CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Bill Shorten and his carbon tax dilemma
, November 9, 2013
New Labor leader Bill Shorten has a serious dilemma on his hands in regards to the Abbott Government’s iron-clad commitment to repeal the carbon tax legislation once in office.
Does the new Opposition leader acknowledge Abbott’s mandate to repeal the tax? Or does he still cling to Labor’s now entrenched article of faith on global warming? And even if Mr Shorten takes the easier route and allows Abbott’s repeal legislation go through now, what does he do come the next election? Is the carbon tax dead for good or just temporarily buried?
Whichever way Shorten moves, he will be creating serious problems internally and with the electorate, and potentially exposing how weak is his party’s support for him as the freshly democratically-elected Labor leader.
Shorten’s popularity among Labor Party rank and file, where support for a carbon tax is probably strongest, is tepid at best. Most Labor Party people did not want him as leader, preferring the more tribal and combative Anthony Albanese.
For Shorten to walk away from “action on climate change” would further weaken his authority as leader, and encourage many ALP members to switch to the Greens.
On the other hand, if he holds firm and maintains the policy, Tony Abbott and the Coalition can hold him directly responsible for the costs of future higher household energy costs. The Coalition is already lampooning the Opposition leader as “Electricity Bill”.
Labor’s ideological vacuum of the past decade or so has been exposed by the carbon tax issue, which has already cost the leadership of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Will Shorten be the third victim of what is an absurdly poorly thought-out policy?
Labor not only “believes in the science” of anthropogenic (i.e., human-induced) global warming; it insists Australia must be a pacesetter and a leader in cutting its carbon dioxide emissions ahead of the rest of the world. And it must do this by imposing a tax on its people to encourage them to use less power, even though the wealth of the people comes from coal exported to countries which so far have resisted introducing a carbon tax.
But, bizarrely, there are now few policies that are more central to the Labor Party’s belief system than imposing a cap on carbon dioxide emissions.
Yet voters have strongly rejected a go-it-alone tax on one of Australia’s few competitive advantages — cheap energy. They have seen through the absurdity of a policy which claims that Australian-only reductions of carbon dioxide emissions will help turn down the planet’s thermostat, and they don’t see why they should have to pay more for electricity and gas to placate politicians’ moral vanity.
There is no prospect of a carbon tax in the United States; the European carbon-trading system is in tatters; and the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, China, makes largely symbolic gestures, such as the closing down of antiquated coal furnaces to appease international audiences.
The Coalition claims it has the backing of the electorate in its determination to axe the tax and will proceed immediately to repeal it, even ahead of July next year when it will finally gain control of the Senate with the aid of minor conservative parties.
As The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly opined recently: “Labor cannot stop Abbott from repealing its carbon policy, relying on the new Senate crossbenchers from mid-2014. At that point the real issue is apparent.
“If Labor stands by carbon pricing, it must seek to transform the politics and make a losing electoral cause now into a winning electoral cause over the next few years. The drum-beating about standing by Labor beliefs is worthless and fraudulent unless Labor can revive support for carbon pricing in Australia. Has Shorten got any ideas? Has Labor got any ideas?”
Labor went to the 2007 election with a pledge on climate change action, but could not win international support. It promised at the 2010 election that it would not introduce a carbon tax and secured only the narrowest of victories. Then it lost the 2010 election after reneging on that very pledge.
The fact is a lot has happened over the past decade. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s modelling has been discredited for downplaying its earlier predictions of rapid global temperature rises while also backing away from its earlier claims of links between extreme weather events and warming.
Moreover, there has been no increase in terrestrial temperatures for more than a decade and a half. At the same time, the IPCC has recently asserted that there is now a 95 per cent certainty that man-made carbon dioxide is contributing to faster increases in global temperatures. The evidence is going one way, but the certainty is going the other.
Meanwhile, the elusive international consensus on “doing something” to reduce emissions is further away than ever.
In Australia, where the hysteria about global warming remains feverish among large sections of the media (even more so since the change to a Coalition government), the issue is not about to go away.
Thus, Bill Shorten’s much-heralded political skills and judgment will be tested. If he fails the test, he is likely to be leader for just one term.
And, unlike former New South Wales premier and foreign affairs minister Bob Carr, who lasted barely weeks in Opposition before scurrying off, Kevin Rudd shows no signs of wanting to quit politics.