Are you as exasperated and disgusted as I am with the political antics exposed during the renewed debate about energy policy? Are you appalled by our parliamentarians' persistent inability to collaborate in making decisions about how to tackle climate change? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answers.
On 22 November, Bill Shorten chose a gathering arranged in Sydney by Bloomberg New Energy Finance to outline the energy policy Labor will take to the next election. Prefacing his presentation with ”Climate change is no longer an emergency. It’s a disaster”, Shorten went on to: "announce initiatives to boost the use of alternative energy and help meet the Labor party’s goal for 50 percent of the country’s power to come from renewables by 2030”. In support of Labor’s policy he pledged ”$10 billion in extra funding for clean energy and steeper cuts to carbon emissions.” He also promised subsidies for home battery installations. The Conversation gave the battery idea a tick.
It is not my purpose to detail all the events that occurred on that momentous day – you are able to read all about them in the media. My aim is to highlight the tediousness of what is a monotonous replay of the same old story of climate change and energy policy inertia that goes back a decade.
Think back to where the saga began in earnest. We know that climate change has been on the minds of politicians for decades, but when in March 2007 Kevin Rudd, speaking at the National Climate Summit at Parliament House, declared climate change to be “the great moral challenge of our generation”, a new era began.
To cut a long story short, you will recall that following a paper by economist Ross Garnaut: Climate Change Review, Kevin Rudd developed an emissions trading scheme, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and negotiated the support of Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, who indicated he was prepared to back it. This eventually lead to his eclipse by Tony Abbott.
You will also recall that the Greens under Christine Milne, urged on by Bob Brown, refused to support it, effectively killing it off, as it ‘did not go far enough’. With the support of the Greens it would have passed, as some Coalition members were ready to cross the floor. At the time, Finance Minister Penny Wong, who also held the climate portfolio, said that the Greens should be held responsible "for their destructive impact on climate policy".
During Julia Gillard’s prime ministership, Labor developed a policy that included a ‘price on carbon pollution’ as a penalty to dissuade polluters. When she introduced this concept, she was trapped into saying that it was a ‘tax’, and then fell foul of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s label of a ‘carbon tax’. As Abbott’s chief-of-staff Peta Credlin later conceded, Labor's climate change policy was never a carbon tax. Abbott was deliberately employing "brutal retail politics, and it took him six months to cut through and when he did cut through Gillard was gone."
That’s enough history to illustrate the parallel between then and now.
Now: No sooner had Shorten made his November 22 announcement that Labor would give support to the Coalition’s NEG, albeit with the proviso that there be a 45 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030, going beyond the existing Paris Agreement goal of a minimum 26 percent reduction from 2005 levels, than energy minister, Angus Taylor, whose sole focus is on getting power bills down, and to hell with emissions reduction, donned a high-viz vest at a high-energy-use smelter in Tomago, and enlisted the owner to support his attack on Labor’s proposals: ”These reckless targets will be a wrecking ball for the economy and for jobs in agriculture and the manufacturing sector. We won’t stand for it.”… He challenged Shorten to nominate which factories he would close down, how many cattle he would cull, and what industries he would wreck. Now Morrison has backed him.
Taylor must have expected the captains of industry to back him to the hilt and condemn Shorten’s move out of hand. Instead, Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group, said of Shorten’s announcement that it was: ”a useful step that could help address the ongoing crisis in the electricity system.” Among Coalition members, Julie Bishop is the only one who agrees that it would be wise to go along with Labor. But will her colleagues listen?
In a characteristically delightful take on this laughable episode in The Guardian: Bill Shorten chooses to be the grown-up on energy as Coalition's toddlers have a tantrum, Katharine Murphy pokes fun at Taylor and adds wearily: ”We’ve been here before: the hyperbolic carry on, it’s all pretty tired.”
Soon after Shorten’s announcement, right on cue, Richard Di Natale was on the TV doing the Green Thing, labelling Shorten’s proposal “A joke of a policy", accusing Labor of “…backing away from tough action on climate change, including a price on carbon”, and blasting him with ”Bill Shorten has now become the punch line in what is the sick joke that is climate policy here in Australia."
So there you have it, the same old, same old, same old story story - déjà vu all over again!. Once again, Labor proposes a well-thought-through approach to tackle climate change by agreeing to adopt the NEG, an energy policy developed by the Coalition that has already been through its party room three times; the energy minister vehemently derides it as a ‘wrecking ball’ and refuses to have a bar of it, and the Greens smash it because it does not match their ideological position!
Sadly, our nation is once more back on the endless energy road to nowhere. Oh dear!