Bernardi and Minchin’s denialist delight

There is no guarantee Direct Action will get through the Senate, with little support for the policy outside of the government. The Coalition's denialist wing could yet be celebrating climate victory in Australia.

Imagine the delight of the Liberal Party’s Cory Bernardi, Nick Minchin and Dennis Jensen (who’d like to follow in Nick Minchin’s footsteps as minister for science) if the following scenario were to play out.

1) The Coalition, with the support of micro-party senators, manages to repeal the carbon price. 

2) The legislation for the replacement Direct Action scheme is presented by the Coalition as a 'take it or leave it' proposition, with no room for negotiation. This leaves Labor and The Greens to reject it in conjunction with climate change denialist micro-parties.

3) In addition, an anti-red/green tape push leads to an ideologically-driven Office of Best Practice Regulation, which stymies any progress on energy efficiency standards.

4) The end result is no meaningful policy to drive down carbon emissions other than the Renewable Energy Target.

5) Except this, too, is subsequently emaciated via a deal with the micro-party senators for a 'real 20 per cent' renewable energy target.

The thing is that a number of the micro-party senators who are happy to 'axe the tax' aren’t necessarily enamoured with Direct Action. Indeed, several question whether increased carbon dioxide will warm the planet. Consequently, it looks as though Direct Action won’t get up, unless Labor or the Greens come on board.

Here’s how it plays out to the 38 votes required to block enactment of Direct Action (and possibly more):

– If Labor and the Greens choose to oppose Direct Action that means, probably, 35 votes against.

– 36 against... The Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm would definitely vote against it, stating about Direct Action: “we think it's idiotic.” He’s also told ABC's 7.30: “we are not in favour of the Coalition's policy on Direct Action on climate change ... it's just a large amount of money down a black hole which will achieve nothing.”

– 37 against... Family First’s South Australian senate candidate Bob Day told The Australian: "The so-called Direct Action Plan is a total waste of money."

– 38 against... SA Senator Nick Xenophon has said of Direct Action: “I believe that plan is grossly inefficient. It carries with it risks to fiscal policy. It carries with it risks to the budget bottom line. It is incredibly clunky. It is about, in a sense, picking winners. I do not support that plan.”

– 39-plus against..? At present it’s not completely clear whether the DLP’s John Madigan or Glenn Lazarus from the Palmer United Party would vote against Direct Action – but the signs are not good. Clive Palmer has said: "We need to have a proper look at Direct Action but it doesn't look like too much action to me." Palmer has also said that if he doesn’t win the seat of Fairfax his party will not be providing any co-operation to the Coalition. Madigan hasn’t been quite as negative but has said that he believes in a penalties-based emission reduction scheme where the polluter pays rather than households (yet he wants to repeal the carbon price!), which seems to be the complete opposite of Direct Action. Madigan has also said he’s concerned Direct Action might be rorted like managed investment schemes.

For those in the Coalition who think climate change is a leftist plot, nothing would please them greater than having Direct Action voted down. They would no longer be wasting a few billion dollars on a problem they don’t think exists. What’s more, the Coalition could claim: ‘We do genuinely care about reducing emissions and meeting our emission reduction targets, but those green ideologues in the Greens and Labor won’t let us do anything.' 

Then they’re off the hook.

For that reason, Labor blocking enactment of Direct Action would be an incredible own goal. It’s in Labor’s interests to block repeal of the carbon trading scheme and, given Bill Shorten’s speech yesterday, that’s what they’ll be doing. But once it’s gone Labor needs to let the Coalition try, and most likely fail, at achieving the 5 per cent emissions reduction target. That is the best way to ensure the Coalition is held accountable

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