The unveiling of the carbon tax package has produced only the slightest improvement in the government’s support. Labor’s primary vote crept up to 29 per cent from 27 per cent in a Newspoll taken after the announcement. But the opposition retains a commanding 56 per cent in two party preferred terms.
It’s not just the carbon tax that has sent Labor’s popularity plummeting.
An Ipsos Mackay Report, released in June, provided a telling snapshot of popular values. “Australians in 2011 generally embrace a social democratic world view, at least on the economy, the workplace and public services”, concluded the Sydney Morning Herald.
The report, Being Australian, involved detailed interviews with over 100 men and women from across the country. Its key finding was that people feel “Big business undermines our way of life”, demanding people work longer hours, and whenever the bosses want.
It shows there would be strong support for tackling corporate power to fund public services, and creating jobs through acting on climate change. But Labor is so committed to the market and business interests that it is incapable of connecting with this sentiment.
The carbon tax is just one example of this, where Gillard tells us, “This is a big reform for our country’s future.” and “The carbon price is our dollar float”. All this does is reinforce that the carbon tax is another piece of pro-business “reform” just like those of the Hawke-Keating years. The whole experience of this is that it means attacks on living standards—and working class people know this.
Gillard is hoping against hope that things will change when the carbon tax begins operating in July next year—and people find that, with the compensation, it’s not such a big deal.
Things won’t be that easy. Although the government protests that some people will actually be better off, that is not how most people will feel.
Cost of living pressures are a fact of life, with prices rising faster than incomes (see p6). The carbon tax will get the blame, whether or not it causes price spikes.
The media will jump on any evidence of people struggling to pay their bills—and there are sure to be many people worse off.
The carbon tax, and demanding that ordinary people must pay for action on climate change, has given Tony Abbott a huge free kick.
The details of the carbon tax package show why The Greens have made such a mistake to support it. They have compromised their credibility on climate change for some very minor concessions on renewable energy (see p7).
Like the CPRS, the carbon tax will not cut emissions. Treasury modelling shows Australia’s emissions will continue to rise until 2030.
By 2020 emissions will rise by about 7.5 per cent. Labor’s claimed “reduction target” of 5 per cent by 2020 is only met through buying offsets from overseas, which are to make up two-thirds of the emissions “cuts”.
Numerous studies have exposed these offset projects as dodgy or useless.
The Greens have defended the package as a start, pleading that the emissions reduction targets can be increased later on. But the tax undermines the public support that will be necessary to push for more serious action on climate change.
The Greens and most of the climate movement look like spending the next year making the case for a “price on pollution”. Defending the carbon tax will limit the ability of the climate movement to take the fight up to Abbott. The “Say Yes” rallies may have been called in response to Abbott and the climate deniers, but their demands were limited to supporting a carbon tax.
This just plays into Abbott’s claims that prices will go “up and up and up”.
Carbon pricing has not worked where it has been tried in Europe. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme has been in place for over five years and emissions are still rising.
Emissions trading, which will begin here in 2015, creates a new market for speculators—the very people who brought the global economy to the brink of collapse.
It would be a mistake for the climate movement to think that it has to support the Gillard/Greens carbon tax, and to think that the only alternative to it is Abbott’s climate denial. The best way to stop Abbott is to push Gillard and The Greens into delivering policies that will actually cut emissions—direct government investment that can build renewable power stations and more efficient and widespread public transport.
The NSW Greens’ state election proposal for the state government to fund three small solar thermal power stations for $2 billion each is a good example of effective action.
This is perfectly possible—Spain is expected to have almost enough solar thermal power installed by 2013 to match the capacity of NSW’s Bayswater coal power station, which can power two million homes.
These are measures that could create thousands of new jobs—and which could win broad public support.
But winning them will require rejecting market mechanisms and building a strong grassroots climate movement, able to force real change on a minority government too committed to maintaining business as usual.