Lost: Tony’s Toxic Tax – Finder: Please Return to Owner

July 1, Tony’s Toxic Tax Day, came and went. Collective breaths were held – but Australia carried on as usual. The sun rose in the East. The sky did not fall in. Whyalla survived. Abbott rabbitted on – after all it was TTT Day. What else could he do?

That day, in Abbott’s poll drive in the Sydney Morning Herald Stephanie Peatling wrote:

“Tony Abbott has fired the starting gun on an election campaign, declaring a Coalition government would restore ''hope, reward and opportunity'' to ''a great country let down by a bad government''.

“The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, also faces the fight of her political life as she begins the task of selling the carbon price – which begins today – to an electorate already nervous about its impact on the cost of living, something she must pull off if she is to restore Labor's standing in the polls and quell the chatter about her leadership.

''The next election will be a referendum on the carbon tax and on prime ministers who tell lies,'' the Opposition Leader told the annual meeting of the federal council of the Liberal Party in Melbourne yesterday.

“From today Ms Gillard, Mr Abbott and their MPs will fan out across the country in what will feel like a forerunner to the election campaign - not due until next year - with each pinning their political fortunes on the carbon price.”

Stephanie watched Tony fire the starting gun and she broke the big story. Congratulations Steph!

The race was on. The question was ‘who will first run out of puff’: Tony, the media, or Julia?

Out of the blocks, there was soon chatter on the radio and TV about the start of the carbon tax, but not much in the press.

On July 2 there were a few carbon tax items in the print media. I used Wotnews, a news gathering service to survey print media coverage:
Abbott won't dump carbon tax: PM: News.com.au Victoria
Abbott kicks into campaign drive: Sydney Morning Herald
Tough (Weet) Bikkies, I was right on carbon: News.com.au Qld
Opposition launches anti-carbon tax ads: News.com.au Victoria
Tax will remain under Abbott- Gillard: Sky News
Tony Abbott doorstop interview with Greg Hunt MP
on the Liberal Party website that launched Abbott’s anti-tax campaign.

There was an item in the Courier Mail that began: “Julia Gillard has been told to only to use her beer fridge on weekends - with radio caller Wazza warning the carbon tax will make it too expensive during the week.” She pointed out that she didn’t actually have a beer fridge.

Then there was Wayne Swan’s brave supermarket adventure. To prove his point, on the Friday evening before TTT Day, Swan visited the supermarket and bought 11 items at a cost of $35.30. On Sunday morning, TTT Day, he bought the same items for $35.10. “His shopping included Weet-Bix, which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott claimed would cost more under the tax. He also bought a $20 lamb roast, in addition to the 11 items, which Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has claimed would cost more than $100 under the tax.

“Swan said Sunday 1 July was the day "that Tony Abbott is going to get mugged by the truth".

Next, let’s look at the Front Pages that Lyn provides daily. I have used them to collate banner headlines:

The Australian featured Tax worth fighting for on 2 July; Carbon tax ‘a threat to power jobs’ on 3 July; and on 7 July there was an article on carbon trading. That was it.

The Sydney Morning Herald began on 2 July with Sour reception for carbon tax. Then nothing.

The Daily Telegraph on 2 July had It’s Down to Business – Prices rise from day one as carbon tax begins. On 7 July its headline read Death Tax, a story about how the carbon tax was adding to cremation expenses, which turned out to be a fizzer. There was nothing more subsequently on its front pages.

The Age featured Voters desert carbon tax on 2 July. No more.

The Herald Sun had a line at the foot of its front page on 2 July that read Double Whammy Carbon Tax Pain Begins. That was it.

The Advertiser on 4 July featured Your Pain MPs Gain, which compared the recent rise in salaries of members of Federal Parliament with the ‘pain’ of the carbon tax.

I couldn’t find anything in the Mercury or NT News. I had no access to The West Australian.

Note that the above survey covers only the front pages back to 1 July. No doubt there were articles on other pages.

On July 7 there was Businesses reject Abbott's vow to repeal carbon tax in The Brisbane Times that began: “Fewer than a quarter of the biggest heavy greenhouse gas-emitting companies that will directly pay the carbon tax support Tony Abbott's ''pledge in blood'' to repeal the scheme, a survey by the Herald has found.”

Then there was the story by Simon Benson and Steve Lewis in The Daily Telegraph Businesses forced to dump carbon tax hike on customers on 16 July that began: “Small business owners, farmers and home renovators are among those already feeling the effect of the carbon tax as prices soar just two weeks after the scheme was introduced.

“In one of the biggest increases since July 1, the cost of hiring mini skip bins has risen by at least $100, or 25 per cent, due to the green levy and a new state government waste charge.

“The controversial federal tax, changes to the diesel fuel rebate and a big spike in refrigerant gas costs - all part of the government's clean energy reforms - have also driven up prices of vegetables, seafood and even pizza boxes.

“Skip bin operators have warned that some home owners have already opted to illegally dump their waste to escape the hefty price rises. Sydney Skip Bins owner Craig Wills said customers were furious when told of the increases and he had already had to lay off two workers.”

This non-story, from a couple of non-journalists, was debunked by a tweet from Craig Emerson: “Stupid Steve Lewis yarn on carbon pricing inflating skip costs, when O'Farrell hikes waste prices 640%”, and a comment on Poll Bludger by Bushfire Bill: “I note that the Daily Tele story on how disposal of waste material in skips will go up 40% due to the Carbon Tax (when it is in fact due to the O’Farrell government hiking tip charges by 640% – repeat: 640%) now has 8 comments. There is no mention of O’Farrell’s 640% price hike on tip fees, even though it completely negates the story, once understood.”

The story also included a section on how pizzas will go up because the cost of pizza boxes will escalate: “Kerry Demos, who runs the Hastings Pizza shop in Victoria with her husband, said the prices of pizza boxes will rise by 2.5 per cent. Despite this, they plan to absorb the increases rather than pass them on. "If we put up our prices, I would think we would lose customers," Ms Demos said.”

As BB pointed out, since pizza boxes on average cost 30c, a 2.5 percent rise would amount to 0.75 cents, three-quarters of a cent! And Ms Demos says she would lose customers if she added three-quarters of a cent to the price of a pizza that ranges from, say, $12 to $19. Does Ms Demos, or Simon Benson or Steve Lewis believe readers of The Tele are so unutterably stupid as to swallow the tosh they talk?

Then there was the Brumby’s bakery story where the MD suggested to his franchisees that they might now raise their prices, as the rise ‘would be blamed on the carbon tax’. He is now out of his job, the ACCC has given Brumby’s a dressing down, and Brumby’s have publicly eaten a very large piece of humble pie.

This week we had the carbon tax blamed indirectly for a rise in pokies use in Queensland because it coincided with the arrival of carbon tax compensation cheques in people’s bank accounts, a contention challenged by Stephen Koukoulas in Market Economics in Some Hokey Pokey on Pokies. As a minister pointed out, the Government does not control how people spend their money. Using the logic of the Opposition, which says that it warned of this outcome, Governments should never provide citizens with any monetary benefit, lest some of it be spent on pokies!

So to date, about three weeks into Tony’s Toxic Tax, there’s not much action. The media has largely lost interest, apart from the odd titillating story, such as the pokies one; Tony is overseas and other politicians are on their long winter break and have other things on their mind; people are getting on with their lives; fear of a lamb roast rising to $100 is retreating; citizens of Whyalla are still going to work as their town unexpectedly survives Tony’s Toxic Tax; coal is still being mined as new multi-billion dollar contracts are being signed; and the sky seems to be where it was on 30 June.

Now there will be the occasional heart-rending story of the dire effect of the carbon tax, and each will be collected by the Opposition to assail the Government when Question Time resumes; News Limited will feature any story, no matter how trivial, no matter how shonky, to press its ‘toxic tax’ story, and if it’s dubious enough, will use its attack dog Steve (Grech/Ashby) Lewis to write it; and Michelle Grattan will relish every chance to hammer Julia Gillard about her catastrophic tax.

But if experience with the GST is any guide, everyone – the media and its consumers – will soon tire of the doom and gloom of Tony’s Toxic Tax, and will go onto more interesting things – the London Olympics and the AFL Finals – by which time the end of the year and holidays will be looming. By 2013, TTT will be long forgotten.

Tony’s Toxic Tax will die. His inevitable attempts to resurrect it in QT will fall flat and become a subject of ridicule as he continues to ride his favourite hobby-horse, flailing it wildly until literally he is ‘flogging a dead horse’. The public, largely disinterested in politics, will turn his bleating off as it realizes that Tony’s Toxic Tax was a fraud all along.

Tony’s Toxic Tax has gone missing – lost in the tumult of real issues. If anyone finds it, please return it to its owner and deposit it where it hurts him most.