Last night on ABC TV’s 7.30, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was questioned about whether he was living up to the standards he had set himself prior to being elected that he would lead a government that says what it means, and means what it says. During the interview Abbott argued what the government before him, and many other governments before that, have argued: circumstances have changed.
But Abbott still wanted to argue that he was somehow more virtuous.
LEIGH SALES: I guarantee you that when Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard were saying circumstances were changing that you wouldn't have given them a leave pass on that.
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think there is a fundamental difference between, "There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead," and the situation that this government is in. I think there's an absolutely fundamental difference.
Julia Gillard did say that quote. She also said during that same interview that she’d like to introduce a cap on carbon pollution – in other words, an emissions cap and trade scheme. She was also reported in The Australian as saying:
“I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism,” she said of the next parliament. “I rule out a carbon tax.”
Now, if you want to play language games then you might argue that Julia Gillard did not lie and didn’t overtly break a promise. The argument would be that she did introduce something that, in spite of the assertions of the Greens, was pretty much the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme mark II, except instead of a one-year fixed price period, it had a three-year fixed price period.
But in the end, on that same program Tony Abbott appeared on last night, while she at first resisted accepting that dirty word – tax – ultimately the former PM relented:
HEATHER EWART: With this carbon tax – you do concede it's a carbon tax, do you not?
JULIA GILLARD: Oh, look, I'm happy to use the word tax, Heather. I understand some silly little collateral debate has broken out today. I mean, how ridiculous. This is a market-based mechanism to price carbon.
The interesting thing is Abbott pretty much did exactly the same thing on last night’s 7.30.
Before the election Tony Abbott said "what you'll get under us are tax cuts without new taxes". He also made a litany of other similar promises before the election that the average voter would have interpreted to mean the Coalition wouldn’t increase taxes once in government.
But last night he had his very own Julia Gillard T-A-X concession moment.
SALES: Tony Abbott used to have a reputation for being a straight talker. Some people thought at times that you were too plainspoken. How has that guy turned into somebody who says that a budget cut is an efficiency dividend and that a levy isn't a tax?
ABBOTT: Well, at the risk of sounding slippery, and I'm trying to be absolutely candid with you, Leigh, I said it was akin to an efficiency dividend, and, look, if you'd prefer to call it a cut, by all means, call it a cut.
Sales then asked what about “the deficit levy on high income earners that your government said wasn't a tax?”
ABBOTT: Well, it plainly is a tax. It is – plainly is a tax. And I think in the aftermath of the Budget, I said, "Yeah, look, this is a tax."
What a completely stupid game these politicians play.
People want services from government, they also need them to control and regulate selfish and short-sighted behaviour that harms others. Taxes and levies and regulatory permits, whatever you want to call them, are an essential evil to meet these needs.
Yesterday in parliament Tony Abbott decided to borrow some rhetoric from the Greens. In relation to the government’s budget deficit, he said:
"We will not commit these crimes against our children and grandchildren that members opposite were creating. That's what we were elected to do and that's what we are delivering on."
He also repeated the rhetoric in his 7.30 interview telling Sales:
"...for our children's sake we have to address this issue of intergenerational theft which the former government was engaged in."
Does Mr Abbott realise that in his anxiousness to axe the carbon tax and to encourage the growth of coal use he is, by his own definition, committing intergenerational theft, in two ways:
1) He is increasing the government’s debt, which ultimately must be repaid in the future.
2) He is providing a stellar excuse for other nations to do little to reduce their own carbon emissions, who's people emit far less per person than ourselves and possess far less wealth but represent a significantly growing portion of global carbon emissions. This might help Australia’s coal sales in the medium term, but it comes at the expense of far greater risks to our children from a vastly hotter climate.