When it comes to climate change and what the government should do about it, no two opinions are the same. Except, of course, for the noisy yet dwindling ranks of the neo-flat earth society.
And so it is that many will find this writer’s view of the appropriate policy response, in the immortal words of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, ”crap”. For what it’s worth, though, this complicated $100 billion overhaul of the economy’s redistribution is a cumbersome means to a necessary end – pricing carbon.
That said, it is undeniable – even if the government now has the numbers to edge its carbon tax though the Parliament later this year – that the sheer weight of public opposition to the tax makes it a line-ball proposition at best.
The Herald/Nielsen poll, in which the government’s popularity sank to new lows, is not devastating in itself. It’s just another poll, albeit the first poll since the proposal went public in detail. Unless the tide of public opinion turns, though, the carbon tax is unlikely to scrape through in its present form.
The rub for Gillard is that only one quarter of the country backs her. That is hardly enough to push through such a major reform. The public mandate is too skinny, the risk of parliamentary defections too fat. Only one member has to cross the floor. Bear in mind the Liberals crossed the floor to support the carbon pollution reduction scheme when Kevin Rudd was in power.
The question is whether public support will turn. In light of the unrelenting campaign against the government by talk-back radio and the Murdoch press, it is unlikely. The din will not let up.
The rub for business is that a carbon price is inevitable at some point and the big polluters are unlikely to get a better deal than this one. The handouts to coal and steel companies are enormous. Should this tax proposal bite the dust, corporate Australia will only endure further uncertainty until some form of carbon pricing is introduced.
And the earlier this economy is shaped and incentivised to shift to cleaner energy, the better. Although there is merit to the argument that Australia should not be an ”early-adopter”as this will simply slug economic growth while having virtually no effect on the Earth’s climate, further delays in bringing in some form of carbon price will only hurt the economy in the longer term.
There is also the issue of uncertainty. Uncertainty hurts business. If no carbon tax is brought in now, uncertainty will persist.
Three months ago BusinessDay polled the top 50 Australian companies over their view on climate policy. Even though any meaningful policy response would counter the immediate interests of every company, most who responded realised that a price on carbon was inevitable.
Twelve of the 50 backed Canberra’s plan to introduce a carbon price, including some of the country’s biggest emitters. Three flatly opposed the move, eight were uncommitted and the remaining 27 did not respond.
For the most part, big business knows it will get hit at some point. It realises carbon will one day be priced. But when it comes to campaigning, it is only the climate detractors whose voices are loud and whose cries are heard. These cries are magnified by sections of the media, far out of proportion to the actual debate.
And as far as consumers go,
somewhere along the way the climate message was lost. Too many people are hung up on whether a politician lied.
Two years ago, 60 per cent of the population was in favour of action on climate. But when the action finally came, the numbers plunged. No longer was this about sea levels and the future of the planet. As the government capitulated to Orwellian propaganda about creating jobs and so on, the argument descended from the science to the hip pocket.
Once again, if they had just jettisoned the focus groups and told the truth, they would have done better. Now, with the poll numbers so low and the parliamentary majority so slim, it’s hard to argue there is a mandate from the people.