The carbon tax, price on carbon, carbon price, fixed price carbon reduction scheme, call it what you want has by far been the most talked about public policy decision made, with the prodding of the Greens in order for minority government support. It has been the subject of political debate ever since Prime Minister Gillard uttered those words “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” just a short time out from the August 2010 election. The political to-and-fro over the carbon price has been ferocious with the Opposition making their disdain for such a policy, one they once supported, a central feature of the discourse of the last two years.
Over recent months there has been much discussion and debate over specific elements of the carbon price. We’ve seen the floor price dropped so that our framework, once transitioned to an Emissions Trading Scheme, could be linked to the European Union ETS in a common carbon market.
There had been much talk and pleading from different quarters, calling for the floor price to be dropped ahead of the floating price which begins in 2015. However, we were repeatedly assured by the Gillard Government that the floor price would remain while simultaneously it seems, the government were in discussion with the Greens, convincing them that abandoning the floor price would be okay.
Then there’s also the other not so small matter of the ALP deciding to abandon plans to buy back and secure the closure of the five dirtiest coal-fired power stations.
Both these decisions bring an amount of uncertainty to the usefulness of the scheme, with these facets of carbon pricing seen to make it easier and more certain that the carbon reduction benefits of such a policy would be realised. Now, that task of reducing emissions and the hopes of raking in sufficient revenue to pay for the compensation and other benefits of the Clean Energy Future appears to be on very shaky ground. If the aims are to be achieved, they will now be done the hard way.
These moves imply that the Labor Party were worried about the policy, particularly the public perceptions of the price on carbon, which has since improved markedly. They make a government already low in confidence and in the polls publicly appear uncertain of their prospects, scared of the electoral defeat which is still highly likely, some time after July next year.
This slippery and slidey approach to the carbon tax policy has also been mirrored in the use of language by the Coalition. The same messages and implications have broken through from the altered usage of words to describe the pollution reduction scheme, as were received through the dumping of the floor price and the decision to not close down the dirtiest power stations.
In fact, the language to negatively describe the carbon tax has changed more than the policy itself.
First we had the Opposition describing the carbon price as a “cobra strike”. This characterisation said to people that the impacts of the carbon price would be immediate and deadly for certain sectors and the economy and the population more broadly, the venom spreading fast across the economy and gradually breaking down bodily (economic) organs.
Next up was the description of the carbon mechanism as being a “python squeeze” on the economy. This screams slower suffocation of the organs of the economy, but still ultimately says that the patient will die but the death might well be slower. It also gives an air of avoidability, that suffocation can be more easily overcome than a deadly poison coursing through the veins of the economy.
The latest expression to be used by the Opposition Leader is that the price will be like an “octopus’ embrace”, its tentacles grabbing hold of various parts of the Australian economy, far and wide, as well as the people. Presumably though, it’s not a Blue-Ringed Octopus as they’re poisonous.
Curiously, if a Blue-Ringed Octopus wasn’t in mind with this example, it’s the only one that doesn’t imply that death is a near certainty.
Either way, both the language to deride the climate change policy of the Labor Government and the policy itself have undergone changes, with the shifts in both sides ostensibly implying the same thing, uncertainty over their relative positions.
Carbon pricing has been front and centre in the political debate in Australia, particularly since the August 2010 election, but also in the lead-up to Kevin Rudd becoming Prime Minister, right through until he was deposed. At that stage it had disappeared from the agenda after talks failed at the Copenhagen summit after which then Prime Minister Rudd swiftly dumped his governments’ plans for an emissions trading scheme. We then had nothing in the form of emissions trading or carbon pricing when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, until after the election where Ms Gillard had promised there would not be a carbon tax under her government.It was then, that under negotiations for a minority government, the PM, in seeking support to remain Prime Minister agreed to put forward plans for a price on carbon emissions.
From that moment on the problems started for the Gillard Government. First it was a problem of credibility, our nation’s leader had lied and her administration has never recovered from that. Then the negotiations, particularly with the Australian Greens, who wanted a lot more from the new carbon price than the ETS Kevin Rudd proposed, proved a delicate process where there was clearly a lot more giving in then taking concessions from the Greens.
Then it was time for the hard selling of the policy to the public, already let down by the lie and finding it extra hard to believe that the compensation would be enough to allay the extra cost burden under a carbon pricing regime. In recent weeks it has become clear that a significant number of people are probably less concerned about the extra costs of the carbon tax and the government would be hoping that the numbers continue to head in the right direction.
Since the fixed price carbon reduction scheme began on July the 1st though, elements of it have either been dropped or temporarily sat aside. First, just last week, in linking our carbon price with the European Union from 2015, the ALP agreed to drop the floor price. This would have meant that the cost of carbon credits did not drop below $15 dollars per tonne.
Today there was another backdown. The Labor Government gave up on talks to secure the shutdown of five of the biggest coal-fired power stations. The sticking point being that the compensation put on the table by the government was not enough. Now, this could be returned to at a later date, but the outcome of future talks would probably be more of the same without more latitude being given.
If the scheme hadn’t already been thrown into confusion over revenue with the removal of the floor price, now any thoughts of the mid to long-term reduction of domestic emissions appear dashed- not that domestic emissions would have been reduced under early years of the policy anyway.
So now, not only is future revenue with the emissions trading scheme beginning in three years time in doubt, now even the emissions reduction targets are in jeopardy if talks cannot be resumed and a mutually agreeable outcome reached.
What’s next on the rollercoaster that is carbon pricing? The story won’t end here.