Every now and then an issue emerges that affects our sense of who we are as a nation. Climate change is such an issue. But in contrast to earlier times, climate change is unlikely to recede into the background in the future. There are too many extreme weather events and too much global concern and action for that to happen. Political parties’ attitudes to climate change will have a profound effect on the outcome of the 2019 election.
The most recent Ipsos Issues Monitor found that 23 per cent of respondents invited to nominate the top three issues concerning them identified the environment – compared with just 14 per cent at the time of the 2016 federal election and 8 per cent in 2014. Ranked ninth most commonly identified concern at the last election the environment has now climbed to fourth place.
No doubt the Morrison government has picked this up in its private party polling. But it cannot respond to these concerns by formulating climate-change policies bigger than its traditional fig leaf for a simple but compelling reason: it is paralysed internally. Like Malcolm Turnbull before him, Scott Morrison knows if he tries to formulate a credible climate-change policy, the conservative wings of the Liberal and National parties would destroy him.
But unlike Turnbull, Morrison is campaigning ferociously against Labor’s climate-change policy, confirming voters’ judgements that, if re-elected, the Coalition will take no effective action to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.
Morrison has sought to misrepresent the economic modelling of Professor Warwick McKibbin to support his scare campaign against Labor. But yesterday, McKibbin effectively demolished Morrison’s campaign of misinformation.
McKibbin explained that his modelling found no economic difference between Labor’s 45 per cent emissions-reduction target, which allows for the purchase of credits for overseas emissions reductions, and the Coalition’s 26 per cent target, which does not.
He also pointed outthat 80 per cent of his estimated cost to Australia of the Paris Agreement comes from other countries reducing their imports of fossil fuels from Australia. That would happen, of course, regardless of which political party was in power here.
Yet last week’s front-page headlines of News Corp newspapers screamed out a $60 billion cost of Labor’s policy. They neglected to mention that the $60 billion number was based on the economy growing by an estimated 23.0 per cent over the decade under Labor’s target compared with 23.6 per cent under the less-ambitious Coalition target. That’s a difference of just 0.6 per cent.
Nor did News Corp report that even this cost difference disappears when Labor’s policy of including international carbon credits is included. Finally, it did not mention that most of that cost would be the unavoidable consequence of the actions of importers of Australian fossil fuels.
McKibbin argued that the cost of political uncertainty is likely to be larger than the costs of a well-designed climate policy. His was a plea to end the climate wars by adopting “economy-wide policies” rather than making “piecemeal symbolic announcements.”
Undeterred, the Coalition has foreshadowed it will soon be releasing new modelling by Dr Brian Fisher, whose previous modelling results it has been quoting with glee, including an absurd estimated economic cost of more than $430 billion and a wage cost to average workers of $9,000 a year. Since the government has already received the new modelling, expect more hysteria from Morrison, amplified by News Corp.
Instead of a conventional benefit-cost analysis, Dr Fisher’s has been a cost-cost analysis. Is it realistic to assume there is no chance of Australia achieving valuable technological breakthroughs in renewable-energy production for export to a carbon-constrained world?
This time around the business community has backed or at least acquiesced to Labor’s policies. But will business buckle under Coalition pressure? Here’s why it shouldn’t.
If the Morrison government were to be re-elected, we know that beyond a “piecemeal,” fig leaf Direct Action policy transported from the Abbott era, it would take no action on climate change. Instead, it would pursue its so-called big stick legislation against energy companies, including price control and threats of forced divestiture, making investment in any new generation capacity intolerably risky.
Australia’s major business organisations complain about the damaging effects of a decade of climate wars. A re-elected Coalition government would continue to wage those wars as the rest of the world moved on to curb its emissions. As Malcolm Turnbull warned on the weekend, the absence of a predictable policy framework, including a mechanism such as the National Energy Guarantee, would result in both higher emissions and higher energy prices.