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Tag Archives: australian politics

Published 9:35 AM, 18 May 2012 Updated 3:09 PM, 18 May 2012

Words are powerful things that can be loaded with emotion. The word ‘tax’ in particular is ingrained with negative feeling.

That’s why Tony Abbott, ever since he took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, has wanted people to think of a carbon price as a ‘carbon tax’ and not a ‘carbon trading’ scheme. It looks as if he has succeeded.

Back in around 2001 I remember having an argument with then shadow Labor Environment Minister, Kelvin Thomson. At the time I said that if Labor really wanted to do something meaningful to reduce emissions they needed to introduce a carbon tax. Thomson said they would do nothing of the sort.

Instead, he said, they would look to introduce an emissions trading scheme. At which point I blurted out, “Okay, sure… carbon tax, carbon trading, who cares, they’re effectively the same thing.” Thomson then coolly explained that there was no way Labor would be opening itself up to the same kind of electoral damage that accompanied the introduction of the last new tax – the GST.

Tony Abbott, having been John Hewson’s media adviser when Hewson lost the unlosable election in 1993 over the GST, would have learnt this lesson well. While Gillard did admit that the deal negotiated with the Greens to provide a fixed price period meant it was “effectively a tax”, on the whole the government studiously avoids describing it as a carbon tax.

Instead, they prefer to describe it as a carbon pricing scheme or a carbon trading scheme with a short fixed price period.

Well if you check out Google Insights, it’ll show you that Tony Abbott has clearly won the battle over how people think about and describe the carbon pricing scheme. The first chart illustrates the frequency with which people in Australia search in Google for the terms ‘carbon price’, ‘carbon trading’ and ‘emissions trading’ since 2005. Carbon trading has generally been dominant but with emissions trading not far behind, until 2011 when carbon price became more frequent. Frequency that the terms ‘carbon price’, ‘carbon trading’ and ‘emissions trading’ are entered into Google – 2005 to today

 The next chart is exactly the same as the one above except it also assesses the frequency with which ‘carbon tax’ is searched for (the green line) relative to the other terms. Carbon tax, for the most part, was barely used. Then in 2011 its frequency dwarfs that of the other terms and indeed dwarfs anything historically, showing that most people have become engaged in this debate during the period it has been considered as a carbon tax.

Frequency in use of search terms including phrase ‘carbon tax’ (illustrated in green) The person who can frame a debate in language that is most favourable to them is more than half-way to winning the argument. Abbott has done this superbly, with some support from the Greens.

Huh, a misleading heading. Annoying.

Anyway, looks like this will be a rerun of the GST debate, with two issues being sorted out simultaneously.

(1) Do we have the scheme at all? The Coalition currently says no, along with ACCI, predictably. It will be interesting to see how long the Coalition will be able to continue its Policy-free, Say-No-to-All-Change Policy. The Greens and Labor are now on the same page, arguing for a hybrid scheme: carbon tax now, emissions trading scheme later. The scheme is set for a right/left debate, with the middle ground of Australian politics deciding the issue. The ALP, once it has neutralised the short-run dissapproval of Rudd’s backdown and Gillard’s promise not to do it, will at least be able to count on a greater share of the youth vote, and the dissaffected middle-class urban vote that drifted to the Greens after Rudd’s withdrawl from the debate.

(2) What gets covered? Apparently agriculture may not be included. Dunno how much Co2 argriculure emits, but the sector will be a major player when the debate hots up about tax-funded abatement programs (schemes set up up to capture and absorb carbon dioxide, a task where agriculture will be the major player…). The next two sectors to spit the dummy will be the coal industry and the petrol industry. This is the biggest threat to the carbon tax scheme. These two industries account for at least 50% of CO2 emissions. But they directly impact on household costs and living standards. Will Australians accept the medium term pain of a new household cost structure, if it means that the global community can start reducing the amount of CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere? Or will the major polluters plead, supported by penny-conscious people out there in community, that they cannot afford precidely the competitive pressure that a carbon tax will bring?

Time will tell…gjmt

Jobs real reason behind carbon tax – Labor MP Janelle Saffin

February 28, 2011 9:08AM

JOBS rather than the environment are the reason the Government wants to tax carbon, one Labor backbencher says.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proposed a carbon price regime to begin in July 2012 as a means of tackling climate change.

But when asked whether the plan was about jobs or the environment, Janelle Saffin was firm.

“It’s about jobs,” the backbencher said today.

The development of the regime is in its very early stages and already agriculture, a large carbon producer, has been made exempt.

Now a debate has erupted over whether petrol will be taxed.

“It’s really important that we have the debate,” Ms Saffin said.