From Direct Action to Abbott’s gospel truth?

With Tony Abbott still ignoring the physical and economic constraints around soil carbon, he has plenty of work ahead to make the Direct Action plan believable policy.

In case anyone thought I might have been unduly pessimistic in my piece on April 17 (Green Tape and Abbott’s Blood Oath), Tony Abbott stated in a speech on Friday what he would do if Labor blocked a repeal of the carbon trading scheme in the Senate,

“If they do, there is a constitutional procedure designed for just that eventuality, it’s called a double dissolution. I would not hesitate to seek a second mandate to repeal this toxic tax. Indeed, it would be my duty to do so.”

This is a promise that Tony Abbott can’t pass off as something he said "in the heat of verbal combat". It was labelled as a “landmark speech”, the very essence of “carefully prepared, scripted remarks” that he told Kerry O’Brien should be used as the “gospel truth” benchmark of what politicians should honour.

So rather than hoping against the improbable that Tony Abbott will go to water once he’s elected; or that Labor might win the next election; it’s time to consider what could work to deliver the Coalition’s 2020 emissions target without an emissions cap and trade scheme. 

Abbott’s speech continues to ignore the physical and economic constraints around soil carbon detailed here and here. But he assures us that they’ll employ whatever options are required to deliver the target. So the key will be to put in place further ‘gospel truth’ promises to cover for the event that soil carbon turns out to be more expensive, slower or less reliable a form of abatement than the Coalition is willing to acknowledge.

Below are two essential items required to convert Direct Action into the gospel truth. More will follow in subsequent articles.

1) Establish an institution to audit Australia’s progress to its emissions targets with the board appointed by parliament rather than the government.

Firstly, we’ll need an institution independent of government to take on the duties of assessing Australia’s emissions, and progress toward emissions targets.

The board of this institution should be made up of people with qualifications in a combination of:

- Emissions measurement and auditing;

- Abatement options in energy, industry, agriculture, and green/soil carbon; and

- Economics and government administration.  

Board members should be nominated by government but appointed by parliament, requiring majority support from each house. It should have the power and funding to inquire into and audit any aspect of Australia’s emissions measurement systems and the policies to reduce emissions.

2) Announce the level of the penalty that a Coalition government will impose on firms that exceed emissions baselines.

The Coalition’s 2010 election Direct Action policy document outlines that a Coalition government would impose penalties on firms that exceed baselines allocated to them for their allowable emissions. But it provides no guide as to what the level of this penalty would be.

If this penalty is set quite low then Direct Action will be like a toothless tiger. To provide an adequate incentive to comply with baselines and deliver on tender promises the penalty needs to be at least $30 to $40 per tonne of CO2 emitted above the baseline.

Without providing detail on the level of the penalty, no one can take Direct Action seriously.

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