ABC News Online, Posted Thu Jul 17, 2008 2:05pm AEST
Updated Thu Jul 17, 2008 4:41pm AEST
- Audio: 'Greenhouse Mafia' running environmental policy (The World Today)
A speechwriter for the former government says Labor's Green Paper on climate change shows Australia's big polluters are still influencing policy.
Guy Pearse first documented his account of greenhouse policy under the Howard government in his recently published book, High and Dry, drawing on experiences as a speechwriter for then environment minister Robert Hill.
He coined the term "greenhouse mafia" as a catch-all phrase to describe the country's biggest polluters.
He says they basically ran policy under the old regime and he is now saying that the Labor Government has shown in its Green Paper that they're still influencing policy now.
Mr Pearse told The World Today's Emma Alberici John Howard and Kevin Rudd have seen different political advantages in climate change.
"I think John Howard perceived a political advantage in taking a sort of siege mentality to this and playing very defensively when it came to Kyoto ratification, developing country involvement as a condition of Australia acting and also the emissions trading scheme. Kevin Rudd wants to be seen instead to be on the front foot," he said.
"But if you look at the detail of the Green Paper announced yesterday, without knowing precisely what the emission trajectories the new Government is going to take, it's quite conceivable that we could end up in a very similar place once the two policies are implemented.
"And that's primarily by virtue of the loopholes and concessions, call them what you will, to some of our worst polluting sectors which have the effect of moving the emissions reduction burden ... off the worst offenders and onto cleaner businesses and householders, which is somewhat counter-intuitive given what people probably expect of an emissions trading scheme, where they would expect a polluter pays principle to be central and the greatest incentives to be created for the biggest polluters."
Mr Pearse says the Government, just as Mr Howard planned to, will give free permits to "emissions intensive trade exposed industries".
"So you end up with freebies in some of our worst polluting sectors like steel and aluminium and cement that could conceivably operate for 15 or 20 years or more even, and seriously erode the capacity of the emissions trading scheme to do its job," he said.
He says this means that the worst offending industries will receive more compensation than households.
"One good example which is perhaps not so obvious as it ought to be in the document released yesterday, but if you look closely at the fine print that's the implication is there, that the black coal mining industry would be among those emissions intensive sectors that would receive 60 per cent of its permits for free," he said.
"The black coal mining industry is already, according to the figures in yesterday's report, responsible for over 5 per cent of Australia's total emissions.
"Black coal exports are in turn responsible for emissions internationally that are even greater than our entire emissions as a country.
"And yet here we are proposing that that industry receive 60 per cent of its permits for free.
"I mean it's the very sort of industry we ought to be digging ourselves out of rather than digging ourselves more deeply into, especially when we take into account that there's no prospect of carbon capture and storage being used for that coal if it's exported on any meaningful time frame or scale."
Mr Pearse says it is "pretty well established" that renewables can provide base load power in Australia.
"We already see base load power coming from biomass, we already see it coming from solar thermal - there's enormous potential in geothermal," he said.
"Depending on how you configure electricity grids, there is no problem with having renewables replace coal-fired base load, particularly if you've got gas as a back-up.
"It's a furphy to suggest that, as John Howard did so consistently and I think Malcolm Turnbull, that you just can't run an economy on renewable power."
Mr Pearse says despite the change in government, there is still "an enormous amount of inertia in our political system".
"There was an enormous amount of insider influence, as I documented, under the Howard government," he said.
"I think we're seeing that replaced. Some of the characters are changing but the influence is the same.
"So you know, now we're seeing a much greater role for people like Martin Ferguson and Michael Costa, and a much greater role for the union movement and for state Labor premiers than there was before. But the impact is the same. The inertia is there.
"Those industries, the sort of 'dig it up, ship it out resource and energy and metals' industries, they have an enormous, disproportionate amount of clout and it's extremely hard to unwind that.
"It takes an enormous amount of political courage and I hope we see that eventually. At the moment the signs are not great."
But Mr Pearse says the extent of the influence of the so-called greenhouse mafia over the Rudd Government remains to be seen.
"It is impossible to know for sure until we see the emissions target that the Rudd Government accepts and some of the really all-important fine print that might have been in yesterday's report but wasn't," he said.
"But it would appear from the embrace of the various concessions to some of our worst polluting industries, those that the greenhouse mafia represent, it would appear that their influence is quite significant and not far beneath the influence that they had under Howard."