We can talk endlessly about Clive Palmer’s stunts, his penchant for theatrics, his seemingly effortless ability to command media attention. To do so is, to a degree, to co-operate in the way he relentlessly trivialises politics. Or more, correctly, the way that he pushes the trivialisation that has occurred in recent years to new, lower depths, for Clive is merely the hypertrophied form of contemporary politics, pushing the spectrum of stupidity ever wider.

This is the man who announced he would challenge the carbon price in the High Court and never bothered to do it. The man who declared he was closing mines in the Pilbara in response to the mining tax and then admitted he’d “exaggerated”. The man who set up an alternative soccer governing body in Australia to replace the Football Federation Australia that was never heard from again. The man who claimed the CIA was working with the Greens and then admitted he’d just made it up. Clive “Wendi Deng is a Chinese spy” Palmer.

Now he declares he’s a convert on climate science, but in fact will vote to dump the current carbon pricing regime, provided the government legislates a fig leaf to guarantee power prices will fall. There’s some ironic justice in this, given the Coalition has been inventing nonsense about the impact of the carbon price on consumers for years. Now Palmer has insisted they live up to their own rhetoric in statutory form.

The rest is irrelevant detail. Palmer’s emissions trading scheme — to, erm, replace the emissions trading scheme that will commence on July 1 next year under the legislation he will vote to repeal, and apparently using text of the current legislation in his own bill — will never commence, remaining zero-rated forever, given one of the conditions for it operating is the United States embrace an emissions trading scheme. As Palmer well knows, much of the Republican Party that currently holds the House in the US don’t even believe in climate change, let alone an ETS to address it. So pointless is Palmer’s proposed ETS, it’s possible the Coalition might even back it as a replacement figleaf for Direct Inaction.

And despite what some journalists and editors seem to still think, an ETS Mark Clive isn’t a condition for repealing the carbon price. The only condition on that is on cost pass-through. Palmer will kill a working carbon price, which will shift to an ETS next year in favour of a fairytale. Yesterday’s event was, in effect, another in the long list of examples of how Palmer is all headline and no story.

Quite what Al Gore was doing standing next to Clive is one of those mysteries of the ages; no wonder he was happy to follow Palmer out to that “urgent dinner” rather than take questions about why he’s backing someone intent on wrecking a functioning carbon pricing scheme. Gore, eventually, will learn the extent to which Palmer is the sizzle without the sausage or, possibly, the Peking duck.

The remaining detail, at least, isn’t as bad: the government won’t be able to kill the Renewable Energy Target until at least after the next election, something that must have made Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s day, given he’s about the only person in cabinet who wants it. And the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will remain intact, although the benefit of that depends on whether you view it as a valuable stimulus to commercial investment in renewables, or mere government crowding out of the private sector. And Direct Inaction as a workable scheme looks dead, an outcome that will unite the most ardent climate denialists and climate action advocates. One of the dumbest policies to grace the public stage in years, Direct Inaction can stay on the back of the postage stamp Hunt developed it on, unmourned.

But in the end the government has had a significant win in its determination to destroy an effective, low-impact carbon pricing scheme. It was fitting that Hunt was quick out of the blocks last night to welcome Palmer’s announcement, despite the theatrics. Hunt and Palmer are complements: one is larger than life and disruptive and the other vanishingly irrelevant to the point of being a joke, but both are shallow, soulless politicians colluding to undermine effective action on a major problem they purport to want to address.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey