News National Scott Morrison revives an old stunt for even lamer climate policy
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Scott Morrison revives an old stunt for even lamer climate policy

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants MPs to be able to buy TV and radio ads. Photo: AAP
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Even by Scott Morrison’s standards, his ‘new’ climate change stunt is rich.

Billed as a major policy commitment, achieving what Malcolm Turnbull could not, the ‘new’ policy consists of renaming an old Tony Abbott program and slashing its funding.

Yes, the Prime Minister’s “$2 billion Climate Solutions Fund” is a repeat of the former treasurer‘s infrastructure trick: Think of a large number and add up however many years you need to reach it.

The Climate Solutions Fund is the new name for Mr Abbott’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). Mr Morrison is pledging $2 billion over 10 years for this stunt. Mr Abbott’s ERF is on track to burn through $2.55 billion in five years.

Just to make the maths obvious, the annual spend is being cut from an average of $510 million to $200 million.

As a political stunt, it makes Liberal candidate Georgina Downer’s presentation of Commonwealth cheques to sports clubs look almost reasonable.

It’s a joke that some gullible or partisan souls were taking Mr Morrison’s climate policy announcement seriously.

Yet, in his defence, his CSF is an improvement on Mr Abbott’s ERF. That’s because it’s wasting less money.

At either $200 million or $510 million a year and under whatever name you prefer, the policy is third rate. A dud. It hasn’t been worth the candle.

It has no credibility outside those politically dedicated to denying the superiority of pricing carbon and those exploiting the program to grab taxpayers’ money.

This time last year, University of Queensland senior economics lecturer Ian MacKenzie spelt out the key ERF failings in a paper for The Conversation. There are holes in the ERF big enough to house coal-fired power plants.

The most obvious is that companies can get paid for emission-reduction initiatives they would have undertaken anyway.

(Rising electricity prices under the Coalition may have done more to curtail emissions than anything else they’ve attempted.)

And Dr MacKenzie reported that the “baseline” process aimed at stopping big polluters wiping out carbon reductions did not appear to be working. The government had already increased big polluters’ allowable emissions.

Another report has noted that few big polluters have climbed on board.

“Our research on corporate managers’ attitudes suggests that the scheme, which remains the Coalition government’s flagship policy to curb Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions, is plagued by significant policy uncertainty, lack of visible commercial imperatives, lack of clear policy guidance, and strict and unrealistic qualifying conditions,” conclude a trio of RMIT, Monash and Swinburne academics.

The sad thing for the nation is the opportunity cost of such poor policy, the result of the Coalition’s odd mix of climate denialism and loyalty to the political success of Mr Abbott’s “carbon tax” campaign.

It has taken years and ongoing tragedy for the Coalition’s key players to admit they were wrong to sink the Malaysian solution for asylum seeker boat arrivals.

There’s no sign they’re anywhere near ready to admit they were wrong to attack carbon pricing.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Crikey’s Bernard Keane helpfully recalls Peter Costello was a critic of such direct action back when he was treasurer. Mr Keane also recalls how unpopular Mr Abbott’s policy was within the government when it was introduced:

“Climate denialists within the government thought it was a waste of time; climate action supporters knew it was worthless as an emissions policy. And both knew that it was a waste of money.”

Yet Scott Morrison has saddled up the same dead horse to ride to the election.

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