Thankyou for replying to my email. I very much appreciate your personal response, particularly as I am not one of your constituents. It is a courtesy I rarely encounter in my dealings with busy people.
It is not surprising that I disagree with many of your observations.
I would first take issue with your suggestion that my character is in some way impugned and my arguments concerning climate change compromised, by my suggestion that political parties are capable of cynicism in their political strategies.
Leaving aside the dubious logic of this contention, the polls would suggest that my admittedly rather jaundiced perception, is one that is shared by the vast majority of Australians. This presumably reflects poorly on the national character rather than the political system that serves it.
Of course, I imagine that you would maintain that whilst political virtue is the prerogative of the Liberal party, such Machiavellian opportunism is commonplace in the simmering cauldrons of the Labour party and its horned, bastard offspring, the Greens.
However, I admit that you may be correct in ascribing my accusation of obstructionism to a damaged political psyche. I have spent a considerable percentage of my adult life as an active participant in my community and since I was a student I have been putting my hand up for one thing or another. Anti war movements, environment groups, civil defence service, industry bodies, LandCare and school councils have accounted for a significant slice of my life. Whilst this career as a community activist has been rewarding in many ways, it has also left me disillusioned with our political institutions and deeply cynical about those who administer them.
Wherever such community groups rub up against politicians or senior beaurocrats the experience is all too often an unsavoury display of condescending spin, obfuscation and, on occasion, blatant dishonesty. The most ubiquitous and humiliating aspect of such interactions is, I find, the compulsion of the political culture to dispense endless platitudes; like treats to small children.
I understand that platitude is the stock in trade of a politician in a democratic polity, but the inescapable irony is that few things are more corrosive of the inclination for broad participation in the democratic process. I am sick of seeing the goodwill of communities squandered as sacrifice on the alters of ego, ambition and ideology, to those in positions of power. These are generalisations and are not intended to embrace any person in particular. I am simply emphasising the obvious reality that our political system and a media dedicated to the lowest common denominator, does not reward candour, complexity, or bipartisanship.
Of course, one does not have to be a volunteer to become disillusioned with our political culture. All that is required is to suffer the daily humiliation of the news cycle where the media conspire with politicians to patronise the electorate with endlessly repeated slogans, contrived antagonism and “debate” of mind-numbing banality. If you treat children like idiots, they will eventually behave as such. Is this the intention?
Your observations regarding my email are a case in point. In response to my critique of some of the fundamental assumptions underpinning our economy viz a viz carbon emissions, you failed to address in any way the substance of my correspondence, instead choosing to trot out the same tired mantras that I might expect from a door stop interview.
Despite the lateness of the hour, I feel compelled to rebut your arguments; just for the record.
Your first justification for the Coalition’s opposition to a price on carbon is that Gillard lied to the electorate and must be held to account. I do have some sympathy for this perspective. However, even if you take the view that the Prime Minister made a grossly disingenuous and stupid statement prior to the last election and should be held to account, what has that got to do with the validity of the policy in question? If putting a price on carbon is sound policy, a view held by the Liberal Party until the “assassination” of Malcolm Turnbull, why deny it to the Australian people, simply because of Gillard’s stupidity. Perhaps Tony Abbot found biblical inspiration for his policy of obstruction, for he is a jealous leader, punishing the children for the sin of the mother to the third and forth generation. (cf. Exodus 20.5)
I entirely agree with you that “integrity is an issue which is of vital importance for the well-being of our democracy.” However, I suggest that your moral high ground is a little unstable under foot. I would remind you of some of the perfidy of past Coalition Governments: there was the never, ever GST, the no intention to privatise Telstra, there was the betrayal of the armed services during the “children overboard” debacle, the manipulated intelligence that took our children to Iraq, the dock-land conspiracies, the nonexistent letter from South Vietnam etc etc etc. But of course those deceptions were different, weren’t they? Oh, I almost forgot my favourite: Tony Abbot’s classic, “Oh, that bishop.”
Yes, I entirely agree that integrity is a vital ingredient in a democratic system.
Your next argument is slightly more cogent but largely irrelevant and rather hypercritical. I tend to agree that the tax as currently proposed is so insipid that it is unlikely to achieve its policy objectives, meager as they are. Of course its weakness is entirely due to the lack of support from the Opposition. Given the gravity of the situation, a bi-partisan policy to replace the GST with a broad based consumption tax, based on a price for carbon, could have started the ball rolling with a revenue neutral impost until a CTS could be implemented to compliment the removal of the carbon subsidies.
Your point about zinc smelting is quite bizarre. Even if we accept your figures regarding the relative emissions from Australian and Chinese smelters, there is no logic to your argument as stated. Australia smelts approx. half a million tonnes of zinc per year. You assert that our emissions are 2 tonnes of CO / tonne of zinc, thus yielding one million tonnes of CO2 per year. Given that the current price of zinc is approaching $A2400 /tonne ( up from $US1500 in 2009) the proposed carbon price of $20/ tonne is hardly likely to destroy our markets; particularly if taxes like payroll were proportionately reduced, as has been done by many European countries. I suggest that variables like the $A, extreme weather events, interest rates, labour costs, transport costs, infrastructure limitations and fluctuating demand are far more relevant to profitability.
There also remains the question as to what the price of zinc has to do with the effectiveness of a price on carbon with respect to Australia’s over-all carbon emissions, given that zinc smelting accounts for one million out of 400 million tonnes of emissions annually; a figure that places us 16th in the world in absolute terms, and the number one emitter per capita.
Oddly, you barely mentioned the only argument against a carbon price that potentially has some validity. The abject failure of Copenhagen to make significant progress towards a global price does raise a broader question about the wisdom of Australia taking a leadership role by unilaterally pricing carbon. On balance, my answer to this question is that we should indeed provide leadership.
My conclusion is informed by the following points:
- Whilst it is true that in absolute terms, Australia’s emission are small, the real value in our taking a leadership role is technological and symbolic. In fact we do not really run much of a risk of being courageous, because we are a long way behind many other countries in the mitigation of emissions, which always entails an initial cost burden.
- Australia is an affluent society; at least it gives every appearance of being so. In reality it may well be insolvent because our rather extravagant standard of living has been funded from capital rather than sustainable income. The obvious example of this is the exploitation of our mineral assets, which are clearly finite. Of more significance has been our consumption of our ecological assets, which we have done more ruthlessly than any other continent. Ecologically, we have been living beyond our means for a long time. Our ecological tab is rapidly growing beyond reasonable expectations of our ability to repay it. The sooner we begin the attempt to do so the better.
- Our conspicuous consumption has not only been subsidised by our own environment, but by that of the rest of the world as well. It is our economic activity, along with the rest of the western industrial nations that is responsible for emitting most of the CO2 currently in the atmosphere, not China or India. It is therefore entirely reasonable that we should take a lead in changing the way we do business. It is entirely unreasonable that we should decline to put a price on our extravagant emissions until countries attempting to claw their way out of poverty do so. The financial incentives that result from the removal of the carbon subsidies may be expected to motivate the market to develop new technologies that can subsequently be used by developing countries to avoid the really dirty stage of their development, that characterised the “West’s” industrialisation over the last hundred and fifty years. As we share a common destiny with the rest of world, the environmental return on this investment is thus maximised. Should you be concerned lest this might be seen as benevolence; I suggest that it can easily be rationalised as enlightened self interest.
- If we continue to deny the problem and proceed with business as usual, we will fall further and further behind in the technology of the brave new world that is rapidly approaching, whether we like it or not.
- Australia was not afraid to take a leadership role in the deregulation of international trade in the 1980’s. We unilaterally dismantled subsidies and trade barriers at great initial cost to both primary and secondary industries and despite the recalcitrance of our competitors. We did this with largely bipartisan commitment in the face of strident opposition from many vested interests. If then, why not now, when so much more is at stake?
- So finally we come to the Coalition’s alternative policy. Can you explain why you have adopted a policy that is an implicit rejection of every principle of market economics that the Liberal Party has been extolling since its inception? Why would you abandon the market in favour of government spending taxpayer’s money to pick winners and losers in technological innovation; something that even the Labour Party would acknowledge governments do very poorly? Certainly throwing money at the CSIRO may pay some dividends, but that would put a lot of eggs in one basket. Surely you are not actually contemplating funding universities more generously.
The overwhelming balance of economic commentator opinion (for what that is worth), designates this ill defined policy as having very poor cost effectiveness compared with the market based options.
Are you sure that the main attraction of this rather nebulous and expensive policy is not simply that it is different from Labour’s and, more importantly, Malcolm Turnbull’s? But there I go, being cynical again.
In order to forestall being dismissed as being partisan myself, please find the attached letter to a state Labour minister for education. I am unreliably informed that it contributed to her decision to resign soon after. The issue concerned much needed capital works that had been promised for over twenty years. I have the misfortune to live in a safe seat; consequently our needs had been ignored by successive governments. Over the last forty years I have had recourse to write many such letters on many issues.
I agree with you that good people can agree to differ with the best of intentions; however, it is my conviction that our political culture chronically induces good people to behave badly. I fully understand that even if you agreed with everything I have written, your position precludes you from acknowledging as much; certainly not in writing. This is the festering reality of party politics; a reality that is slowly poisoning our democratic heritage.