Four reasons Labor will block repeal

There are compelling political reasons for Labor to stand in the way of a carbon pricing repeal despite Coalition claims to a mandate.

Tony Abbott has won the election he billed as a referendum on the carbon tax. But since the election we’ve had former cabinet ministers in Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen, Mark Butler, Tanya Plibersek and Mark Dreyfus all separately saying Labor won’t roll over on carbon pricing.

The Coalition argue that Labor has copped a belting from the electorate from a deeply unpopular tax (what tax is popular by the way?), so rejecting appeal would be like collective suicide.  

But there are four good reasons why resisting repeal should play in Labor’s favour:

1. The public’s fear has subsided

Before the carbon price was introduced polling indicated, in May 2012, that 48 per cent favoured repeal. And in June 2012, three-quarters thought they’d be worse off, despite income tax cuts and benefit increases.

But by November, a few months after the carbon price came into effect, a Fairfax poll found 56 per cent felt no worse off and 3 per cent felt better off. Another Fairfax poll in July 2013 found 62 per cent did not favour repeal of the carbon price. In addition, a June poll by JWS Research found only 34 per cent believed the Coalition should proceed to a double dissolution election to repeal the carbon price.  

2. The longer abolition is delayed the harder it becomes for Abbott

Let’s face it, the lamb roast didn’t go up to $100; the price of Weet-Bix, milk and other staple grocery items remained stable; Whyalla is still there; it wasn’t a 'wrecking ball'; and electricity prices didn’t skyrocket as a consequence. Now even Abbott only talks of a 10 per cent electricity price rise, instead of the 50 per cent-plus rises he used to claim.

The longer the carbon price stays in place and the sky doesn’t fall in the less effective the arguments against the carbon price. This favours Labor and will provoke questions among the electorate about Abbott’s honesty.

Remember how the scare campaign surrounding the GST managed to turn the unlosable 1993 election in Keating’s favour? Now most people don’t give the GST a second thought, we’ve realised Keating lied and then Kim Beazley after him.

If Labor and the Greens resist repeal then the carbon price is likely to stay in place until July 1, 2015. That’s because disabling the carbon price partway through a compliance year is very messy and the new Senate won’t be able to vote on repeal until after June 30, 2014. This means a full three years for it to sink in to the electorate that the sky didn’t fall in.  

Will Abbott go to a double dissolution election before July 2014? Well that depends on whether he’d like even more bible-bashing, gun toting, rev head senators to corral. Then throw in another Xenophon senator and maybe extra Greens. A double dissolution election halves the quota of votes required to get a senator up, favouring the micro-parties. So, such an election seems incredibly unlikely, at least this quickly, given the success of the micro-parties at the election last Saturday.

3. The argument of a mandate is bunkum

As much as Abbott might like to repeat it, the reality is that in voters’ minds this election result was not a referendum on the carbon tax.

There were a wide array of reasons why some people switched their vote away from Labor. Exit polling conducted on Saturday and reported in Climate Spectator yesterday, indicated that the economy and jobs was far and away the biggest issue, with 31 per cent of those surveyed nominating it as their major issue. This was followed by 15 per cent of people listing cost of living concerns. By comparison, the carbon tax was nominated by just 3 per cent of voters.

To illustrate how silly this carbon tax referendum proposition is, ask whether Coalition MPs would agree with the idea that the only thing wrong with Labor was the carbon tax. Thus, was the only thing going for the Coalition that they were going to get rid of the carbon tax? What about stopping the boats? What about all that waste? And, of course, the constant Labor leadership bickering had nothing to do with it either?

In the end, while there was a substantial 4.1 per cent national swing in the primary vote away from Labor, the swing to the Coalition was a measly 1.7 per cent. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for Abbott’s agenda.

4. Resisting repeal puts the scrutiny onto Abbott’s weakness – his inadequate climate change policy

While Abbott was elected on a platform of axing the tax, it was also with the understanding that he remained committed to a 5-25 per cent emission reduction target.  

The exit poll conducted on Saturday asked voters: if they had to choose between the Coalition’s commitment to its emission reduction targets or repeal of the carbon tax, what would they prefer?

Forty per cent preferred keeping to the reduction targets versus just 28 per cent favouring repeal, with 32 per cent undecided.

Labor can argue that until the Coalition provides a credible plan for how they’ll deliver on these targets, Labor cannot, in all good conscience, vote for repeal of the carbon price. This then provides an opportunity for Labor to do what Abbott did to them – use opposition to focus critical scrutiny onto the government.

So far the Coalition has managed to get away with providing scant detail on its Direct Action policy. It's used its status as the opposition almost like a shield against accountability. That shield disappeared on Saturday.