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Carbon Pricing

Australia Elects New Prime Minister, Scraps Old Carbon Tax

Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal Party (a party which, for reference, is as far from liberal as a major political party in Australia can get), walked into Saturday’s national election with a surefire belief that his party would win the national vote, an action that would see him elected next Prime Minister of Australia.

And so it came to pass, in a resounding victory, which looks like it could see the Liberal Party walk away with a 32-seat majority.Image Credit: AAP - Alan Porritt

What has Tony Abbott’s first actions been, now he has been made Prime Minister-elect?

According to several news agencies here in Australia. Tony Abbott has already directed his department to begin drafting legislation that would repeal the carbon tax, instituted by the previous government on July 1, 2012, which required entities emitting over 25,000 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases — which are not a transport or agricultural enterprise — to pay a tax per tonne of CO2 emitted.

Despite reports that Tony Abbott’s ‘Direct Action Scheme’ will remove the penalty on polluters and shift the cost from polluters to tax-payers, the Liberals are plowing full steam ahead with their plans to scrap the carbon tax. But they’re not going to rush it through, either, waiting until Federal Parliament resumes in late October or early November.

“My emphasis will be on being purposeful, methodical, calm and conscientious,” Tony Abbott told Fairfax radio. “And the last thing I want to do is rush the Parliament back for a photo opportunity before the substance of the work is there for it to do.”

When they resume, however, scrapping the tax will likely be their “first order of business”, according to Abbott’s environment spokesman, Greg Hunt. “We want to set out now to do what we said we would do, and the only people who stand between Australia and lower electricity prices are the Labor Party,” Mr Hunt said.

But they’re not going to have it all their way, if Labor and the Greens have their way (though, given their dwindling minority, one wonders just what they believe they’ll be able to do). Senior Labor member Chris Bowen says that Labor’s stance on the carbon tax is clear and firm. “The Labor Party believes that climate change is real,” he said. “The Labor Party believes that we need to do something about it. The Labor Party believes that a market mechanism is the best way to do that, and we won’t be walking away from those beliefs.”

If Labor manages to block the move in the Senate, Australia may find itself facing a double dissolution election.

Double Dissolution according to Wikipedia: A double dissolution is a procedure permitted under the Australian Constitution to resolve deadlocks between the House of Representatives and the Senate. If the conditions are satisfied (called a trigger), the government of the day can request the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of parliament and call a full election. If after the election the legislation is still not passed by the two houses, then a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament can be called to vote on the legislation. If the legislation is passed by the joint sitting, then the legislation is deemed to have passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Tony Abbott has made it clear that he is not opposed to such an action, and given his party’s commanding performance on Saturday’s election, he won’t be lacking for support either. As James West, a producer for  the Climate Desk noted in an article on Mother Jones, not only has carbon pricing become the “killing fields of politics” but Abbott may very well have to “wed his fate to the policy problem no Australian leader seems able to escape: climate change.”

Late last year we reported on the then-Australian Minister for Climate Change reporting that “the intensity of the country’s electricity generation emissions [had] fallen since the introduction of the carbon tax.” Writing on Monday, Claire Maries on the ABC Environment website reemphasized the benefits of the carbon tax, noting the following;

Since Australia’s carbon price came into effect 14 months ago, emissions from electricity have fallen by about seven per cent, coal use for electricity is down by about 17 per cent and renewable energy generation is up by 25 per cent.

While writing for the Guardian, Oliver Milman reported that it would cost the new Australian government more than $6 billion to repeal the carbon tax, despite making public comments that they would be saving $7.47 billion. While this is inherently true, what the Liberal publicity machine failed to remind voters of was the fact that the government would — in ditching the carbon tax — lose out on $13.51 billion worth of taxes paid by polluters.

The months ahead may very well be as rocky as they were behind, but one thing is for sure, climate change and carbon taxes will still be lining our newspapers and dominating our news broadcasts with each passing day.

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