Readiness to make tough decisions is one of the signs of a good government but just because a decision is tough doesn’t mean it’s right. Families Minister Jenny Macklin plugged the government’s carbon tax on Mamamia last week as the “right thing to do for our children”.
I have kids too (three gorgeous girls aged 22, 20 and 18) and I want the best for them and for their children. I’m all in favour of taking action to protect the environment and to combat climate change but it has to be sensible action that works, not massive change that will make a lot of other things worse.
As a minister, I was responsible for establishing the Green Corps, a government programme that gave young people six month environmental traineeships harvesting seeds, planting trees and dealing with exotic weeds and introduced animals. One of the key policies that the Coalition took to last year’s election was to create a standing Green Army, 15,000 strong, to supplement the land care work of farmers, volunteers and local councils.
My argument with the government is not over the need to tackle climate change but over the way to tackle it. Both the government and the opposition accept that Australia should reduce our emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. The government wants to do this by making fuel and electricity more expensive in a bid to make renewable power and electric cars more attractive. The Coalition wants to reduce emissions by planting more trees, boosting the carbon content of soil and using smart technology to turn power station emissions from a waste product into something valuable like fast growing algae for stock feed and bio-diesel.
Much of this is already happening. Most people don’t know that Australia has reduced its emissions intensity by nearly 50 per cent over the past 15 years through common sense measures to recycle and use energy more efficiently. The Coalition wants to encourage more of this by establishing a new fund, about $1 billion a year, to help pay for the most cost-effective proposals for reducing emissions via a tender process.
This means more money for farmers with the best environmental practices and for environmental innovators. What’s more, the money will all be spent in Australia, not sent offshore to foreign carbon farmers in countries where environmental standards may not be well policed. Farmers are already changing from chemical to organic farming practices because that makes economic sense, so relatively modest payments should help to realise the emissions reductions from soil carbon that Professor Garnaut flagged in his first report.
The Coalition’s policy means building on the good work that’s already being done. The government’s means a new tax, a new source of revenue for government, a massive new green bureaucracy and more politically targeted handouts. And for what? Even on the government’s own figures, with a carbon tax, Australia’s emissions still rise from 578 million tonnes a year now to 621 million tonnes in 2020. We only achieve our emissions reductions target through purchasing $3.5 billion in overseas carbon credits.
The government’s policy won’t work and it isn’t fair. Families’ struggle to make ends meet has grown much harder since December 2007 and a carbon tax will make it worse. Over the past three years, power prices have risen 51 per cent, gas is up 30 per cent, water up 46 per cent, health costs are up 20 per cent, education costs up 24 per cent, rent is up 20 per cent and fruit and vegetables are up 27 per cent. Since the middle of 2009, the average mortgage repayment is up by $500 a month.