Carbon tax: Help or hindrance in stopping Abbott?

Solidarity distributed this leaflet at the 2012 national Climate Action Summit, held this weekend in Sydney

Support for the carbon tax has damaged the climate movement, and with it the prospects of winning more serious action on climate change. It has given Tony Abbott a huge stick with which to beat both The Greens and the Labor Government. His “great big new tax” mantra looks set to help deliver him into power.

Even amongst climate activists, the carbon tax now generates little enthusiasm, even if some still try to defend it. This is because the scheme is useless for reducing carbon emissions. Modelling shows it will allow emissions to increase until 2030, allow widespread use of offsets, and entrench gas as the alternative to coal for power generation.

Because so many groups have fallen in behind the tax, the climate movement has been badly demobilised. The idea that the movement could fight to improve the package by demanding higher emissions reduction targets in the future is wishful thinking. The scheme is deeply unpopular and there is no chance of mobilising public support for a higher carbon price.

Continuing to have an uncritical attitude to the carbon tax is hurting the movement. The idea that the carbon tax is the key solution to climate change is already being used to undermine the push for any additional mechanisms, whether feed-in tariffs or more direct spending on solar energy.

It is not only the newly elected conservative state governments in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, but also the Federal Labor Climate Change Minister Greg Combet who is using the carbon tax to deny the need for any further effective climate action. Last month Combet told the Sydney Morning Herald he is working with state governments to undo climate programs labelled “expensive and inefficient” alongside the carbon tax. That means using the excuse of the carbon tax to wind back or wind up state government initiatives.

But the tragedy of the situation is that they are right. Under the present market-oriented scheme the carbon tax and the existing 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target serve to set a ceiling on emissions reductions. Further government funding for renewable energy projects such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) does not result in any further emissions cuts.

The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss made exactly this point recently, saying that, “While [with the CEFC] the taxpayer’s putting up the $13 billion on the table, it’s not actually going to result in an increase in the amount of renewable energy.” The campaigns against coal seam gas and for big solar power stations will be ham-strung in making the case for serious further climate action unless they explain the limitations of the carbon tax and the existing renewable energy target.

Balance of power politics
The disaster of the carbon tax is the result of relying on what could negotiated by The Greens using their “balance of power” from the minority Labor government. It has seen The Greens and the climate movement lower their sights to whatever could be squeezed out of the argy-bargy of parliamentary manoeuvring.

It has also meant The Greens’ support has stalled. They have been stuck at 12 per cent since 2010 and for the first time since 2001, their vote decreased in the recent Queensland election.

We need to return to building a fighting movement on the streets; one capable of mobilising the discontent with Labor and standing up to the horrifying possibility of a Tony Abbott government. This could help shift politics to the left instead of allowing Abbott to drag the public debate to the right, as he has so successfully done.

It means building a movement outside parliament that looks to pressure the government for real change—not simply remaining trapped in lobbying MPs and looking to parliamentary deals to bring action on climate.

The ongoing campaigns for big solar and against coal seam gas provide some focus for the climate movement. But unless the movement goes beyond accepting the limits of market mechanisms, and pushes for what is really needed – direct government funding of renewable energy power generation, action on public transport and green jobs, the chance for serious action on climate change will be lost.


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