Flawed carbon price limps into law

June 29, 2012

Not long after Melbourne’s recent earthquake a few wags leapt on Twitter to blame Australia’s carbon price for causing it. Greens Senator Richard Di Natale made the same joke in parliament a few days later.

The joke was on Liberal Senator George Brandis, who a week earlier had blamed the carbon price for causing the 1900 job losses at Fairfax, even though the scheme did not start until July 1.

Brandis’s madcap claim was just one example of the Coalition’s scare tactics about the carbon price. Coalition MPs have said the carbon price will destroy the coal industry, cause widespread unemployment, send power bills through the roof and destroy rural centres.

Business groups and the Murdoch media have helped Tony Abbott amplify his blame-everything-on-the-carbon-price message. Recent polls show about two-thirds of Australians think the carbon price will make them worse off, despite the household compensation measures.

Supporters of the carbon price have struggled to explain why the plan has so little support. Few would admit it, but a big part of the reason is that the carbon price is so weak on climate action.

Carbon price backers have found it impossible to rally support for a policy that does so little to address the climate crisis. This business-as-usual policy has hurt the climate action movement too, making it harder to convince the Australian people that genuine action on climate change will make their lives better.

Australia’s emissions will keep rising under the carbon price. Treasury modelling says it will go up about 10% in the next 20 years. The Labor government has given approval to so many new coalmines that the emissions generated will cancel out the carbon price’s 5% cut target about 10 times over.

The carbon price will also give big polluters billions of dollars in government subsidies — corporate welfare that could be spent on renewable energy and other green programs.

Australia’s tiny 5% target is supposed to be met through carbon offsets bought from overseas, but carbon offsets schemes elsewhere have proved stunning failures. Even if they worked to cut emissions in other countries, they would do nothing to change Australia’s high-pollution economy.

Those who pretend Gillard’s carbon price is a strong response to climate change are no more sensible than those who say it will bring about an economic armageddon.

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