- The Age Opinion, August 31, 2009
Labor's policies to tackle climate change pander to big business.
POLITICS is far too often about the sizzle rather than the sausage. The latest example is the claim made by coal and de facto climate change minister Martin Ferguson that before Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull joined the Liberal Party he hawked himself around the powerbrokers in the ALP for a winnable seat.
The objective of Ferguson's tittle-tattle was to show that Turnbull was a political opportunist who would do whatever it takes to get into Parliament.
Hello? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Ferguson was bumped into Parliament by his fellow factional oligarchs. Turnbull won his seat in a genuine preselection battle - a process that died out in the ALP at least two decades earlier.
The ALP as a democratic institution with real rank-and-file policy input through state and federal conference has atrophied to the point where Coalition party members have more say over who represents them in Parliament than those from the ALP.
In government, Rudd Labor has shifted the loci of power from caucus and even full cabinet. It mimics the top-down structure of the Howard government, where policy is developed between key ministers and industry lobbyists representing mining, private heath insurance, religious and independent schools and employer groups. It is not surprising its policies on climate change, education and health are a continuation of the Howard government's policies.
Apologists for Rudd Labor argue that the adoption of the previous government's policies is the price Labor must pay to retain office. The reasons may be more profoundly related to the party structure, which has allowed the professionals - whose interests are primarily gaining and holding power - to divorce themselves from members who see the party as a vehicle to implement progressive policies.
In policy terms, Labor parliamentarians may have more in common with their Liberal opponents, something they disguise by increasingly vitriolic personal attacks or, in Labor's case, by symbolic gestures such as saying sorry to Aborigines or signing Kyoto. It is clear that the Rudd Government is not prepared to undertake reforms to reverse the Howard government's policies, which created two-tier health and education systems where access is largely determined by income and reinforced by fiscal policy.
This Liberal/Labor policy bipartisanship is most clearly on display in measures to deal with global warming. Both sides support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The political rhetoric serves to disguise the fact that it isn't any such thing. Cap-and-trade schemes ostensibly designed to reduce emissions haven't worked anywhere else in the world and the Australian scheme won't work here.
The National Party is right. It is a disguised carbon tax that will affect the price of everything - although nowhere near as much as senators Joyce and Boswell and an army of lobbyists are claiming in order to maximise offsets and minimise the tax's cost to their constituents.
The CPRS is structured so that most of the revenue it raises will be recycled back to Australia's largest polluters rather than used to finance the massive increase in investment in renewable energy needed if Australia is to cut its emissions and maintain its living standards. Worse, even as the cap on emissions is lowered, the big polluters will be able to meet their lower targets by buying dodgy emission permits offsets from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia so that, according to Treasury forecasts, actual emissions by Australia's biggest polluters will be above 1990 levels until after 2035.
In other words, the CPRS, like similar schemes in Europe, is designed to slow down the structural change necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. Simultaneously, it will create a new field of innovation for the financial industry, which led to the global economic crisis.
According to David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, ''the debate in Australia (and elsewhere) is deeply delusional and getting worse. As the evidence becomes overwhelming that we are heading for a climate apocalypse if we go on as we are for even another five years, the level of cognitive dissonance increases in proportion.''
Last week the Coalition joined the Government to pass the Renewable Energy Target (RET), which will increase the proportion of electricity being generated from renewable energy from 10 to 20 per cent, but only after the number of energy-intensive industries eligible for exemption from the flow-through into higher electricity prices was increased from three to 40.
The Greens, who are the only political party serious about climate change, have been effectively shut out of negotiations to improve these climate change measures.
The political correspondent of Crikey, commenting on the passage of the RET last week, said the capacity of the Australian Parliament to bastardise good policy and turn it into a feeding trough for rent seekers and other parasites is remarkable. This is the real story: how Australia's two major political parties have become as one in the service of Australia's major polluters.
Kenneth Davidson is a contributor. His column will appear every Monday.