Rudd’s decision to junk the CPRS shows him up for the kind of politician he is—willing to sacrifice something he once called the “greatest moral challenge of our generation” in the name of election-year pragmatism.
His lack of hesistancy in dropping the central plank of his climate policy reveals just how seriously Rudd was taking this “moral challenge” in the first place. Rather than being an effective tool to reduce emissions, the CPRS was just a stick to beat the Liberals with. It also served the purpose of helping to pacify voters anxious for action on climate change.
Faced with Abbott’s “great big new tax” scare campaign and the failure of Copenhagen to secure anything like a global agreement, the Labor government have now simply dropped the rhetoric about the urgent need for action. Julia Gillard, defending the new position on Lateline, argued the lack of “progress internationally” means Australia should sit by and wait until 2013. Labor now holds a position basically identical to that of the Liberals.
Before Labor junked the CPRS, the pro-Rudd Grattan Institute released a report in April that found that the scheme’s $24 billion in compensations arrangements was unnecessary. It concluded that the scheme would “delay the adjustment required to move to a lower carbon economy.”
Mike Sketekee rightly argued in an article in The Australian that we shouldn’t mourn the loss of the CPRS: “it would have locked Australia into a policy that allowed the biggest emitters to carry on pretty much as they do now.”
Rudd’s backflip offers the climate movement an opportunity to push for climate solutions that will work. The Greens’ response to the scheme’s demise has been disappointing. Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne, backed up by some of the climate movement, have used the opportunity to call for the government to negotiate an interim carbon tax with The Greens. This has blunted opposition to the CPRS, and bolstered the illusion that there was something in the CPRS worth negotiating with.
Penny Wong and Martin Ferguson have both repeatedly said that the government is not interested in The Greens’ proposals.
The push for a price on carbon also sells the climate short. It is based on exactly the same premise as the CPRS: it would simply not provide the investment in renewable energy that we need, while allowing business to continue to pay their way out of action by passing on costs to consumers.
Beyond Zero Emissions has led a call for the government to scale up investment in renewable energy in the budget to $42 billion, the same amount to be spent on the national broadband network. This is the kind of thing we should be pushing. Rudd was never serious about climate change—those of us who are need to get serious about fighting for renewables.
By Amy Thomas