A big ad campaign — “Australia says yes” — began this month to support the federal government’s proposed carbon tax. The campaign has been organised by a coalition of peak environment and social justice organisations including GetUp!, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
One of the people featured in the advertisements is actor Cate Blanchett. Her presence attracted the ire of conservative politicians and commentators as soon as the commercials aired.
Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott said: “People who are worth $53 million have a right to be heard but their voice should not be heard ahead of the voice of the ordinary working people of this country.”
This, coming from one of the most trenchant advocates of the anti-worker, union-bashing policies of the former Howard government, is a bit rich.
So too were the comments of right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt, who said Blanchett was contributing to “crass propaganda”. There could not possibly be two better words to describe Bolt's own stock in trade.
Many grassroots supporters of action to cut emissions have spoken in support of the “yes” campaign in the face of conservative claims that the tax will ruin the Australian economy and leave ordinary people out of pocket.
But what are we actually saying “yes” to? Will it actually cut emissions to the extent that is required of wealthy polluting countries like Australia?
Left Flank blogger “Dr Tad” noted in October that “carbon pricing as formulated in either the cap & trade or current carbon tax models is inherently regressive”, and “the debate around ‘efficiency’ is not much more than a smokescreen for making sure that ordinary people and not big business pay for any transition (with some derisory ‘compensation’ to take the sting out)”.
The shrill opposition of conservatives to the government’s proposed carbon tax suggests to many that it must be a step in the right direction and should therefore be supported. Is this really the case though?
Overland magazine editor Jeff Sparrow put it succinctly in a May 30 blogpost: “The Liberals are hypocrites: a party of cynicism and voodoo science. But we knew that, and in and of itself it doesn’t make the alternative any less inadequate.”
Sparrow said “the active involvement of the population as a whole” is an essential part of making the sort of major and rapid changes that are demanded if we are to retain a safe climate.
Why the federal government can build roads, school shelters and huge fibre-optic cable networks but not wind farms and solar thermal plants remains to be explained.
Australia is a wealthy country — and if we taxed corporations and wealthy individuals to the same extent as countries like Denmark or Sweden do, we could easily afford to build the “national renewables network” over the next decade.