Sunday, February 22, 2009

What on earth is going on with the Australian ETS?

As was noted by several in the NZ blogosphere, Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan recently referred the Australian Emissions Trading Scheme (the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) to a lower house finance committee. Since the committee was tasked with considering whether an ETS was the correct policy response to climate change, and given that the committee was to report after the Government had previously stated the measure would be passed, everyone took this to mean that the CPRS was very much on the back burner.

Almost immediately the Government was stating that this was not the case. By the end of the week the move, a ploy to reduce the power of the Senate and back the opposition into a corner on climate change policy, had been reversed.

Dennis Atkins, who is pretty much the only person worth reading in Brisbane's Courier Mail, has a very good analysis of what on earth was going on here.

Atkins frames this issue in terms of the chaotic state of affairs in Canberra currently, with an enormous stimulus package going through Parliament in the week of the worst natural disaster in Australia for at least a hundred years. This is on top of Rudd's notorious work rate and instincts for micromanagement.

All of this was happening in what is now a permanent state of semi-chaos in Canberra. Ministers and public servants are stretched to breaking point, too much is being asked with too-tight timelines and ridiculously minor decisions are not being made until they are ticked by the office of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Swan's letter to Economics Committee chairman Craig Thomson sailed through this monster mash and it was apparently not given the attention it deserved, allowing a form of words too open to mis-interpretation.

Now the politics of the CPRS is clearly far from settled. Apparently the big mining companies have only recently realised the implications of the scheme for their businesses since the shine went off the global economy. As a result the Government is coming under vastly increased pressure from business interests.
There's plenty of bark left in the emissions trading dog, as an increasing number of companies and their representatives in Canberra have been telling ministers in recent weeks and will continue to do in the weeks and months ahead. While Wong repeats the mantra that carbon reduction cannot be put on the back burner because of the global financial crisis, business is not so sanguine.

Mining companies - especially those representing coal interests - have been laying what are said to be some alarming numbers on ministers' desks, highlighting job losses and potential mine closures.

On the other hand strong ETS advocates are increasingly willing to oppose the proposed scheme as being too weak. Some are even willing to go back to the drawing board and investigate a carbon tax, as in this open letter by 10 very eminent economists.

In his article Atkins also emphasizes that the Government will certainly struggle to get this bill through the Senate. The Greens oppose the scheme as too weak, and the Liberals oppose the current measure as too onerous. The Nationals are likely to oppose regardless.

Once again we are hearing that the Government may be willing to go to a double dissolution election over this issue. So the politics of the Australian ETS still have a lot of life in them yet!

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