by Keith Orchison
Has the emissions trading debate now jumped the shark?
I spotted the idiom in a blog posted by ABC Television’s Leigh Sales. It is a showbiz colloquialism used by TV critics and fans to denote the point in a program where the plot veers off in to absurd story lines – revealing the desperation of the writers. Shows that have “jumped the shark” are deemed to have passed their peak.
It seems Barnaby Joyce senses this about the ETS. The Senator – described recently by Paul Kelly in The Australian as the “National Party’s spiritual leader” – is talking about a populist backlash starting to emerge on the issue. Joyce’s theme is that people have woken up to the fact that the ETS is a new tax and, he says, they hate the idea in growing numbers.
“Everywhere there’s a powerpoint in your home, there is access to a new tax for the Labor government,“ he says. “A new tax on ironing, a new tax on watching television, a new tax on vacuuming. In the supermarket, there will be a new tax on food. A new tax on aviation fuel.”
Joyce claims that this argument has not just developed traction in remote and regional areas. “It is cutting through in the blue-collar regions, in the outer suburbs, in the Illawarra and in Newcastle.”
His running mate, Senator Ron Boswell, who has been indefatigable in various Senate committees in attacking the measure, is pursuing the same approach. He wrote an Op-Ed piece in The Australian describing the ETS as “a tax on everything that moves, a de facto lift in the GST to 12.5 per cent.”
Contrast this with Penny Wong’s latest speech on the subject at the end of August. “It’s absolutely true,” she said, “and the government has always been up-front about this, that under the CPRS, those goods and services that create a lot of carbon pollution will cost relatively more than those goods and services that create relatively little carbon pollution. But it is a fact that the cost impact on household prices is modest. And 90 per cent of low-income households, or 2.8 million households overall, will receive assistance equal to 120 per cent percent or more of their overall cost of living increase which would provide some level of buffer against higher than expected price increases over the first two years.”
Assistant Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet, whose job seems to be to walk behind Wong with a brush and pan, managed to convert the above babble in to one sentence in a talk in his home electorate, Newcastle: “The average household bill (under the ETS) will rise by $6 a week, for which low and middle income earners will be given substantial assistance.”
According to my solar-powered calculator, putting together what Wong and Combet are saying, low-income households are confronted with an initial cost increase of $873.6 million a year under the emissions trading scheme, but the government plans to keep them sweet for the first two years of the process post-2011. And thereafter?
(In passing, I also noted with interest Combet’s assurance to his coal region voters that, even with the Rudd government’s target of cutting emissions, national coal production was predicted to grow by more than 60 per cent between now and 2050.)
Lindsay Tanner, one of the people I feel would stroll in to a “ministry of all the talents,” in defending the government from attack for being weak-kneed on carbon policy, wrote at the beginning of the month: “Emission levels in 2009 are well above 2000 levels, so the actual cuts required to meet (our) objective would be roughly in the order of 13 to 24 per cent (by 2020). That will involve significant challenges for our economy and for many households.”
Carbon abatement, Tanner added, means “tackling serious challenges that could entail major negative consequences for a lot of ordinary working Australians if they’re mishandled.”
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