Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate Change Leaves Abbott On Thin Ice

The change of leadership in the federal Liberal Party seems to have given them a lift in the opinion polls, boosting them from abysmal to simply miserable, with the latest Newspoll showing the Labor government remaining well ahead on the two party preferred figures of 56% to 44%. Nevertheless, Tony Abbott has struck a chord among some voters and his own rating as preferred Prime Minister is now 23% compared to Malcolm Turnbull’s 14% in the previous poll. He appears to have made this difference by establishing a clear distinction between his policy and that of the government by rejecting Mr. Turnbull’s bipartisan support for the amended Emissions Trading Scheme. But don’t for one moment believe that the internal division within the Liberal Party is over. It is not.

Malcolm Turnbull has made a very public and a very scathing assessment of the new leader’s new policy. To be completely blunt he described it as “bullshit”. Mr. Turnbull claims that the Liberal Party is now led by people who believe that climate change does not exist and there is no need to do anything about it. In fact, the new opposition leader doesn’t even have a climate change policy yet. All he has so far is a policy to have a policy, which does not include either an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax, by the time parliament resumes in February. He has a position driven by politics, not policy, and as a result has left himself and the opposition he now leads at risk of losing any semblance of credibility.

Tony Abbott has indicated that his yet to be devised policy will be based around emissions mitigation measures such as regulatory controls on emitters, land management reform, and bio-sequestration, all without a tax or a trading scheme. All of these proposed measures are good sound ideas and should be included in any climate change program, but relying in these ideas alone ignores, or misrepresents, some important realities. None of these measures can be implemented without some kind of cost, and the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey is reported to have estimated the cost at around $50 billion. That money would have to come from somewhere, and if it isn’t from a tax then it will be from higher consumer prices.

The other important matter which is carelessly brushed aside by Tony Abbott’s policy to come up with a policy is the simple fact that he has apparently ignored that research done by his own party. In opposing any form of Emissions Trading Scheme at all, Mr. Abbott has not only overturned the policy of Malcolm Turnbull, but he has ignored everything that went before it. In 2007, the taskforce set up by Prime Minister John Howard came to the conclusion that the most cost effective way to address climate change is a choice between an emissions trading scheme and a carbon tax. And yet, Mr. Abbott has rejected both. Was John Howard wrong?

Malcolm Turnbull has already indicated that he will vote in favour of the government’s emissions trading scheme legislation when it returns to the parliament in February. Don’t forget that he lost the leadership by just one vote in the most volatile circumstances, and that many of his colleagues share his views. The leadership battle might be over, but if Tony Abbott’s promised climate change policy turns out to be anything less than miraculous the internal instability will remain. The ice beneath Mr. Abbott’s feet is already showing cracks… and that really is a direct result of climate change.

No comments: