Booster shots

While I reconsider what I should write about, I’m also thinking about when to get a Covid booster shot. I had planned to do so in February, six months after my second AZ shot. But now, I’m thinking I should wait until the vaccines have been updated for Omicron, maybe in March.

The question I need to assess is how rapidly, if at all, case numbers will grow in Queensland once borders are reopened. So far, it seems clear that Queensland has R < 1, though not so clear why. A string of local outbreaks have been detected, then fizzled out. With vax rates rising, and a combination of vax passports and employment mandates coming into force, that should continue even with regular arrivals of new cases, suggesting that waiting is not a bad idea.

Omicron could change all that, but if it does, it seems even more sensible to get an updated vax. It’s going to be a nervous few months.

Looking for a new direction

My latest newsletter is here

Opening para

Labor has finally released its climate policy, which is just ambitious enough to differentiate it from Morrison’s do-nothingism. Apart from that, and process issues like the introduction of a federal version of ICAC, it seems unlikely that there will be any significant policy differences between the parties at the forthcoming election. Labor’s support for high-income tax cuts and budget “repair” means any spending initiatives will be small, and possible (as in the case of the social housing fund) shunted off-budget. And of course there is no guarantee Labor will win.

So, I’ve decided to shift my attention away from economic policy for the moment. 

A pleasant surprise, for once

Labor’s commitment to a 2030 target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent is a pleasant surprise. I expected 35 per cent and was confident it wouldn’t be more than 40.

In essence, the 43 per cent target a restatement of the goal taken to the 2019 election. The difference is within the margin of measurement error and appears to reflect the need not to reannounce a policy that had previously been abandoned.

The commitment is a surprise because it follows a series of announcements which ruled out most of the obvious policy options to reduce emissions, including a carbon price, a moratorium on new coal, oil and gas projects. Recent reports also said that Labor would reject the idea of a vehicle fuel efficiency target.

The announcement of the target reduction gave no indication of how Labor plans to reach it. Action already taken by state governments, business and the general public seems likely to achieve a 30-35 per cent reduction, primarily from the decarbonization of electricity generation. Where will the rest of the reductions come from.

There’s room to speed up the electricity transition, for example through a new Renewable Energy Target. Labor has also foreshadowed an expansion of the “safeguards” mechanism for industrial emissions introduced by the current government, covering more firms and lowering the current cap. There may also be some room to move on land use, although that is the kind of politically contentious policy Labor has been at pains to avoid in recent times.

Finally, there’s transport. Unless we move rapidly to an electrification of the vehicle fleet, transport emissions will continue to grow. It’s hard to see how this can be achieved without a vehicle fuel efficiency target. In 2019, Labor promised to consult with industry about such a target, but recent reports have suggested that the coming policy statement will rule this out. This would be big mistake.

The animals looked from pigs to men, and men to pigs …

I was going to follow up my post on Labor’s tax and expenditure policies (effectively identical to LNP) with one on climate, pointing out the remaining difference – Labor’s 2019 proposal for a vehicle fuel efficiency target. Given that Morrison had tangled himself up with his backflip on electric vehicles after snarking about “abolishing the weekend” this seemed like one policy that would survive.

But Albanese never misses a chance to disappoint, and it’s been reported he’ll dump the policy. That leaves no room for any substantive difference between the parties. Labor will probably announce the 35 per cent emissions reduction target, already on track thanks to action by the states. Morrison wanted to do the same, but Barnaby Joyce vetoed an explicit target. However, the difference is purely symbolic.