energy capacity in 2013. As concerns about air pollution mount, China set ambitious 2014 goals, with 14 GW of new solar capacity and 18 GW of new wind capacity. A new 20-year policy, aimed to boost solar power, makes future solar growth attractive and will create a steady market, the report’s authors predict.”
    “According to The Global Status Report, which was released earlier this month by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, China once again led the rest of the world in renewable energy investment in 2013, spending a total of $56.3 billion on wind, solar and other renewable projects. The report stated that China accounted for 61 percent of the total investment in renewables by developing countries, and that China invested more in renewable energy than all of Europe last year.”

  23. MJPC

    Palmer is no greener than Abbott, he is just more cunning. Having said that stopping the scrapping of the CEFC and CCA is an appreciated move (unless it is all too much hot air to generate concessions from Abbott and his flat earthers and policies that will benefit Clive’s financial interests).
    There are some real tech breakthroughs overseas (electric cars powered by fuel cells being just one) and if Australia misses out on part of these breakthroughs them we’ll just be a quarry and a tourist destination (sans Great Barrier Reef). As for the PUP taking votes from the Greens; one announcement does not an environmental party make.

  24. Chris Hartwell

    Scott – more likely the different implementations are instructed to be thus – comparisons can then be made, no?

  25. bonnie.hoey

    Clive’s not the messiah and neither is Al Gore. Al Gore is talent for hire. Clive wanted to rebrand a little to shore up some progressive support. He could afford it and thought the payoff would be worth the investment. It was. Marketing 101.


  26. klewso

    “Clive Palmer – Superhero”? Seen that episode of South Park – Eric Cartman, “The Coon”?

  27. AR

    Candide Alexander, Dr Pangloss called and sez he suggested that you cultivate “chives” not ‘Clives’.

  28. Scott


    5 different schemes? Not the way pilots work in the real world. Usually the same scheme rolled out to a wide sample to test under all conditions, before rolling out to the masses.
    How can you compare 5 different schemes operating in 5 different provinces…you won’t be able to say whether its the scheme or the province that is responsible for the success or failure.
    European Union didn’t have multiple schemes when they did phase 1 of their ETS.

  29. Chris Hartwell

    Not the way pilots work as we understand them, I’ll grant you Scott. Are the conditions in the five different provinces sufficiently different to make differentiating cause of effects impossible?

  30. Liamj

    Scotts theory doesn’t apply to trade deals or tax law, yet somehow regulation of pollution requires unanimity. File in same bin as the argument that anyone concerned about the environment must live in a cave.

  31. Jimmy

    Scott – “Not the way pilots work in the real world.” China isn’t exactly the real world though is it.

  32. Venise Alstergren

    It is surprising that Al Gore was successfully sold a very large Australian PUP.

  33. Cathy Alexander

    Jimmy #11

    I have been really puzzling over this. Palmer says he’ll introduce an amendment to the CCA bill (not the CEFC bill) to bring in his ETS. Right. So does he pass the bill – to scrap the CCA – with the ETS amendment? That means scrapping the CCA – which he says he won’t do.

    And if he amends the bill to bring in the ETS, how would that bill get through the lower house? Why on earth would the Coalition pass it?

    I’m struggling to understand Palmer’s plan on this one.

    I get that he’s talking about amending the CCA bill because the CCA would be quite involved in the design and implementation of the replacement ETS – but it still doesn’t make sense.

  34. Cathy Alexander

    Jimmy and Scott, v interesting debate on China’s pilot ETS schemes.

    Surely it’s fair to say China is closer to a national ETS (which the government says it wants) than Japan – because Japan is not moving towards a carbon price at all. In fact, Japan is doing very little to reduce emissions. Also worth noting Japan buys a fair bit of Australian coal.

    You can also argue that China is actually quite genuine about cutting coal use (and therefore emissions) – because they only have so much coal. If they keep building coal-fired capacity at projected rates, they will end up a massive importer of coal and they do not want that energy dependence.

    And Korea’s ETS is legislated and starts fairly soon.

  35. Jimmy

    Cathy – Thanks for the update re Korea’s ETS, I thought last year they were going to do it then cancelled then plans so good to hear it is back.

    This is the lateline transcript from Palmers interivew re the ETS amendment –
    CLIVE PALMER: If that’s the case, it is, and we’ll then be bringing an ETS as a amendment to the Climate Change Authority repeal bill and seeing if we can introduce it that way to the Senate and have it passed by the Senate.

    TONY JONES: So, can you just explain that one more time? Because you don’t want the Climate Change Authority repealed, so how can you link the two things together?

    CLIVE PALMER: Well it’s the bill and we’ll be amending that bill to introduce a ETS which’ll only take effect on another country’s operating an ETS into that bill.

    TONY JONES: Yes, but you want to keep the Climate Change Authority, is that right?

    CLIVE PALMER: As well, yeah.

    TONY JONES: So if that is linked into a bill to remove the carbon tax, you won’t be able to vote for it, isn’t that right?

    CLIVE PALMER: Well it’s not linked into a bill to remove the carbon tax. It’s an individual bill.

    TONY JONES: Alright. OK. I think I’ve misunderstood you there.


    So basically because Palmer got Jones so confused he said Carbon Tax rather than ETS we don’t get to find out how he plans to do it.

  36. klewso

    Clive Palmer mild-mannered politician by day – “The Green Gobblin'” by night?
    [“To the Wild Duck cave Al Abai, boy-wonder …..”]

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