03/12/2009 - 00:00

ETS debate challenges both sides

03/12/2009 - 00:00


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The change in Liberal Party thinking on an emissions trading scheme constitutes a remarkable about face.

MALCOLM Turnbull and Tony Abbott agreed on one thing earlier this week.

Mr Turnbull went into the leadership battle declaring that the Liberals must have a policy on emissions trading if they wanted to retain credibility.

“For us to be a credible political party ... we have to have a credible position on climate change,” he told journalists.

Mr Abbott also insisted the party must take a stand.

“It is just not possible for a credible party to have a free vote,’” he said. ‘‘A credible party has to have a position.”

Nobody could dispute the rhetoric; climate change is one of the biggest political issues of the decade, subject to exhaustive debate and analysis.

Yet there was Mr Turnbull, advocating support for the Rudd government’s proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme, while in the opposite corner Mr Abbott opposed the scheme and rejected suggestions Liberal MPs should be allowed to have a free conscience vote on the issue, as another leadership contender, Joe Hockey, had suggested.

In the interests of supporting informed public debate, this publication has devoted plenty of space to the issue of climate change.

This included commissioning a column from Liberal MP Dennis Jensen, who for many years was almost a lone voice questioning the consensus that human activity was the major contributor to global warming.

Our political commentator Joe Poprzeczny has struck a chord in the community with his forthright critique of the mainstream scientific opinion.

This newspaper’s former editor and current columnist, Mark Pownall, has also challenged the majority view.

It seemed for a long time that climate change sceptics would remain a rowdy fringe group with no meaningful impact on the policy agenda.

Even the conservative Howard government, which had people like Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin as senior ministers, advocated an emissions trading scheme.

“A re-elected coalition government will establish the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading scheme in Australia, commencing no later than 2012,” the Liberals election policy said.

This stance had the support of the business sector, and big business in particular, which has consistently argued for an emissions trading scheme: they see it as inevitable and therefore want certainty.

Liberal Senator Judith Adams is among the growing number of people who have refused to accept the ‘consensus’ position.

This week we have published an edited speech from Senator Adams, so that our readers can see in detail her case against the Rudd government’s carbon pollution reduction scheme.

I was intrigued that Senator Adams puts much more faith in 100-year rainfall records from local farms than she does in United Nations scientific panels.

And she believes many of the people advocating a CPRS are in the vanguard of the hard left, and have a much wider and more sinister political agenda.

She is not alone in this view.

Senator Minchin, who built an impressive reputation during the Howard government as a very capable, level-headed minister, now sees supporters of an emissions trading scheme in a very different light.

“For the extreme left it has provided the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the Western world,” he said on the ABC’s Four Corners program last month.

A more measured critique would focus on the detail of Kevin Rudd’s proposed scheme.

It is complex, to the point where very few people could claim to fully understand it.

It will transfer wealth in questionable ways, and probably will not deliver the price signals that are meant to foster meaningful change.

The Rudd government is trying to position itself as a brave reformer on this issue yet it offers multi billion dollar compensation packages to almost every affected industry.

The compensation will mask the price signals that are meant to change investment patterns, discouraging coal-fired power for instance.

The true believers must find it hard to put their hand on their heart and declare the scheme in its current form would be anything more than a symbolic gesture, or more precisely a very expensive gesture.

And the new team leading the Liberals must find it hard to explain their quiet acquiescence during the Howard years when they rolled along with the majority view.



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