Josh Frydenberg

“We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme, we’ll look at that.” Josh Frydenberg, December 5, 2016

“I didn’t mention an emissions intensity scheme.” Josh Frydenberg, December 6, 2016

Thank goodness we’re in a post-truth world, otherwise the Energy Minister might look more than a little — what was the word Greg Combet used to like? Mendacious!

In any event, it didn’t take long — 36 hours after announcing the terms of reference for the long-planned climate policy review, Frydenberg was forced by the Coalition’s right wing to kill off any suggestion it might consider any form of baseline and credit scheme, thereby ensuring that the ludicrous baseline safeguard scheme — the “safeguard” relating to safeguarding power company profits — that notionally forms part of the government’s current of climate policies will never be converted into a serious mechanism for reducing emissions. As we predicted on Monday, this government will never do anything serious on climate — the denialists within its ranks won’t allow it.

It also removes the last shred of dignity for Turnbull’s climate policy: he has ratified an international agreement to reduce our emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030 and has nothing that will achieve even that unambitious target, and the review designed to address that problem is unable to address the most effective way of achieving it because of the power wielded by climate denialists in the Liberal Party and National Party.

[Three minutes to midnight and our politics ignores the climate threat]

That only leaves more government spending on renewables — which everyone loves, but is hardly the most efficient means of reaching the target — or dumping the problem on the politicians of the 2020s, by which point the Prime Minister will be long gone.

Frydenberg used to be in charge of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund when he was resources minister, and in that capacity flagged the government would look at throwing money at Adani’s rail line for the Carmichael coal line, only for Liberal director Tony Nutt to issue an election assurance that it would receive no money. Malcolm Turnbull also ruled out funding, then seemed to rule it back in again. Now Nationals minister Matt Canavan is pushing for funding, along with the Queensland Labor government. But federal Labor has now refused to back the handout — a rare case of Labor encountering a form of protectionism it didn’t like.

[Whisper it softly: is this government any better than Abbott’s?]

The common theme — apart from the Coalition’s obsession with making climate change worse rather than trying to address it — is government intervention at the expense of much-loathed market mechanisms. The hopelessly inadequate “Direct Action” — that name has been abandoned in favour of an equally misleading “Emissions Reduction Fund” — was about the triumph of bureaucratic intervention and winner-picking over far more efficient market-based price signals to reduce emissions, to suit Tony Abbott’s agenda of climate denialism with a figleaf of climate action policy. What the last 36 hours has demonstrated is that there can never be a bipartisan consensus on sensible, market-based solutions to the challenge of emission abatement, and there will be constant pressure from the right to prop up coal and other fossil fuel sources with taxpayer assistance.

The most likely outcome will be the government dumping the challenge of living up to its binding emissions abatement commitments onto its successors. Turnbull has no realistic choice if he doesn’t want to fracture his own party. The Liberals haven’t moved in climate change since 2009. And it seems they’re not likely to anytime soon.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey