Thursday, October 17, 2013

The great climate fiction

IT is natural that when Tony Abbott told Asia-Pacific leaders he was going to repeal Australia's carbon tax he found no opposition, and a good deal of support instead. He mentioned it in plenary sessions and bilateral meetings with all the leaders.

In taking this action, Abbott is bringing us into line with Asia-Pacific practice. There is not one significant national carbon tax or emissions trading scheme operating anywhere in the Asia-Pacific.

One of the most disagreeable defects of the Rudd and Gillard governments was the way they so often misrepresented reality, especially international reality. They tried to do this on such a scale that ultimately the public could see through it on many issues, especially boats and climate change.

The politics of climate change the world over is full of rhetoric and devoid of action. If Australians are being asked to pay a tax, even if it's called an emissions trading scheme, they should compare what other countries are actually doing, not what some politician might once have said.

The ABC in particular runs a constant propaganda campaign in favour of the idea that the world is moving to put a price on carbon. But the information is never specific. Any ABC interviewer with a speck of competence or professional standards should always ask the following: Name the specific scheme? Is it actually in operation? How much of the economy does it cover? What is the price of carbon? How much revenue does it raise?

You can impose no real cost on your economy, but still have a scheme to brag about if you have economy-wide coverage but a tiny price, or a big price but a tiny coverage. Either way you have a good headline scheme to fool the ABC with.

But here are some actual facts. The UN Framework Convention on Climate has 195 members. Only 34 of those use anything resembling an emissions trading scheme. Of those, 27 are in the EU scheme. No one in the Asia-Pacific has an effective scheme.

What about these Chinese schemes we hear so much about on the ABC? There are seven designated pilot projects in China. One - that's right, one - has begun operation. That is in Shenzhen. So far all the permits are given away for free. It has had no impact at all on carbon emissions.

The Chinese government has indicated it may look at a national scheme for the five-year plan from 2016. This is at most speculative, and there are a million ways it could be completely ineffective, which is almost certainly the result. China is by far the world's biggest polluter. Its per capita emissions are now comparable with Europe's. It has some plans to reduce carbon intensity, that is, the amount of carbon per unit of production, but no plans to reduce the absolute size of its emissions.

Japan has effectively abandoned plans for an ETS. No economy-wide carbon tax or ETS is operating today. South Korea has a plan, but it will issue all permits for free in the first period and is looking to redesign its scheme partly to avoid the impact on electricity prices, which Australia's scheme had. New Zealand has a notional scheme, but the price is a meaningless $1 per tonne.

The US has no carbon tax or ETS and is unlikely ever to have one. The separate Californian scheme is frequently adduced by pro-tax Australian partisans. But this scheme covers only 37 per cent of emissions, compared with the Australian tax that covered 60 per cent of our emissions. More importantly, in California, 90 per cent of permits for electricity are given for free.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covers several northern states in the US. But the price is $2.55 per tonne and it covers only electricity.

Canada does not have an ETS or a carbon tax. The Quebec scheme covers a minority of emissions and because the province is so reliant on hydro-electricity the scheme has little impact.

Some of the biggest carbon emitters in Asia - like Indonesia and India - not only do not have national carbon taxes or ETS schemes, they have massive fuel subsidies to make carbon-based fuels accessible to all their people. A fuel subsidy is the opposite of a carbon tax, it is a carbon subsidy.

The European scheme has a price of about $7. Famously, it covers a substantially smaller proportion of its emissions than our carbon tax did. Equally famously, in its first five years it tended to raise about $500 million a year whereas our carbon tax raised $9 billion a year. So all of Europe combined imposed a cost on itself of one-18th of the cost Australia imposed on itself.

Europe also allows, within its scheme, a certain amount of imports of Certified Emission Reduction Units, basically UN-approved carbon credits created in Third World countries. The price for these shonky bits of paper has now fallen below $1 per tonne.

Labor's Mark Butler was yesterday repeating the ALP mantra, much recited, too, by the Greens and the ABC, that not a single reputable climate scientist or economist endorses direct action of the kind Abbott and his minister, Greg Hunt, propose. This is untrue. The vast majority of the governments of the world, certainly the US and Canada, are using direct action mechanisms to address greenhouse gas emissions.

 The rise of gas as an energy source has been the key driver of reductions in the US, but tighter automobile emissions standards and many other direct action measures have also been important. Australia would be extremely foolish to move substantially faster or further than most of the world. That is what we did in the biggest way with our hugely destructive carbon tax.

To compare ourselves with the world we must be absolutely accurate about what the world is actually, really doing in its physical manifestation today, not what some EU bureaucrat or NGO activist is willing to say in an always unchallenging ABC interview. Even within Europe's compromised scheme there is a great deal of re-thinking as economic logic trumps climate change piety.

The carbon tax and the ETS are based on a complete misrepresentation of what other countries are doing. Australians have never voted for either an ETS or a carbon tax and, unless the world changes radically, are unlikely to do so in the future.


Preoccupied by hatred of conservative leaders, the Australian Left fails to offer realistic policies

Chris Kenny

MORE than a month on from Tony Abbott's election victory there are eerily familiar signals from Labor and the commentariat.

They betray not only a failure to learn from last month's landslide but wilful blindness to similar lessons from the entire Howard era.

From the denunciation of Abbott as a "relentlessly negative" misogynist, to Kevin Rudd's pre-election warning that Abbott's policies would cause "some sort of conflict" with Indonesia, we are, as the quip goes, seeing deja vu all over again.

With the clarity of hindsight, it is accepted wisdom that Labor and its acolytes underestimated John Howard.

Yet the same clique, even some of the same players, seem to be stumbling into the same pitfall with Abbott.

Intense efforts to undermine Abbott's electability failed to prevent a strong mandate for the Coalition, and had the side benefit of lowering expectations.

And already, the chagrin in the commentariat echoes the anti-Howard whining of more than a decade ago, when by focusing their resentment on their conqueror, Labor and much of the commentariat avoided an examination of their own positions, policies and failings.

Their disdain for Howard dragged them away from mainstream concerns, while Howard made it his business to focus not on the Left critiques but on mainstream sensibilities.

Abbott saw all this and clearly learned. The Left doesn't seem to have taken heed.

In The Australian during the 1996 campaign, Glenn Milne summarised Labor's strategy. "With policy convergence almost totally achieved, the issue of Howard's stature is now a live one," said Milne. "Howard has always suffered - however unfairly - from the 'little Johnny' tag."

And on the day of the election, The Australian's own Phillip Adams captured this best when he determined to at least start the Howard years with some deft, if indignant, humour. "Howard would be a fine prime minister," he imagined, "if Dee Why or Coogee had its own prime minister. But he wants to be prime minister of the whole country."

From this distance we no longer need to imagine.

We know the Howard government substantially deepened and strengthened relations with Indonesia, China, Japan, South Korea, India and much of the region.

Support through the Asian financial meltdown was crucial, and difficulties created by the intervention to support East Timor's independence, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the trauma of terrorism in the region were often leveraged to enhance relationships rather than undermine progress.

More than a decade of economic prosperity and reform enhanced Australia's global standing. We hosted the Olympic Games, APEC, Bill Clinton, Hu Jintao and George Bush.

Howard won a landslide in 1996, clung on in 1998, consolidated in turbulent times in 2001 and defied the odds in 2004.

Throughout this period, Howard's many critics in the parliament, on the airwaves and in the oped pages made life difficult for him but never managed to knock him far off course.

In the end, it was an inconvenient drought, overreach on industrial relations and Howard's intransigence over succession that gifted Rudd the chance to replace him.

Rudd paid Labor's nemesis the ultimate compliment by winning office (deceptively, as it turns out) as Howard Lite.

Over the intervening years the signs had been obvious. But rather than adjusting policies to mainstream settings - say on border protection or indigenous advancement - the Left's obsession with hateful attacks on Howard poisoned its politics.

Yet surprisingly, right at the outset, the diagnosis was explicit. As Paul Kelly outlined in The March of Patriots, the Liberal campaign director (now Trade Minister), Andrew Robb, described Labor's malady in his National Press Club address a fortnight after Howard won office, when he outlined the rise of the Howard battlers.

"This shift is not an overnight development," he revealed. "It owes much to Labor's attempts over 15 years or more to chase the votes of the socially progressive, often highly educated, affluent end of middle-class Australia."

Robb said Keating and his colleagues came to reflect the values and priorities of this clique. "Labor ended up governing for a few and not for all of us. There are now deep contradictions within the Labor Party in regard to what they stand for and who they represent."

The inescapable shock of those words is that Robb could deliver them to the Press Club tomorrow - changing only the names - to reflect on how Labor governed under Rudd and Julia Gillard, leading to the current Abbott ascendancy.

Lessons that should have been learned 17 years ago seem unabsorbed.

For the best part of two decades, Labor has paid no more than lip service to that best known of Sun Tzu's dictates on the art of war: "Know your enemies and know yourself."

Year after year, issue after issue, the progressive commentariat declared Howard misguided, and the public wrong to have faith in him.

In the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2000 Mungo MacCallum lectured on Indonesia in the wake of Howard's East Timor intervention. His reasonable summation was that Indonesia could disintegrate or emerge as a great democracy and Australia had to prepare for both eventualities.

But he gave the prime minister no credit: "There is no sign that John Howard and his government really understand either." Really?

In The Sydney Morning Herald in 1998, David Marr looked through the prism of religion to see a shrivelled heart on indigenous issues: "Contrition is what young John Howard wasn't taught by the Methodists."

Now Marr's religious preoccupations focus on Abbott's Catholicism and its implications for women: "As a devoted Catholic he won't give up the possibility that at some point in the future, and it might be hundreds of years away, there will be a possibility to do something about abortion."

Abbott's physical stature and fitness prevent direct comparisons with "little Johnny" but the gibes about small targets and limited vision are repeated.

Unabashed about his admiration for Howard, Abbott knows being underestimated is no disadvantage in politics.

Last year Marr's essay on Abbott said: "Australia doesn't want Tony Abbott. We never have."  And three months ago, the AFR's Tingle saw problems for Abbott. "Rudd's return has only once again raised the question of whether Abbott is electable."

The day before last month's election, Tim Colebatch in The Age said even Abbott's foreign aid cuts would undermine his ambitions: "This will not help Tony Abbott's chances of getting the Indonesia co-operation he needs to stop the boats."

Since the election the tactics, the enmity and the perspectives are familiar. (Even the cacophony over entitlements this week provides an echo of the early Howard government instability on similar issues.)

In Abbott's first week, Tingle warned about the "clear rejection" of Abbott's policies by Indonesia, and when that didn't seem to be matched by reality she urged us not to "get sucked in by the Prime Minister's weasel words in Jakarta".

"Abbott said in Jakarta the only thing he was ultimately interested in was 'stopping' the boats," wrote Tingle last week. "It is not clear whether that will ever quite happen."

We will see. But after a dozen years of demonising and doubting Howard and, now, Abbott on asylum-seeker policy it seems inconceivable that the Left could continue this posturing if the boats are stopped again.

Or, perhaps the delusion will continue.


A-G Jarrod Bleijie announces Qld Government to change dangerous sex offenders law to bypass courts

The Queensland Government plans to take away the courts' power to determine whether some sex offenders remain behind bars indefinitely.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has introduced legislative amendments into Parliament, allowing him to recommend that serious violent offenders be kept in jail indefinitely.

"It does take it out of the court and it does put it in my jurisdiction," he said.  "We are rebalancing the scales of justice."

Premier Campbell Newman admits to reservations about the move.  "I want to stress how absolutely reluctant we are to do this," he said.

Mr Bleijie says his recommendation would then be signed-off by the Governor.  He says it will be another layer of protection for the community.  "It will be reserved for the 'worst of the worst' - it's legislation of last resort," he said.

He says cases will be reviewed annually by two psychiatrists.  "We have put an assessment process in there with two psychiatrists currently under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1945 as well," he said.

"The fundamental difference is though if in my view this person still poses a risk to the community, then my recommendation to Executive Council will be not to release this person."

Mr Bleijie says this is the 'plan B' he previously flagged to keep notorious serial rapist Robert John Fardon in prison.

Fardon was the first person to be detained indefinitely under Queensland's Dangerous Prisoners and Sexual Offenders Act.

The 64-year-old has spent most of his adult life in prison after being convicted of numerous sexual offences against women and children.  Fardon was briefly released under a supervision order earlier this month, but he was returned to jail when Mr Bleijie lodged an appeal against the decision.

A review of Fardon's indefinite sentence was due in August in the Supreme Court in Brisbane, but was adjourned until next month.


Tasmania Parliament set to debate 'improved' voluntary euthanasia bill

Euthanasia advocates and opponents will be watching the Tasmania Parliament closely this week as it again attempts to make it legal for terminally ill people to end their lives.

There have been several attempts in Australia, but euthanasia supporters believe the island state could lead the nation in enacting assisted dying laws.

Tasmania's 25-member Lower House will start debating the Voluntary Assisted Dying bill today, with MPs allowed a conscience vote.

The bill, co-sponsored by Premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim, will allow terminally ill Tasmanians to end their lives 10 days after a process of making three requests to their doctor.

However, it is not expected to pass, with 10 Liberal Opposition members likely to be joined by three Labor MPs in voting against it.

Greens MPs remain optimistic and believe just one of two votes will decide the bill's fate.

Cassy O'Connor says there are Liberal MPs who agree with the assisted dying bill before Parliament but will vote against it this week.

"I know on voluntary assisted dying there are a number of Liberal members who are more socially progressive than the vote on the floor of the house will show," she said.

It will be Mr McKim's second attempt at introducing euthanasia laws after a bid in 2009 failed.
Tasmania Greens say bill is better than euthanasia laws in place overseas

The party believes the latest bill is a vast improvement and will be better than those already in place overseas.

"This legislation has got a very strong system of protection against people being coerced into participating in the scheme, including jail terms of up to five years," Mr McKim said.

The bill has the backing of voluntary euthanasia advocates, including the former Northern Territory chief minister Marshall Perron who introduced Australia's first laws in the territory in the mid-90s.

But after three assisted suicides they were overturned by the Commonwealth, which has power to override Northern Territory legislation.

Mr Perron says Tasmania could now lead the way.  "Elderly dying Australians are killing themselves in violent methods and it's just disgraceful and what they want is a more peaceful, reasonable option," he said.

The Liberals' Rene Hidding says research in countries where it is legal has revealed flaws. "Research in the Flanders region of Belgium has uncovered frequent abuses of the euthanasia law in most health institutions, 32 per cent of the officially reported euthanasia cases occurred without the explicit consent of the patient," she said.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I don't doubt that Bleijie is a man of good intentions, but I can't help thinking that laws such as this will have a way of being taken beyond their currently intended targets. I wouldn't like to see them still on the books should Labor find their way back into power, or worse a Labor Government dependent on Greens preferences to keep power.