The politics of the CPRS

In the process leading up to the Senate’s rejection of the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, no one has covered themselves with glory. Starting with the Independents, there’s little that can be said about Fielding except that the sooner he is sent home to nurse his delusions, the better. Nick Xenophon has unfortunately followed his customary line of trying to come up with his own alternative scheme. At this stage of the game, this position is not much different, in practice, from Fielding’s, though it offers more chance of a rethink on the second round. The Nationals have pretty much followed the Fielding line, and the Liberals have been all over the shop, as usual.

That leaves Labor and the Greens, neither of whom can be particularly proud of themselves. In the absence of a disaster, they will control the Senate between them in the next Parliament and will have little choice but to make deals on climate policy. As a leadup to this, it would be great if they could have reached an agreement on an improved, if still imperfect, CPRS. But Labor is more interested in wedging the Libs, and the Greens are more interested in political purity.

What would an improved CPRS look like? First, as I’ve argued already, the government’s conditional target of 25 per cent is about right. There’s no way Copenhagen will produce a number much larger than this – the US is offering 17, and the EU 30 with an asterisk (a choice of start date that makes them look particularly good). The 5 per cent target could be higher, but really, if we don’t get a global agreement, nothing Australia does really matters. The big flaws in the CPRS are the excessive giveaways of free permits (and the correspondingly limited compensation for households and displaced workers) and the fact that the design negates the benefits of any voluntary reductions (I initially thought the changes announced in March addressed this point, but they don’t).

Looking ahead, the politics seem reasonably promising for the government, promising but risky for the Greens and the Nationals, mixed for the Independents, and disastrous for the Libs. The government would be crazy not to take the opportunity of a double dissolution: given the resounding win that seems almost certain, they would be able to pass the legislation in a joint sitting without any outside support. That would create a “fact on the ground” which would make it life more difficult for the Greens; they could scarcely block legislation required to fix problems with an existing scheme as they emerged, and would be stuck with making incremental changes. Against that, they would have the balance of power in the Senate, and the chance of taking a couple of inner city seats from Labor (remote in my view, in the context of a double dissolution). The Nats would be able to demonstrate some independence and perhaps stave off their extinction for another election or two. As for the Independents, Fielding should never have been elected (thanks, hardheads at the Vic ALP for the deal that got him in!) and won’t get back. On the figures from last time, Xenophon could be re-elected with a running mate. I doubt that would happen. He’d probably get back in, but the numbers in the new Senate would leave him on the sidelines.

As for the Libs, the idea of a double dissolution in November fought on an issue where they can’t keep a consistent line for more than a day at a time, seems appalling. They’d be better off backing down and passing the government’s legislation. But if they are going to cave in November, why didn’t they make a serious attempt at cutting a deal this time around? Like Mr Micawber, they are hoping that somethng will turn up, but they are likely to be disappointed.

81 thoughts on “The politics of the CPRS

  1. MoSH, your comment is unclear, but if I interpret you correctly, you feel the CPRS has a component akin to robbery, ie the free permits and exemptions. I agree.

    [pauses to enjoy moment of agreement on a blog]

    Alice, apology humbly accepted.

    [further pause to enjoy moment of charitable goodwill on a blog]

    Now I’m off to argue with the stupid and rude elsewhere, to get back a semblance of bloggy normality.

  2. Correct Jarrah but you must take into account the lost opportunities under the Howard years and their failed policies to make any significant inroads in reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions which gets Australians under their craw.

  3. Ubiquity above

    I just want a tax refund for myself or my progeny if anthropogenic GW is proven to be insignificant.

    Firstly, that’s not going to happen. The basic science is beyond doubt. We are merely about to find out exactly how serious an injury to the biosphere our CO2 emissions are proving. If it did prove to be not that serious, I’d be so releived that tax refunds would be the least thing to worry about, esepcially since the funds would have been used to do worthwhile things like remove sources of other biospheric pollutants — mercury, lead, actinides, VOCs, SO2, PM etc … which are also seriously injurious — and to reduce the call on fossil fuels which are of course finite, and cut the flow of funds to nasty people in the middle east, improve global equity etc.

    You don’t need to accept the science on climate change to see that protecting and restoring terrestrial vegetation and shifting the Ph of the sea back to being more base, or foreclosing the deaths of coal miners or stopping wars over oil or reducing the number of vehicle miles and there for raod deaths and trauma are good things.

  4. Scything

    Setting aside the issue of the reality of climate change which I have no interest in discussing. I would much rather see several private entities fund the climate change policies on behalf of our society. The government can oversee the role of these entities on behalf of the people (not itself) for a fee. These entities would be accountable to the people. Contractual arrangements with the companies would be enforceable. In which case failure to use money wisely would result in some sort of compensation. At the moment we can only throw out the current party in power and replace with another of similar motive. There is no real accountability or repercussions other than a politicians ego (and perhaps reduced income). The government machine roles on regardless not held to account.

    I know this is not a Social Democratic philosophy, but it is one I would prefer thus my comment above.

    So would Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd et al sign a contract with me guaranteeing that the climate change policies they fund with my money will make a better world for me and my progeny and will they offer compensation if there (incomplete, consensus) policies don’t work, are wasteful or dangerous, other then to fill the purse of our governments. I bet the answer is no, because…… blah blah and blah.

  5. @Scything
    On Revegetating marginal farmland. What a job! I’ve seen country in northern SA (Quorn) which was cleared of I don’t know what and cropped for a few decades until things dried out and the cropping bowed out to grazing. What I saw on the bare plains was pretty much a monoculture of some sort of prickle which the sheep wouldn’t eat and even the rabbits resisted. I saw some old man saltbush thriving because it was started with irrigation.

    How do you revegetate if it stays dry? How does it succeed if there are still rabbits? I’ve seen masses of beautiful desert oaks (Belah) die during a drought only because rabbits dug down and ate their roots.

    But, we have to try. I have a 14yr old son and older step children who we have stolen nonrenewable resources and large chunks of the natural world from.

  6. Under the MRET system coal and gas are on an equal footing (ie neither is classed as renewable). Relative to the situation that would exist with a pure ETS (or pure carbon tax) bundled in the MRET scheme is a boost for coal. If the Liberals (or Labor) wanted to elliminate the most CO2 emissions at the least cost they would not have increased the MRET but would have abolished it. Assuming of course that they are also going to implement an ETS which both say they would. Given this context MRET is symbolic rubbish.

  7. @Ubiquity

    Define “a better world for me and my progeny” Please. To me this is a very important aspect of the whole climate change issue. I have my own definition of a better world and it includes controlled depopulation, redistribution of wealth, preservation and restoration of the natural world, and a return to society before self.

  8. TerjeP (say tay-a), according to the ORER since 2001, $5.6 billion has been invested in renewable energy capable of generating approximately 9,500 gigawatt hours per year and enough energy to meet the needs of 1.5 million households. And whilst you may think the MRET is rubbish, it is a fifth of the way in meeting Labor’s target of 45,000 GWh by 2020. But having said that, what Australians prefer is a higher renewable energy target by 2020 and it is not beyond our means.

  9. @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    The MRET is not ‘symbolic rubbish’. It is about creating a fertile and nurturing environment for technologies which will one day “elliminate the most CO2 emissions at the least cost”.

  10. Salient

    It is the order and mechanism, in which we see all these things you wish to happen, on which we differ (generally speaking). For me it starts with self and ends with society. With you it starts with society followed by self.

  11. @Salient Green
    I agree pretty much with this comment, Salient Green; and I depart from Prof Q in that I think the Greens position on CO2 reduction targets is based on a more realistic assessment of the science. The way I see it, they are the only show in town in so far as they have worked backwards from what are the GHG concentrations which are unlikely to cause dangerous climate change – in accordance with the best scientific assessments of that point – and have determined the necessary reduction path to achieve those concentrations. That is the only way in which risk exposure can be kept acceptably low.

    Garnaut’s report failed in that he tried to establish what the poker players would accept, and then to work out a compromise “reduction path” which was so low as to be acceptable to all concerned. Aside from signalling that Australia would be an easy mark for the spoiler countries, Ross Garnaut unfortunately mortally wounded an otherwise good document.

    The Green’s position is one that makes the science front and centre in determining where to from here. They clearly appreciate that as the science evolves some climate impact risks may need reappraisal, and they definitely appreciate that the IPCC has been conservative in its risk assessment – as the most recent four years of scientific observational evidence demonstrates. Only the Greens have recognised this flaw in the IPPC risk assessment explicitly, and only the Greens have attempte to include the recent evidence in structuring the reduction path.

    The fact is we are where we are, and while a bit over a decade has been irrevocably lost to the cause, the task now is to try and salvage something from the smoking wreck called the CPRS. Only the Greens are facing the problem squarely. No other political party has the guts.

    Time to spin the wheel and put all of the loot on Green. After all, the alternative is no alternative.

  12. ” …the greens are more interested in political purity”.
    What exactly does this vague description; “political purity” actually mean?
    Is it criticism for basing policy on principles and science and not running off with developer bribes because that is more “pragmatic” and heck, someone else can pay for it later.
    I’d hope not yet more criticism for the Greens proposing policy responsive to science and economics of a genuinely rational nature, rather than capitulation, with or without brown bag, to the greed and whims of people like John Gay of Gunns, or the creeps who gave us Bernie Banton or a damaged Murray Darling, or the trillion dollar bailouts as reward for the hubris of criminals while millions lose homes, jobs, or their lives if they live in the poverty stricken third world.
    Heaven forbid economics should deal with rational and efficient use of resources rather than functioning merely as an ideological platform to justify the plunder and vandalism of later day robber barons.

  13. SG@

    How do you revegetate if it stays dry? How does it succeed if there are still rabbits? I’ve seen masses of beautiful desert oaks (Belah) die during a drought only because rabbits dug down and ate their roots.

    Tough I grant you but

    1. I’d favour a program of coherent government re-acquisition of marginal farmland as part of a longer term project in rehabilitation of ecosystem services. Let the banks carry any losses and allow the displaced farmers to be employed (with training) as land managers with the ability to keep their houses as tenants

    2. Lots of pumping of treated water from sewage or other sources …

    3. Use of biological agents for the rabbits …

  14. @Ubiquity

    So would Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd et al sign a contract with me guaranteeing that the climate change policies they fund with my money will make a better world for me and my progeny and will they offer compensation if there (incomplete, consensus) policies don’t work, are wasteful or dangerous, other then to fill the purse of our governments. I bet the answer is no, …

    So would I, and nore should they. There are no guarantees in life. Never have been and never will be.

    There’s only more or less well-considered guesswork and I like the IPCC and other guesswork a lot better than I like yours, which seems to be based on a purely egoistic paradigm.

    I don’t care about your personal interests except that serving them may serve the interests of most people. Where these diverge for you or for me is where you and I and every other individual get to make our own arrangements.

  15. South Australia had a greening program in the 70s during the Don Dunstan years. As premier, he arranged for an area stretching along the major roads from Adelaide to Murray Bridge to have native shrubs, mallee, whatever it took to re-establish foliage as permanent ground cover. The greening extended to government owned land at and near Monarto. Monarto, which is only a few km from the Murray Bridge CBD, and about 75km from Adelaide, was declared as the location for a “satellite city” away from Adelaide. Dunstan’s aim was to keep Adelaide to a manageable size.
    In the 80s the land was sold off to private owners and the Monarto satellite city scrabbed. Haven’t seen much in the way of re-greening since then, either.

    BTW, I lived in Monarto in one of the government owned properties, before the sell-off. The great shame of Australia is that too often we find the most forward-thinking politicians only in the pages of Australian history.

  16. Update, Update, Update, the National party has just rejected the federal government’s emissions trading scheme legislation at its annual council meeting in Canberra.

  17. @Jarrah
    Hey Jarrah, my apology was all in the spirit of peace and love…it must have been the 40 year anniversary of Woodstock at the Basement last night that did it!. (And its one two three…what are we fighting for?…dont ask me I dont give a damn! stop is Vietnam. Then there was feeling alright, take the load of fanny and lots more. Even lots of baby neo hippies dancing. Much better than neo liberals!).

  18. Donald, I think there’s a bit of greening happening at the Army Range. I haven’t seen it but I know the treated water from Murray Bridge’s sewage goes there to create some wetlands.

    Those Monarto forests don’t seem to be evolving into natural forests. I think they need a mild fire in there to stimulate seedlings and get rid of the Radiata and pepper trees.

  19. Takes a helluva long time for mallee to grow to maturity Salient.
    I live just north of that Monarto area and we have been revegetating with local species here on our property for 15 years or more [hand planted about 15,000 trees with a success rate of about 5-10%] and even our oldest tree plantings are recognizably babies next to the mature trees on our remnant scrub which may be centuries old.
    We’ve also tried to introduce understory stuff and species that should be here but are not and we have had limited but some success.
    I won’t live to the ‘babies’ we have planted become mature.
    And its got harder now that we have no water to grow locally provenanced seedlings or nurse our newly planted ‘babies’ through their first summer.
    Still we are pleased with what we have achieved thus far.

  20. Wow Fred, that’s an amazing effort and even more credit to you for persevering when so many die. The ‘experts’ say you shouldn’t need irrigation if planting in autumn but it doesn’t always work out that way as our local primary school found out in their revegetation project.

  21. @Salient Green
    Good on you Fred! That’s a humungous effort. From your experience, what are the major factors affecting the success rate with tree survival?

    That’s good to know, Salient Green, concerning the Army range; every bit helps.

  22. Donald.


    We plant after the first prolonged heavy rains of winter, usually around June, when we reckon the field capacity is sufficient to keep them going for a while until the rest of the winter rain gives them a chance to consolidate for the onslaught of the summer dry.

    We do a lot of other things of course.

    Our seedlings are local species obviously and the seed purchased from a reputable local company [I can name them if you wish, they have been enormously helpful] or we use Trees for Life [also enormously helpful] recently cos we have no water to grow our own seedlings anymore.
    Either way the seedlings we plant are quality and we pick the strongest looking.
    Dig deep holes, well as deep as I can manage in the thin soil on top of limestone rock. I have swung my trusty mattock named “Otto’ [‘ottomattock’, get the joke?] about a 100,000 times.
    The property was severely degraded for decades before we got it.
    We tree guard against rabbits sucessfully.
    We hand water upon planting just to make sure they can consolidate.
    We have been mulching with native veg mulch for several years kindly supplied by a passing truck fresh from trimming under power lines [that was a real bonus], previously we gathered litter for mulch and we surround the seedlings with some of our ubiquitous white limestone rocks as further mulch.
    We weed around the seedling site, and use some for mulch putting it rootside up on top of the rocks.

    We have experimented a bit with ‘companion’ planting, planting next to established shrubs always down wind, I have an unconfirmed anecdotally backed hypothesis that some sort of symbiosis operates. Results are inconclusive.

    We bribe friends and rellies with red wine and homemade pasties as a reward for breaking their backs.
    They love it.
    And we drink a bottle of red ceremonially at the last seedling planted and pray to the gods we dont believe in and deposit the bottle next to the tree and cross our fingers.
    Very important.

    But for the last 3 years its all been to no avail.
    We’ve planted about 800 seedlings in those 3 years and not a single one has survived,

    I’m firmly convinced, and my neighbours rainfall records that he keeps bear this out, that the amount and seasonality of our rainfall regime is changing here,
    Winter rain is decreasing and the trees can’t survive the searing heat of the last two summers in particular, you know those weeks of 40 degree plus temps.

    So we are considering plan B.

    Only plant 50 a year, grown in Adelaide by a relative cos we have no water, and hand water once or twice a month for about a year to get them through the summer and then they are on their own.
    We can afford that much water.

    I won’t say its been ‘fun’, but it has been, still is, rewarding. There are about a 1000 plus trees out there that weren’t there before and wouldn’t be there unless we, plus friends and rellies, put them there.

  23. @fred
    Fred – that is truly amazing as an effort. Amazing what you are doing….and your neighbours but its horrible to think all that effort goes in vain when not a single one survives…when its the rain that isnt there.

  24. Ta people, as a relevant aside I get just a little bit hot under the collar about irrigation and the Murray partly because of the effort we have put in as described to grow a 1000 trees or so in about 15 years on 100 acres or so.
    We can look out the back of our house and see the rewards of our efforts.

    But if we look out the front we can see where our lagoon used to be.

    And where there was once about 5 s.kms of fairly healthy wetlands there is now a dry partly barren, partly weed infested ex-lagoon complete with toxic water in the water table and acid sulfate soils and devoid of the life, both plant and animal, that was there 3 years or so ago.

    So over-irrigation, the Murray demise, CPRS are a little more than abstracts to us.
    We can look at them.
    They are physical.

  25. and I should have added Fred – that your efforts are even more valuable than the govts who have so greedily sold off water rights that they have starved the rivers…even more valuable Fred.

  26. @Alice
    And maybe Fred – we dont really even need State governments any more. Maybe they ARE a relic of times gone when communication was lesser…maybe we dont need them, and their in fighting and their squabbles and their pathetic managements. Maybe we need only one government for the whole country and state governments should be cleaned out as a relic of a bygone age.

  27. Alice
    I took a day or so to have a think about your point re state govts.
    Its not an issue I have considered much in the past nor paid too much attention to when it has been discussed, sort of a tangential idea for me.
    But maybe I’ll have a deep rethink about that.
    I kinda like the idea of local governments as being closest to the community in our 3 tiered sysytem. Even where I live the apparent homogenity of the area hides several fundamentally different local micro ‘geopolitical’ variations, so much more so are these local issues obscured with a state context.
    I lived in Canada for a year and local govt. operates several services eg police and schools, that are state responsibilities here.
    The Canadian model seemed [my familiarity was brief and superficial] to run well.
    Maybe state govts are unnecessary.
    I’ll think a bit more.
    Certainly they bear a huge resposibility for the plight of for the Murray.

  28. Im beginning to think so myself Fred. The State govts have become a bit of a relic. They cant tax sufficiently so they make a mess collecting fees and charges over puny assistances – and they make money through donations and shonky deals with developers that dont do us any good. They are constantly crying “broke, broke broke” and their trains dont run on time and they sit around trying to get the private sector to fix their messes and they individually get on the gravy train big time…Im seriously starting to wonder if it shouldnt be all fed and local myself.

  29. @fred
    Thanks Fred, for providing that information; it’s great to get some insight into what is really required to regreen – perhaps revegetate is closer to the mark, given the previous state of much of the land here – the area. With the regional rainfall being typically low and lumpy (correct me if I’m wrong here) it’s difficult to imagine new plants sprouting and maturing without human intervention these days.

    You also pointed out that the heatwaves challenge the saplings and other plants, which is interesting to me because in the past in Adelaide I’ve lost plants through a single day of extreme heat. They look like the plant equivalent of the overseas tourist on one of our beaches in January: sunburnt and dehydrated to the nth degree. I’m no greenthumb however 🙂 For the local area, meaning Murray Bridge and surrounds (South Australia, 80km from Adelaide) the move towards a hotter drier climate – as the CSIRO boffins have predicted – means that the odds of getting several extremely hot days and extremely hot nights (defined as > 40C for day and > 30C for night) sadly rise considerably. My limited horticultural knowledge not withstanding, I recall hearing that for Australian trees extreme night time temperature is what gets them. That seems consistent with other information I’ve found on tree thermal death. It shows how hollow the claim by Plimer and others is, that a warmer global mean temperature will be good for plants. Not if the plants are in South Australia, it’s not.

    I share that frustration concerning the Murray, not that I have clear ideas on how to fix it. I remember how we used to swing on the rope, tied to a branch of a long gone tree, out into the water – naturally, teenagers don’t see danger – and now, whenever I do a morning walk down the reserve all I see is an extended shore line and the bits of junk us kids luckily avoided landing on.

    Keep up the great work, Fred.

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