Carbon price committee is a trap for The Greens

By establishing a carbon price committee in a post-election deal with Labor, The Greens have sparked hopes that climate action is a step closer. Greens MP Adam Bandt says it has, “got the ball rolling again on climate change action”. Unfortunately, it is destined to have the opposite effect.

The Greens have sidelined their more progressive climate policies, like an end to coal-fired power stations and investment in high-speed rail, and put their energy into winning a price on carbon through the multi-party committee. It’s a dead end. Labor knows a carbon price will pose no challenge to the interests of the biggest polluters, and they have constructed the committee in such a way as to make extra sure of it.

Christine Milne and Bob Brown, the two Greens Senators on the committee, will be in a minority alongside Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet and independent Tony Windsor. Their “independent” expert advisers are a suite of neo-liberals: Patricia Faulkner, a partner at KPMG, a firm that specialises in facilitating privatisations and public-private partnerships, and two of Bob Hawke’s economic advisers in the 1980s, Rob Sims and Ross Garnaut.

Milne is co-deputy chair and has celebrated that the committee is, “designed to take account of all perspectives”—but these are the go-slow perspectives of Labor and the independents and the self-interest of big business. Milne has even supported Gillard’s demand that climate denier Tony Abbott, “not continue to play the role of wrecker but to actually join the multi-party committee.”

Carbon tax
The committee will consider an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax or a combination of both. A carbon tax has moved up the list of possibilities because Gillard has said she will “consider” it—after the CEO of BHP-Billiton, Marius Kloppers, spoke out in favour of it.

The Greens too have welcomed Kloppers’ endorsement of a carbon tax, and Bob Brown has said, “Business has less to fear from an increase in Green power in parliament than it thinks”. If that is the case, then The Greens will not be able to fight for the climate action that is really needed. Like emissions trading schemes, carbon taxes rely on the market to drive a shift to renewable energy, a strategy that has continually failed. Worse, these kinds of taxes have a record of increasing prices for consumers.

Just as with Rudd’s emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax will be subject to business lobbying to extract concessions and compensation. Business is increasingly confident to do so after winning such huge concessions on the mining tax.

Kloppers’ intervention, for example, is clearly an effort to manipulate any climate policy in the interests of his company. The fine print of his speech is revealing. He has insisted that industries that face international competition must be heavily compensated and that any revenue raised by the tax must not go towards funding renewable technologies. This is an admission that investment in renewable energy by government is the real threat to BHP’s profits, not a carbon tax. Kloppers’ support for a carbon tax, compared with his fierce condemnation of the mining tax (“the greatest sovereign risk…that I have seen in 17 years in this industry”), says it all.

By putting so many eggs in the basket of the parliamentary committee, The Greens have signed away any action other than an ineffective carbon price. They have even agreed not to reveal what goes on in the committee until it winds up at the end of 2011.

The whole process has pulled The Greens into dead-end negotiations rather than mobilising around demands that can win real action on climate change.

The Australian newspaper, which is running a vicious campaign against The Greens, published comments from the new Climate Change Minister Greg Combet saying that the coal industry “has a very strong, long-term future”.

Combet is pushing nonexistent clean coal technology. He knows that a carbon price will not challenge polluting industry and drive any major shift to solar and wind, which is why he can say with confidence that the coal industry has a profitable future.

But The Greens’ desire to appear unified with Labor meant they made no criticism of Combet and even said that they looked forward to working with the new Minister. Their silence legitimised Combet’s defence of coal and gives The Australian more confidence to go on the offensive—which they certainly will. The newspaper has signalled they want to “destroy” The Greens.

The Greens can only defend themselves if they look to the movement outside parliament—and stand up for climate solutions that actually work.

By Erima Dall


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