Abbott asserts his sceptic core

While talking up coal and expressing a willingness to renege on emissions targets, Tony Abbott has also hardened his rhetoric against carbon pricing, indefinitely.

Yesterday Tony Abbott delivered an address to the National Press Club that could only be read as a rejection of the idea that Australia needs to reduce its carbon emissions substantially over time. Abbott stated:

"The government’s own figures reveal the economic damage the carbon tax will do. Australia’s gross national income per person is almost $5000 lower in 2050 with a carbon tax than without one. Australia’s annual GDP growth might only be 0.1 per cent lower every year with a carbon tax than without one but small reductions eventually add up so that total GDP in 2050 is almost 3 per cent lower with a carbon tax than without one."

This poses a question – does Tony Abbott think we could make equivalent massive reductions to emissions out to 2050 without a carbon price but at barely any economic cost; or is he questioning whether we should make these emission reductions at all?

Reducing emissions by 60-80 per cent by 2050 is going to involve some reduction in GDP growth, no matter which way you do it. Back in 2007-08 the political consensus was that shaving 0.1 per cent of economic growth was an affordable price to pay to avoid the much higher costs of dangerous climate change. Abbott seems to be rejecting this idea in his speech.

When pressed, senior members of the Coalition close to carbon and energy issues – like Ian Macfarlane, Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb – privately concede that using the budget to purchase abatement is not really sustainable over the longer term.  After 2020 the size of the emission cuts required are simply too big to be paid for using revenue from income and business taxes.

They seem to believe that if Australia was committed to deep emission cuts then there’s no realistic alternative to pricing carbon. So, if Abbott sees no place for a carbon price ever but these guys think you can’t achieve 2050 targets without one, it leaves you wondering.

Furthermore, when quizzed by a journalist about analyses showing budget blowouts in his Direct Action policy in order to reach the 5 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020, Abbott appeared to be suggesting emission targets to 2020 were not even locked in:

“…the bottom line is we will spend as much as we have budgeted, no more and no less. We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions reduction as we can for the spending that we've budgeted. We are very confident that we will achieve the 5 per cent target that we've set ourselves. We're very confident that we can achieve that, but in the end we've told you the money we'll spend and we won't spend anymore.”

One is further unsettled by Abbott’s concern for maintaining coal mining even if carbon capture and storage doesn’t materialise, stating:

“The carbon tax will reduce Australia’s domestic coal use from over 70 per cent of our power needs to under 10 per cent, absent carbon capture and storage. The Australian coal industry will only survive because the Chinese, without a carbon tax, will do what we are no longer supposed to do: namely, buy and burn coal.”

If you believe climate change is a serious problem then there is simply no long-term future for coal if carbon capture and storage is unviable. In addition, as Climate Spectator has explained previously, China’s demand for thermal coal imports is already on the wane.

In reality with the move to trading and a carbon price below $10, the great big tax is more a great big tax cut. That’s because the household compensation is now vastly greater than the costs.

This reality is beginning to sink in for the electorate. Recent polling, as detailed by Climate Spectator, suggests that the anti-carbon tax message has lost its political potency. A majority now realise they are no worse off as a consequence of the carbon price. Only a third of people support the Coalition going to a double dissolution election to repeal the carbon price. And most of these people are likely to be rusted-on Coalition voters, anyway.

So it is perplexing that Abbott has chosen to make a speech just a few days out from the election restating that this election will be a referendum on carbon pricing. This seems to be less about gaining political advantage and more about asserting a mandate to implement something you genuinely believe-in.

Labor’s Climate Change Minister Mark Butler was quick to respond on Twitter, asserting Labor would not vote for repeal of the carbon price.
Graph for Abbott asserts his sceptic core

In addition, as reported by Business Spectator's Rob Burgess yesterday, Senator Nick Xenophon will also be rejecting repeal without it being replaced by another form of emissions trading.

Nonetheless, Abbott seems incredibly determined to wind back the clock on emissions reduction policy. A lot is riding on the election outcome in the Senate.