New-look carbon fix makes Abbott a man of steel
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday February 28, 2011
The night before he became Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott virtually pleaded with Joe Hockey to take the job. "Joe, we're offering you the leadership of the Liberal Party on a plate," he said.Hockey was guaranteed the numbers but only if he renounced his and the party's support for the emissions trading scheme Malcolm Turnbull had negotiated with the Rudd government.Hockey refused but offered the compromise of allowing MPs a conscience vote should he become leader.So Abbott, who had adopted more positions on a carbon price than underwear changes before settling for outright opposition, stood for the leadership himself. He won, and with the support of the Greens, killed the emissions trading scheme and very nearly the government.Julia Gillard's announcement of the government's intention to begin a hybrid carbon scheme from July 1 next year restarted what one minister described as "day one of the war".Despite the recent ructions inside the Liberal Party, Gillard's announcement has guaranteed Abbott's leadership throughout the war at least.Hockey, with his previously conflicted position, and Turnbull, who has never compromised his principles on climate change, will have to sit this one out.In a niggardly sense, Gillard's announcement contained no news as such. It had been well documented that the government would opt for a hybrid scheme in which there would be a fixed price on carbon for a few years before morphing into a fully fledged cap and trade scheme.Indeed, the Herald reported on October 12 last year that the plan was to get the scheme in place by July 1 next year.The timing strategy is based on the one John Howard used to introduce the GST.Howard faced equally passionate opposition to implementing a tax that increased the price of almost everything by 10 per cent. Like the emissions trading scheme, there was compensation and tax cuts to help offset the impost, especially for the most vulnerable, but few dwelt on that.Howard implemented the tax in the middle of his second term, on July 1, 2000. By the time of the next election 16 months later, people had become accustomed to the tax and business did not want it unwound.Consequently, Kim Beazley, who had vowed to surf into office on a wave of anti-GST sentiment, sounded shrill and hollow as he went to the 2001 campaign promising to roll back the GST.That explains why Abbott is refusing to promise he will repeal the carbon scheme if he is elected.Still, Gillard does not intend to have the next election until the spring of 2013 and that is a long time between now and then for the opposition to maintain the rage.It was decided to start the war last week and not wait until October, by which time the government hopes to reach an agreement with the Greens on the detail, because by then, Abbott and other opponents of a price on carbon would have framed the debate with a scare campaign.That is what hurt so much last time. So too did Rudd's using as a key sales pitch Australia's need to lead the world.Gillard said pointedly last week that that was not her intention. Australia did not want to lead the world but, equally, it could not afford to be left behind, she said.Labor believes it has the added bonus of having Gillard front and centre in the debate. Last time, the emissions trading scheme was outside her portfolio areas."This time, we've got our best parliamentary performer in the fight, arguing for it every day. That is a big asset we didn't have last time," noted a senior source.Gillard's decision to take the argument on day one to the hostile broadcaster Alan Jones was not a sign she hoped to win him over but a signal that she was prepared to fight.(It is understood Jones was angry at Gillard for being 10 minutes late because he had bumped a long-awaited interview with the Coles boss, Ian McLeod, to berate him over the milk price wars.)Howard was saddled throughout his career with his "never ever" promise to introduce a GST. But it was unfair because when he changed his mind, he sought and received a mandate at the 1998 election.Gillard promised there would be no "carbon tax" but she did not back away from a price on carbon.A carbon tax is one mechanism for pricing carbon. An emissions trading scheme is another. Gillard's proposed scheme begins as a de facto carbon tax before turning into an emissions trading scheme.Such nuance has no place in this battle and she faces a "never ever" broken promise campaign with the Coalition planning to staple her words to her head.One gets the feeling that at least one political leader won't be standing when this is all over. And that goes for Bob Brown as well.