WAYNE SWAN. Coalition energy policy.

It’s a lost decade we couldn’t afford on climate change and energy policy – but when the consequences are felt in years and decades to come, it’s incumbent upon us all not to forget the political opportunists and charlatans who led us down this path.  

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry this week sitting in Parliament when Prime Minister Turnbull accused Labor on energy policy of “bumbling around in the dark, and leaving Australians in the dark” with no idea of how to protect the jobs and households of Australia.

Next month marks the sixth anniversary of the rally outside Parliament organised by a radio shock jock in response to Prime Minister Gillard’s announcement that Labor would introduce a carbon pricing scheme.

Without question, the politics of carbon in this country have been spectacular over the last decade or so, but there is a real cost to the obsession with political colour and movement in reporting on such an important issue. One tragic part of it is the damage to future generations of failing to deal effectively with climate pollution.  But sadly I don’t expect Australian conservatives to respond to moral cases on anything. More immediate still is the comprehensive failure to send sensible investment signals for the energy sector. A carbon price is of course the best long term effective mechanism that will deliver the investment required in clean energy to secure our economic and environmental future.

The carbon price announced by Prime Minister Gillard was little different from the carbon pollution reduction scheme that had the support of a Liberal Party under the leadership of John Howard, and Turnbull, right through to December 2009.

In 2011 our announcement of a three year fixed price trading scheme was immediately characterised as a carbon tax and became the focus of one of the most dishonest and brutal political campaigns in our nation’s history.

It was driven by Tony Abbott, sections of the business community and shock jocks who unleashed an anti-Gillard mob mentality that knew no bounds.

The Prime Minister was called everything from a dud to a witch, right through to a schemer.

The rally outside Parliament six years ago on March 23 2011 saw Tony Abbott mingling with the likes of Pauline Hanson, speaking in front of a sign that said “JuLIAR: Bob Brown’s Bitch”. Imagine for a minute someone outside the Parliament doing the same to Julie Bishop today.

This event and the campaign against carbon pricing more than any other issue symbolised the negativity of Tony Abbott’s leadership as well as the Liberal Party’s radical right- turn into a protest movement in the mould of the US Tea Party.

I’ve thought long and hard about the nature of this sustained campaign against Labor between 2007 and 2013, and my experience has convinced me that it was not the product of politics as usual, but rather the product of something alien and new.

Since first meeting Nick Stern 11 years ago, I’d come to the conclusion that no first-class economy should be anything other than a clean economy and the only way to drive investment in clean technology was to put a price on pollution.

As Treasurer I saw a price on carbon pollution as the next frontier on global reform.

Last week, as Prime Minister Turnbull fulsomely embraced Pauline Hanson in that parliamentary answer, the rise of the Australian right inside the Liberal party, and the Trumpification the conservative policy platform was being laid bare. I began to feel physically ill and for the first time to genuinely fear for the future of our country.

Here was the agenda of right-wing nutters posing a threat to both our economic and energy security, one devoid of any connection to the most basic facts and scientific analysis being articulated by a supposedly Liberal businessman whose claim to the prime ministership of Australia was that he has the business experience to grow our economy and protect future generations.

There are many reasons why Labor failed to secure re-election in 2013 (and I outline these further in my book, The Good Fight) but stasis on big policy issues wasn’t one of them. I can put my hand on my heart and say that we put forward big structural reforms essential to our future economic and environmental sustainability.

The Murdoch media, determined to remove the Labor Government at any cost, mounted a savage war on the science of climate change and the structural reforms that needed to be undertaken. They were instrumental in carving in stone that Prime Minister Gillard had lied about the carbon tax.

So I wasn’t surprised this week when there was so little coverage by the Murdoch media that their star recruit, Peta Credlin, had admitted on Sky News: “It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics …”

In judging economic policies it is best to consider not just what happened after a given policy came into effect, but what would have happened without the policy in question – known by the policy wonks as the counter-factual.

We know that prior to the carbon price being abolished emissions in the energy sector dropped by 10.4% and we saw a surge in investment in the renewable energy sector. Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation and our Australian Renewable Energy Agency worked together to drive a strong investment pipeline in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Both agencies have been targeted and blackguarded by the Liberals.

We are now seeing what happens without the policy, or the counter-factual. There isn’t a stable and predictable environment for investment activity. The BCA darkly warned this week of a systemic crisis in energy which is the product of a lack of investment, certainty and clarity.

Just as an aside: it’s a sad tale of the short political memories in this country that the BCA in particular wasn’t run out of town on a rail the same day for these comments. Of all the craven performances of lobby groups in the service of partisan ends, the BCA beats them all with its butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths effort of spending several years torpedoing an effective, functioning carbon price and then seconds later starting to whine about investment uncertainty.

Nevertheless, the day that the carbon price was repealed there were triumphant scenes in the Parliament as Ministers embraced each other on the floor of the Parliament. As the years pass by, this will become their Neville Chamberlain moment.

As Alan Kohler put it this week – “This is entirely the Liberal Party’s fault … By taking the low road in 2009 instead of the high road, and deciding to mislead Australians about the true cost of energy, the Liberal Party condemned the country to a decade of confusion and stasis on energy policy”.

It’s a lost decade we couldn’t afford on climate change and energy policy – but when the consequences are felt in years and decades to come, it’s incumbent upon us all not to forget the political opportunists and charlatans who led us down this path.

See also John Menadue’s piece ‘The Abbott and Turnbull legacy on climate change and energy policy‘ and Max Corden’s piece ‘Bring Back the Carbon Tax?’


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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8 Responses to WAYNE SWAN. Coalition energy policy.

  1. Avatar vicki says:

    Those of us who took the triuble to read a little about carbon pollution and ways of dealing with it knew that Julia Gillard was not the liar that the oppositin and the Murdoch media made her out to be. Shame on those who did not bother to read the facts ( they were out but a bit hard to find), shame on those that acted out of ignorce and more shame on those glued coalition supporters who swallowed the part line.
    Did Credlin inadvertently let the cat out of the bag or was that ‘slip’ intentional.

    • Avatar Rhona Eastment says:

      Correct, and as it is, Julia Gillard’s sentence was cut in half by Abbott, leaving out the bit that went something like ” ….but be very sure I will put a price on carbon”. Can’t remember the exact words, but could look it up. The broken sentence was ‘run’ with by a complicit LNP media, and the lie remains to this day. The Abbott Opposition was the most destructive of any in my memory, instead of being what an Opposition should be, and what Labor is doing now, being a CONSTRUCTIVE opposition. Holding the Government to account. Abbott just wanted to bring Labor down. Turnbull is continuing this destruction, against all that is good for Australia.

  2. Avatar Clive Hamilton says:

    Thank you Wayne for recording this essential piece of history in the tragic unfolding of climate policy. What the conservatives have done is beyond hypocrisy. When we consider what is at stake for Australians their perfromance is nothing less than wicked.

    • Avatar Brian F Kennedy says:

      Absolutely true Clive. It will take a CRISIS to bring change to the Deniers and politically motivated politicians when they will have to act. Like the RCChurch, it will take the ongoing crisis of the Royal Commission to bring about change.
      Keep a mounting list of public Deniers is a great idea, Tony among them

  3. Avatar rumtytum says:

    It’s not too late for Labor to once again show it’s a party of principle and develop policies that are to the benefit of all Australians, not just the politicians or those to whom money is God. A principled policy on carbon, on negative gearing, on capital gains, on refugees, on education and so on. The dispiriting thing is that Labor seems to have swallowed the neoliberal bullshit whole. Is that right Wayne?

    • Avatar Rhona Eastment says:

      I am not al all sure why you would have said that ‘rumtytum’. Why would you say Labor has swallowed the neoLiberal bullshit? Did you read this article? Thre is also this statement of Bill’s

      “There’s been a bit of talk this week that Labor isn’t committed to our target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. That’s completely wrong. We are absolutely committed to seeing 50 per cent of our energy mix coming from renewables by 2030. That’s our target, and we’re sticking to it.”

      Take note, Labor is listening to the people and to its members. We are all the ones who have pushed the ‘50% by 2030. This is imperative.

  4. Avatar Jaquix says:

    Dont worry Wayne Swan, we wont forget who held Australia (and the planet) back. It was the Liberal and National Parties. Dinosaurs and Do-Nothing Good-For-Nothings. Labor MPs must all make sure they are right up there with all the information about energy, so they can slap down Turnbull and Freydenberg with their outright lies. Keep hammering them on energy and the EIS – energy intensive scheme, which all the experts agree is the best way to deal with the situation, and keep prices down at the same time. Turnbull is insulting us with his nonsense.

    • Avatar bushwalker says:

      “keep hammering them”?? “start hammering” might be better. Shorten and Bowen should stay out of the energy debate and so should Morrison. However Mark Butler is more than a match for Turnbull if they ever manage to go head-to-head. I’m a bit doubtful about Frydenberg – he seems to be simply a creature of his department.

      But you can see what Turnbull is going to take to the next election; a new baseload power station, capping the RET scheme and lower electricity prices. If Labor is still with “50% renewables by 2030” they won’t get a single “deplorable” vote.

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