Graeme Philipson
May 9, 2016

Climate change and sins of omission

Election 2016

Climate change and sins of omission

Climate calamity: Not much to smile about in the Turnbull Government's maiden budget

Now that Malcolm Turnbull has called a July 2 double dissolution election, the Budget is last week’s news. The phoney war is over and Australia is in election mode.

The Budget can now be seen for what it was, the opening salvos in that war. The Government has presented it as a ‘jobs and growth’ budget, a phrase repeated incessantly by the Prime Minister and Treasurer last week. Malcolm Turnbull used it four times in his election announcement.

Unfortunately, if we are to take the Government at its word, none of those jobs and none of that growth is to come from the renewable energy sector.

Australia has the potential to be a renewables powerhouse, but the innovation and the agility the Prime Minister so often says we need to display will not be directed into that field – at least not if we believe the Government’s rhetoric.

The most glaring omission from the Budget was its complete absence of any mention of climate change or its consequences. For an issue which most serious observers believe is the most important facing humanity, and whose economic consequences are likely to be dramatic, this is an astounding oversight.

Malcolm Turnbull lost the leadership of his party to Tony Abbott in 2009 because he supported the ALP’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. He won it back, along with the prime ministership, last year in part because he now repudiates any serious action on climate change.

The government he leads is full of climate change deniers. The Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, is not exactly a standard bearer for the global warming cause. While most other senior ministers issued press releases on budget night crowing about the funding their portfolio had received, Mr Hunt was silent, because he had nothing to say.

Under Tony Abbott the whole debate in Australia about climate change and renewable energy was poisoned. The so-called ‘Carbon Tax’ joined the trinity of three word slogans (‘Axe the tax’) that got him elected, helped in no small part by a barrage of ALP own goals.

If Mr Abbott had had his way there would be no Climate Change Authority (CCA) and no funding, or tax breaks, for renewable energy. As it was the CCA was saved by the Senate, and Australia still has a Clean Energy Finance Corporation and an Australian Renewable Energy Agency, but there was no mention of them in the budget beyond a small line item confirming their continued funding, to the tune of $103 million, over the next four years. Little wonder Greg Hunt was so quiet.

Now, we learn from Fairfax Media that the CCA, the Government’s own authority on climate change and dominated by appointments made by Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Hunt, has completed its major policy options paper to help Australia’s power industry prepare for climate change.

But it refuses to release the document. From the CCA’s website:

“The Minister for the Environment has requested a Special Review under the Climate Change Authority Act 2011. The terms of reference for the Review include whether Australia should have an emission trading scheme and any conditions for introducing such a scheme.

It requires the Authority to consider whether the climate policies of other countries, including the USA, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and the European Union, are equivalent to an emissions trading scheme. The Authority must also consider what Australia’s contribution should be to an effective and equitable global response to climate change.

“Assuming the Federal election is called for early July 2016, at the request of the Climate Change Authority, the Minister for the Environment has agreed to extend the timeframe for the completion of final report of the Climate Change Authority’s special review until after the Federal election. That report will cover the policies Australia should put in place to meet the outcomes of the Paris climate change agreement.”

So, Greg Hunt has kindly ‘agreed to extend the timeframe’ for the report’s release until after the election. That would be fair enough if the Government were in caretaker mode, but at the time the ‘request’ was made and the CCA published the above on its website, the election had not been called. It is blatant political interference.

The reasons for the delay are apparent from the contents of the report, which has been leaked to Fairfax Media. “A mandatory carbon price of some sort is desirable in the sector,” it says, comparing the costs of a number of different policy options to tackle climate change, or at least remediate its effects, which due to previous inaction is now where we are.

The Government’s preferred option for addressing climate change, so-called ‘Direct Action’, is the least preferred option, behind carbon pricing and ‘technology pull’.

Technology pull is just what Australia, and the world, needs. It essentially means the replacement of carbon-based energy sources with renewable ones, with government policies to encourage that to happen.

Sunny Australia, with abundant wind and powerful waves, should be a world leader in renewable energy.

Instead we are also-rans, with our solar energy expertise exported to China and our wind farm investment sector facing financial ruin as the Government, incredibly, initiates an inquiry into the medical effects of the technology.

It may yet be that Australia’s innovative and agile entrepreneurs ensure this country has a strong renewable energy sector. But if it happens, it will be in spite of this Government, not because of it.

Sins of omission are often far greater than those of commission.

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