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What happened to the promises for action on climate change?

By Maiy Azize - posted Thursday, 25 March 2010

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine working in Parliament House suggested we begin a new drinking game: every time an Opposition MP used the words “great big new tax,” we would all take a shot of vodka.

Just the other week, Coalition Senator Eric Abetz threatened to send us into a drunken flurry when he delivered a speech in the Senate on the beleaguered CPRS.

It was full of the usual rhetoric. He labelled the CPRS a “big new tax” on everything and discussed its diminishing support within Australia and around the world.


In their campaign against the CPRS, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Eric Abetz have failed to represent the interests of an important demographic. Poll after poll shows us that young people still want to see a strong response to climate change. They’re also growing more and more cynical about the responses of both the major parties.

And why shouldn’t they be? Discussions of the impacts of climate change have been devoured by arguments about taxes, levies and which country should be the first to show leadership.

Eric Abetz made this impassioned plea to the Senate: “We believe that there are matters of graver importance to be considered. Let us make no mistake: this would be a massive, big new tax on everything. It would impact every man, woman and child in Australia today and every man, woman and child in Australia for generations to come.”

Frankly, it’s pathetic that one of our leaders would assign such dramatic language to a tax. Throughout his speech, he made no mention of the devastation that the impacts of climate change could cause.

What’s even sadder is that Abetz and his colleagues don’t think we should bother developing any real response to climate change unless China, India and the United States do so first. Basically, the Opposition is saying that we should be the last developed economy in the world to show real leadership, barring a piecemeal direct action scheme and planting some new trees.

In reality, the Coalition’s direct action scheme forces the ordinary taxpayer to pay for polluters because it will be funded by savings in the budget. Their scheme also becomes more expensive every year. On the other hand, the CPRS recoups most of its own costs but uses the savings to provide generous concessions and exemptions to polluters.


For the record, the similarities between the Coalition and Government policies are more important than the differences. They have both set woefully low targets, they are both inefficient and neither forces the big polluters to pay for the emissions they produce.

In spite of its faults, the Coalition’s policy can already boast one great achievement. It has forced the Government to start defending the CPRS on its merits, and, to explain how it works to the public. In just a few short weeks, we have moved away from a debate where a CPRS is the only solution to one where more options are on the table. Everything from Coalition’s own inept scheme through to the Greens’ proposal for an interim Carbon Tax are now being seriously debated.

Opening the opinion page of any newspaper exposes the difference. Government representatives and union leaders are falling all over themselves to tell people why they still like the CPRS. At the same time, opposition MPs and their sympathisers continue to label it a great big new tax. Amongst it all, social and environmental activists hope against hope that a stronger response is still on the horizon.

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About the Author

Maiy Azize holds degrees in political science and law from the Australian National University and works in health and social policy development in Canberra. She is the Youth Ambassador for the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and Environment (OCSE) in the ACT.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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