Home > Environment, Oz Politics > Hoist by their own petard

Hoist by their own petard

July 13th, 2014

Tristan Edis has a nice piece in Climate Spectator contrasting the many statements made by Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt (echoed by Bolt, Blair, Devine, McCrann etc) before the election about the impact of the carbon tax on the price of everything from airfares to supermarket goods with the reality that this impact was minuscule. The implication is that removing the tax won’t have anything like the broad effects on the cost of living that Abbott has promised.

It was this gap between rhetoric and reality that produced last weeks fiasco and the Senate, and may yet derail the government’s entire policy. Taking the government at its rhetorical word, Clive Palmer wanted the ACCC to ensure that all major firms, including airlines and supermarkets, rolled back the cost increases imposed as a result of the carbon tax. Greg Hunt assured everyone that the legislation would do so but it turned out there was no specific reference to anything but electricity. This was for the obvious reason that, in other industries, there was no cost increase to roll back.

All of this gives Clive Palmer, if he wants it, the opportunity to make whatever mischief he chooses. There’s no real way the government can deliver on its rhetoric about reducing the cost of living, so he can demand whatever he wants in the way of add-ons to their legislation.

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  1. Peter Chapman
    July 13th, 2014 at 16:14 | #1

    Heh heh. I think I have become an irony junkie. Would be funny if the consequences were not so serious for us and for the rest of the world.

  2. kevin1
    July 13th, 2014 at 16:15 | #2

    The linked article doesn’t include Abbott’s claim of a $500 or $550 annual household saving, but I think he’s still repeating it. Keep digging PM.

  3. zoot
    July 13th, 2014 at 16:28 | #3

    I’m still waiting for Whyalla to rise again.

  4. Fran Barlow
    July 13th, 2014 at 17:49 | #4

    I’m still awaiting the refund on the price Barnaby quoted on legs of lamb. As I recall, they were going to be $100 post “tax”.

  5. Hermit
    July 13th, 2014 at 18:25 | #5

    I think heads of government in other countries are looking at Australia and quietly resolving to steer clear of carbon pricing. China for example has some trial emissions trading schemes and Obama has regulated emissions intensity standards. We don’t know yet if either approach will be rigidily enforced. Maybe not if Abbott goes down.

  6. Felix Alexander
    July 13th, 2014 at 18:36 | #6

    Hermit, I don’t understand. If Abbott’s having such a hard time repealing the carbon price, and he’s going to get egg on his face for all the things he’s said about it which plainly weren’t true, wouldn’t other governments realise that it’s all a furphy and they might as well introduce one, if there’s any reason to believe it’ll help? (whether government accounts, international reputation or the environment is left up to the international government).

  7. Hermit
    July 13th, 2014 at 18:53 | #7

    @Felix Alexander
    Fair point except that what we did wasn’t really tough enough. Our power sector emissions went down a bit but there are several other factors besides carbon tax. I read somewhere that oil giant Shell uses $50 for CO2 in its internal transfers, a figure I recall independently arrived at by Pr Q. Clive wants $0 and Bill would probably have $5 or $10 for an introductory offer ie ETS floor price No point if all countries have a carbon price as onerous as a fluffy duster.

  8. Fran Barlow
    July 13th, 2014 at 20:09 | #8


    Time for a new Open thread? Wanting to post something off current topics …

  9. Chris O’Neill
    July 13th, 2014 at 21:37 | #9

    Hoist by their own petard

    or the chickens have come home to roost or other metaphors.

    Stiglitz made the fundamental point (on Q&A) that governments should tax bad things (e.g. Carbon) before they tax good things (e.g. labour). Reminds me a bit of Gavin Putland’s statement:

    There are now four reverse tariffs in the Australian tax-transfer system: income tax, which takes about $200 billion per year; the super guarantee, which takes about $54 billion per year; payroll tax, which takes about $18 billion per year; and the carbon tax, which takes about $8 billion per year.

    So obviously the carbon tax is the cause of all our economic ills and must be repealed ASAP. Obviously.

    And that was even if you considered the Carbon tax was bad like the other taxes.

  10. Fran Barlow
    July 13th, 2014 at 21:57 | #10


    And that was even if you considered the Carbon tax was bad like the other taxes.

    or that it was a tax.

  11. Ikonoclast
    July 14th, 2014 at 07:17 | #11

    Nothing will change until the collapse, caused climate disaster and the limits to growth, intervenes. It is clear there is no effective political will to change. It is clear that humans are too venal and too purblind. Humans can’t change when it matters. I mean this in the sense that we are locally adaptive via evolved capacities but show a very inadequate capacity to become globally adaptive by a greater application of learning, planning and cooperation. This is our great test now and we are failing utterly.

  12. Hermit
    July 14th, 2014 at 07:57 | #12

    I wonder if by years end we’ll have the following
    – nobody notices any price reductions
    – power prices keep going up eg due to gas exports
    – bushfires and high temps rekindle climate change concerns
    – other countries make a go of carbon pricing
    – Direct Inaction is revealed as a dud.

  13. Moz in Oz
    July 14th, 2014 at 08:25 | #13

    I had an idle though over the weekend: where’s our global police force on this? If they come onside with “excess carbon emissions are a hostile act” we might get a war on emissions. And wouldn’t that be fun for a country like Australia that’s boldly striking off into the wilderness? It might not just be poor brown people wondering where the next drone stroke is going to hit…

    It’s bad enough that the Coalition is busy creating the budget emergency that they’ve been going on about for a year or so without having to also sit through the Prime Munster and his muppets labouring through whatever contortions are required to get them to “a carbon price is better than the laternatives”. Assuming they have the mental wherewithal to actually do so, that is.

  14. rog
    July 14th, 2014 at 08:39 | #14

    @Ikonoclast The spectacular failure of specific predictions made by Ehrlich, Club of Rome et al has made it difficult for climate change proponents to gain sufficient traction. This is unfair as plenty of other programs, such as public health, have been successful in avoiding predicted disasters.

  15. bjb
    July 14th, 2014 at 08:45 | #15

    Ikonoclast :
    Nothing will change until the collapse

    No, nothing will change until the average punter finds his/her household insurance premiums rise due to the insurance companies adding a levy for “unforeseen climatic events” or such like, or people find insurance companies unwilling to insure their house in flood or fire prone areas. Of course then we’ll see a classic case of “privatise the profits, socialise the losses”, where those that can no longer get insurance will demand the State indemnify their losses.

  16. Moz in Oz
    July 14th, 2014 at 08:53 | #16


    The levy is for “entirely foreseeable climatic events” and is already in place. It’s just going to keep going up, and with any luck will start to be applied more strongly to people in more affected areas.

  17. ZM
    July 14th, 2014 at 09:53 | #17


    The historical analysis by CSIRO scientist Graham Turner shows the LtG modeling of scenarios reflected historical reality for the business as usual “standard run” scenario
    MIT press is publishing a work by an Australian researcher on resistance to the idea of limits to growth later this year called Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet

  18. Newtownian
    July 14th, 2014 at 11:20 | #18


    Thanks ZM for raising these important points and especially reminding people of Graham Turner’s recent work for which he was sort of purged.

    With this in mind and subject to John’s editorial acceptance I’d like to plug if I can an upcoming Fenner conference precisely on this problem of sustainability. http://www.ies.unsw.edu.au/about-us/news-activities/2014/03/addicted-growth-how-move-steady-state-economy-australia

  19. rog
    July 14th, 2014 at 11:28 | #19


    Unfortunately the debate, in the public mind at least, has been lost

  20. rog
    July 14th, 2014 at 11:39 | #20

    Jeremy Grantham in a recent interview

    The misinformation machine is brilliant. As a propagandist myself [he has previously described himself as GMO’s “chief of propaganda” in reference to his official title of “chief investment strategist”], I have nothing but admiration for their propaganda. [Laughs.] But the difference is that we have the facts behind our propaganda. They’re in the “screaming loudly” rather than the “fact based” part of the exercise, because they don’t have the facts. They are masters at manufacturing doubt. What I have noticed on the blogs and in the comments section under articles is that over several years, as the scientific evidence for climate change gets stronger, the tone of the sceptics is getting shriller and more vicious and nastier all the time. The equivalent on the other side is a weary resignation, sorrow and frustration and amazement that people on the other side can’t look at the facts. The sceptics are getting angrier and more vicious every year despite the more storms we have, and the more mad crazy weather we have…

    One of the problems is that typically you are not dealing with the facts. Putting in more facts makes the sceptics more angry. They have profound beliefs – as opposed to knowledge – that they are willing to protect by all manner of psychological tricks. So you have people who are very smart – even great analysts and hedge fund managers – who on paper know that their argument is wrong, but who promote it fiercely because they are libertarians. Libertarians believe that any government interference is bad. Anyone with a brain knows that climate change needs governmental leadership and they can smell this is bad news for their philosophy. Their ideology is so strongly held that remarkably it’s overcoming the facts. They are using incredible ingenuity to steer their way around facts that they do not choose to accept philosophically. Laying down more facts just makes them more angry. You may win over a few neutrals. They are the people you can win over. But it’s very hard to win over the hardcore sceptics, of which there are plenty.
    We can try to bypass them on one level and we try to contest the political power of the sceptics. They are using money as well as propaganda to influence the politicians, particularly in America. It almost doesn’t even exist in countries outside the US, UK and Australia. A cynic would say that the petrol-chemical industry also happens to be Anglo-Saxon. Where are the great oil companies based? They still have great power. The oil companies seem to have pulled back from directly supporting climate sceptics over the past few years because – in England, in particular – they were embarrassed and it became untenable to be so obvious. But they’re still influential. You don’t have go via back-channels any more, courtesy of the US Supreme Court, because it is completely legal for a corporation to invest tons of money in advertising programmes to say who is good and who is bad in a race for the Senate without even asking permission from the people who actually own the company. Corporations are treated as human beings and money is treated as having the right to speak. There’s dark money and light money. The anonymity they adopt is legal. They don’t have to say who their donors are. It is quite remarkable. And then you get the Something Something for the Environment, which are actually just sceptics funded by the bad guys. And then there are the thinktanks who have become propaganda-tanks. I used to respect the Cato Institute when it came out with reports on this, that and the other, and they have received a lot of hydrocarbon funding. But when the University of East Anglia break-in was engineered they had something like 20 press conferences the following month. The response to the break-in was almost immediate and co-ordinated. I don’t think it was suspiciously rapid, but I do think it was unusually and unexpectedly rapid. It’s very likely that it was simply a terrific response of their behalf. They moved very fast. The good guys are learning slowly, but surely, to step up their response time…

    If you’re saying something that people don’t want to hear or accept, a significant proportion of them will reply with hostility. Not because they know the facts, or because they have researched it themselves, but because they’re so psychologically involved in believing good news that they will oppose it with a reflex. In addition, if the solutions proposed sound like they involve the government, you will have all the political rightwing try to block it as a reflex, even if it means them overriding hard science, which is what’s going on today. Changing people’s minds is almost impossible, even among scientists. Max Planck said, to paraphrase, that science advances one funeral at a time. You could add that economics advances the same way. You have to wait to get rid of the people who have career investment in a topic before a new generation can see the light.

  21. rog
  22. Newtownian
    July 14th, 2014 at 11:48 | #22


    Beyond that I think its necessary to reiterate for people like Rog what scientists like Graham Turner, Paul Ehrlich, most of the speakers at the above and our old friend Malthus are on about, simply wont go away, and are experiencing re-emergence as we are increasingly faced with limits to growth – like global warming impacts.

    The latter are trying:
    a. to determine how the human world will evolve recognising the arithmetic of exponential growth says it will stop at some point and probably sooner than later…. the only question is when and what will be the initial and subsequent drivers – clearly we wont run out of rocks or salt water but net energy is another matter.

    b. engage with/understand economists who claim great mathematical skills but don’t seem to understand the basic logic of (limits to) exponential growth. Or at least they want to dismiss it without coming up with their own calculations so their own assumptions and calculations can be audited, checked and falsified leading if warranted to a rejection of growth economics theory and its replacement with something more genuinely scientific.

    (One possible problem with current economists other than ecological economists is they don’t use models and theories based on physical first principles but rather of economic abstractions – even progressives. The result is you get an impasse where few on either side are willing to look at the two approaches side by side and explore the logic, insights and flaws including of their own preferred positions).

    Now in this story one thing the more narrow LtG people often miss is economists have been not entirely lacking in offering useful inputs. In particular they did identify three temporary solutions to material LTG constraints – resource switching, efficiencies/conservation and technical innovation required to identify and exploit the latter two. But instead of recognising them as short term fixes these solutions seem to have been seen as absolute proof that exponential growth can go on forever.

    And so you get oxymorons like ‘Green Growth’ or you get Ayn Rand style pop philosophy that short term technical fixes reflect some universal principle that there is no limit to human innovation than we cannot keep our society and wealth growing exponentially aka ‘the Invisible Hand’ – of god or maybe Maradonna.

    By contrast any scientist worth their salt will say Humbug – short of science fiction worthy of star trek the numbers don’t add up – ultimately entropy and resources impose absolute limits on material growth.

    And there we have the present impasse. Oddly mainstream economists accept that sectors experience rapid growth, plateauing and even death of a kind. Print publishing isn’t a bad example. But this lesson it appears is not seen as being applicable to the economy as a whole as well.

  23. July 14th, 2014 at 11:51 | #23


    I am always surprised when people say that Ehrlich (and his predecessors) are wrong. Right now the world is awash with refugees looking for an opportunity of a reasonable life. Surely the base cause of this is too many people?

  24. Newtownian
    July 14th, 2014 at 11:52 | #24

    my apologies in advance if I’ve misread you – taking the devils advocated position?

  25. rog
    July 14th, 2014 at 12:55 | #25


    Possibly, I’m more interested in how a goal can be reached given the known & unknown knowns of politics.

    Business Spectator has a bit about RETs which indicates that business type people are thinking about how to achieve a result.

  26. J-D
    July 14th, 2014 at 17:55 | #26

    @John Brookes
    Surely not?

  27. Robert Morgan
    July 14th, 2014 at 18:46 | #27

    rog :@ZM
    Unfortunately the debate, in the public mind at least, has been lost

    I don’t believe that’s irreversible. We’re starting to see the social and political effects of unsustainable population growth in some counties already, often linked with price rises in basic
    goods and sharp decreases in living standards (Egypt??). A rapid escalation in worldwide refugee populations would make this more obvious, and this is mostly a question of when – it would seem to be underway already.

  28. July 15th, 2014 at 01:20 | #28

    rog, the “spectacular failure” of the Club of Rome’s predictions is entirely wrong and largely due to vicious misrepresentation by a small circle of activists, some connected to large industries.

    I agree with ikonoklast. We’re toast.

  29. zoot
    July 15th, 2014 at 01:44 | #29

    I also agree with Ikonoclast, the human race is too f*cking stupid to save itself.

  30. rog
    July 15th, 2014 at 05:32 | #30


    That’s an interesting website and on it the author warns that a similar scare campaign could derail renewables (similar to anti Rachel Carson, Limits to Growth or nuclear power).

    The recent comments by Rupert Murdoch (and by our own govt) against windmills coupled with the successful campaign to repeal the carbon tax indicates that a campaign is well underway.

  31. rog
    July 15th, 2014 at 06:12 | #31

    Elsewhere the argument is that fossil fuels are doomed and it is market forces that will bury them.

  32. July 15th, 2014 at 09:19 | #32

    We can hope, rog, but I doubt it will happen. Not only are powerful forces working against renewables, but we need to get to a negative cabon balance in the majority of the energy and transport sectors to just stall warming. That is, complete decarbonization PLUS rewilding and some moderate form of carbon capture within thirty years. No policy instruments currently proposed are going to do that, and no democracy is capable of the steps required. We need some kind of international policy instrument that is tougher and more binding than the framework convention on tobacco control. That couldn’t kill smoking in thirty years, even in the most committed countries. And what are our mainstream politicians proposing? A small tax, and no significant measures to rein in the energy sector’s political, market or economic power.

    2c is locked in, I think, and we will probably not act fast enough to stop 4. We are toast.

  33. ZM
    July 15th, 2014 at 09:59 | #33

    It’s a shame Graham Turner was purged from the CSIRO, I hadn’t heard that.

    Thinking of a 2013 paper by Erlich I read , I think there can be some problems with the literature, and I think its a shame there’s not more open public discussion of sustainability issues in the wider community, which could help move towards resolving some of those problems. I favour faster and more co-ordinated action on sustainability and climate change than tends to be discussed in the public sphere – but I think there are issues in terms of institutions, power, distribution, feedback etc The article by Erlich said we were entering or in an age of “Endarkenment” – which I thought was a problem because such nomenclature seems to signify the author does not recognise or admit the very real problems and wrongs undertaken by dominant groups in the Enlightenment or Modern project. I’ve been trying to read the latest work by Bruno Latour – An Inquiry into Modes of Being – which he posits as a ‘diplomatic’ anthropology trying to find out ‘how to compose a common world’.

    I think perhaps generally in wealthy countries since WW2 we have balanced internal tension through over consumption and by placing the large share of the burden of our over consumption on the poorest people in wealthy countries (eg. Migrant farm or textile workers), poor people overseas, and people who will have to cope with the results in the future. I think, accordingly, that efforts to reduce over consumption will probably have to find another way of balancing or resolving social tension. This would likely be place and community specific to some degree I would imagine.

  34. Megan
    July 15th, 2014 at 10:41 | #34


    no democracy is capable of the steps required

    I disagree.

    I believe that a properly functioning democracy is capable of achieving just about anything required. Our problem is that we don’t have a properly functioning democracy. We have a neo-con right-wing duopoly serving an extremely narrow group of foreign elite interests all given the appearance of democracy by a similarly alligned establishment media class.

    Perfect example is the Iraq war – by far the vast majority of the people were against it but it went ahead, based on lies and later false justifications, anyway.

  35. July 15th, 2014 at 10:46 | #35

    good one Megan

  36. Tim Macknay
    July 15th, 2014 at 12:24 | #36

    @John Brookes

    I am always surprised when people say that Ehrlich (and his predecessors) are wrong. Right now the world is awash with refugees looking for an opportunity of a reasonable life. Surely the base cause of this is too many people?

    I suspect that when people say Paul Ehrlich was wrong they are referring to his 1968 prediction that “in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now” and that “nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate”. These predictions were clearly wrong, as hundreds of millions of people did not starve to death in the 1970s (or since), and the world death rate has declined, rather than risen, since that time.

    I also suspect that when people say Ehrlich was wrong that they are thinking of his lost bet with the late Julian Simon, over whether or not natural resources would become relatively more scarce during the 1980s.

    For the record (and to avoid confusing Newtownian) I do think that population growth presents a signficant long-run ecological sustainability problem, and I don’t endorse the views of Julian Simon.

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