New carbon price committee will get us nowhere

Julia Gillard’s deal with The Greens to establish a parliamentary committee on a carbon price has been hailed as a new chance for serious action on climate change. The Greens have led the charge for a carbon tax; new MP Adam Bandt has called it “the key to dealing with the climate change challenge.” 10,000 marched nationwide in the Walk Against Warming demonstrations in the lead up to the election, also under the central demand for a carbon tax.

But the new committee is a potential trap for The Greens. It is aimed at finding consensus on a policy that can make it through parliament—and the logic of parliamentary arithmetic will be to find a policy acceptable to the most right-wing elements on the committee. Unless it comes up with a policy acceptable to business, it will not get support from Labor’s leadership.

Momentum for action can only come from the climate movement outside parliament. But backing a carbon price will not allow it to gather any momentum. Carbon taxes overseas have pushed price rises onto consumers. Business has found “innovative” ways to deal with carbon, like Sweden’s StatOil who have started to bury carbon underground to avoid paying a carbon tax. They have not stopped pumping oil. In Australia, petrol prices have risen in the past decade, but where are the new, free bus systems? The expansion of the rail system? Relying on the market is a recipe for failure and delay.

Australia is not immune from the economic crisis and it will get worse. Wages are stagnating and the minimum wage was frozen last year. We need a movement for higher living standards, not one that attacks them. There is popular support for a carbon price because it represents a form of action—but there is not support for rising living costs.

In Melbourne before the election a small group of climate activists built a rally for renewable energy at Parliament House, calling on the government to fund renewables. Unions are holding climate action conferences in Sydney and Melbourne in the coming months. Initiatives like this put winning jobs and investment at the centre and can shift the debate. We can and must win union support for action.

The ACTU has been won to opposing the construction of the nuclear waste dump at Muckaty station—if we encouraged the same for the two planned new coal-fired power stations in New South Wales it would put enormous pressure on the state government to abandon the plans.

Many climate activists were excited about The Greens’ high vote, and so they should be. But The Greens argument that it would have passed the CPRS if the government negotiated with it instead of the Liberals shows the movement can’t rely on them.

What stopped The Greens voting for the CPRS was the climate action movement. It must now shift The Greens from support for a carbon tax to support for direct investment in renewable energy and public transport. Bold demands can win bold change. There is no shortage of enthusiasm—let’s make it count for something.

By Amy Thomas

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