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Carbon chatter everywhere and not a drop of commonsense

By Everald Compton - posted Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The feature article in the April Edition of my newsletter Everald at Large was called ‘Howards Way’ and it recommended that Gillard and Abbott should get together to implement the Emission’s Trading System (ETS) that John Howard took to the 2007 election as a policy he said he would implement if re-elected. This was a logical suggestion to make as Abbott voted in favor of it when it came before the Howard cabinet. This was a sensible vote on his part because it was a more moderate scheme than Rudd and Wong almost got through the federal parliament.

The reaction from readers was fascinating. The bigots at both extremes of the debate sent me quite vicious emails. Those over on the left who believe that the world will be flooded tomorrow by rapidly rising seas, let me know that I am an absolutely irresponsible backslider of the weakest variety by backing Howard’s modest initiative. Their sworn enemies over on the right, who are in no doubt that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the world’s environment and that no human being is destroying it in any way whatsoever, were even more insulting. I got the clear message from them that I am an idiot beyond any hope of redemption. Both sides are so unsure of themselves that they feel that their only hope of winning the argument is to bash you into accepting their view by using every bit of invective that they can muster. They are all very sad people.

The vast majority of emails were from readers who want a solution to be found. Some were keen on Howard’s plan and others put up interesting alternatives. All were in no doubt that there are problems with the environment and they want to do something positive to create a better world. This is also my personal experience from talking to people in all walks of life. Given that 90 per cent of the population want action of some sort to rid the world of pollution, I find it quite unbelievable that both Abbott and Gillard have done such an extraordinary job of alienating a friendly constituency.


What were the sequence of events that got us into this mess? To set out a basis for my thinking on this matter, let me record the key facts as I recall them.

Many high profile people like Al Gore convinced most of the world that global warming was an urgent issue that humankind could not ignore. Political leaders everywhere got on the bandwagon and promised to implement either a carbon tax or an ETS. In Australia, both Rudd and Howard promised to do exactly that if they won the 2007 election. Rudd subsequently presented climate change legislation to the parliament, encountered hostility from the Greens who declared it to be utterly inadequate, and did a deal with Malcolm Turnbull to get it passed. We all know that before this could be achieved, Turnbull lost the leadership by one vote and Abbott combined with the Greens to have the amended legislation defeated in the Senate. This led to the demise of Rudd and to Gillard introducing a carbon tax in order to honor the terms of an agreement she made with the Greens to support her minority government.

Gillard’s proposal is in mortal trouble with the voters (but not necessarily the parliament) due to Tony Abbott staging one on the most effective campaigns of negativity that I have ever seen in Australian politics. He is strangling the government on this issue. What I can’t understand is why the Prime Minister created the grounds for him to do this by starting the debate without having a full and detailed case to put before the people on day one. When Howard and Costello presented the GST to the nation, after promising that they would never do so, they made available a massive document that outlined their case for a GST in its entirety and subsequently won an election on it despite considerable hostility.

Where does this now leave us?

Gillard has no alternative but to present her legislation to the parliament and stand or fall on it. She cannot retreat. If she loses the parliamentary vote, she will not call an election. She will battle on for the full three years. Neither she, nor the Greens, nor the Independents want to face the voters right now and no one can force them to.

If she does get the carbon tax legislation passed, Abbott will be in real trouble. If he threatens to repeal it, he will lose the next election because Gillard will be able to campaign on the massive economic disruption that he will cause by doing that.


Should Gillard fail to get the legislation through, the Greens will forever rue the day when they defeated Rudd’s legislation on the grounds that it was too weak. Their action then was one of the most stupid and irrational political decisions that I have witnessed in my lifetime. They gave up the opportunity to make a start on climate change for the virtue of standing up for their extreme principles, most of which are utterly unacceptable to the people of Australia.

There is yet time for everyone to get practical and negotiate an effective compromise to get Australia started on solving an issue that will not go away. There are two major motivators in the world. One is competition and the other is cooperation. Politics in Australia suffers from a major overdose of the former and little experience of the latter. On this major issue of the pollution of the environment, they should at least give cooperation a try.

As part of the cooperation process, we should take another look at our unfounded concern that we should not run ahead of the rest of the world. We will find that there are 32 nations, plus ten U.S. states, that already have implemented emissions trading. New Zealand is one of them. Seven nations have a carbon tax, including the U.K. India has introduced a coal tax and South Africa has released a carbon tax discussion paper for public comment. We have already been left behind.

There are many interesting alternative carbon plans in circulation, most of them put together by well-educated professionals of stature. One good one crossed my desk this week. It outlines the details of a Rebatable Carbon Tax, which exempts no one but provides a rebate to those who take specific actions to protect and improve the environment. It also provides for all carbon tax revenue to be devoted exclusively to development and production of clean energy. I intend to get some independent opinion on it. In the meantime, let’s get rid of the supercharged emotional nonsense that is currently swamping Australia and determine the future of this nation in a context of sanity.

On a personal note, let me tell you that I have created a special file containing all the nasty emails that I have received on this subject, with plenty of room for some more. I intend to give it to my grandkids as a wonderful example of how not to win an argument and I will impress on them how important it is never to become a bigot.

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Everald Compton's monthly newsletter Everald at Large can be subscribed to free of charge by sending an email to .

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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