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Coalition plan still in search of endorsements

Peter Martin

March 7, 2011

WHEN Malcolm Turnbull was asked to name an economist who supports the Coalition’s carbon reduction plan, he came up blank.

”I can’t cite any economists that agree with it but I have to say to you that at the moment it’s actually the only carbon reduction plan on offer,” he told the ABC’s Q&A.

Yesterday the Coalition’s finance spokesman, Andrew Robb, was asked the same question and named two economists: Greg Evans of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Danny Price, who ”has said our program as it stands is far superior to the emissions trading scheme the government sought to bring in a year ago”.

Mr Evans, normally a backroom operator, is a former Coalition aide and Treasury economist who once ran the Wool Council. Asked by the Herald yesterday whether he did support the Coalition’s plan as claimed, he drew a distinction between his own view as an economist and the chamber’s view.

”We unambiguously represent the views of mainstream businesses and energy users in particular and our view is consistent with their approach on this issue,” he said.

Unlike the Coalition, the chamber has no plan to cut net carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. It does not see the point.

”We are not proposing a model to do that,” Mr Evans said. ”There is no case until there’s international agreement. In the meantime, we support voluntary action. The Coalition is closer to us on that than Labor.”

Danny Price, the other economist mentioned as supporting the Coalition’s plan to use grants and incentives to cut emissions, is an energy specialist who worked on the Coalition’s plan at Frontier Economics.

”I had to ring them up and tell them not to say I supported it,” Mr Price said.

”All I’d said was that their numbers added up, I didn’t say I supported it.”

He believes the Coalition’s proposal ”only makes sense as a transitional plan” along the way to something more permanent.

The acting Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, described Mr Robb’s claims as ”nothing short of cringeworthy,” but had difficulties asserting it was both ”legitimate” to describe Labor’s proposed carbon price as a carbon tax and also ”absolutely incorrect”.

”It doesn’t operate like a traditional tax,” he told Channel Nine. ”The government is not going to take the carbon price out of your pay packet and we’re not going to put it in the revenue.

”It is paid, by a small number of large polluters, and used to assist industry and households.”

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