Labor: getting a kicking over carbon

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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Topics Science & Tech

One of the biggest issues in Saturday’s Australian election will be the ‘carbon tax’. Coalition leader Tony Abbott said this week: ‘If the Coalition wins the election on Saturday, the carbon tax will go. No ifs, no buts, it is gone… We will do whatever is necessary to abolish the carbon tax.’ He has declared the election to be a ‘referendum on the carbon tax’, which Labor has pledged to retain if it hangs on to power.

The tax – actually a government-imposed price on carbon emissions which is planned to lead to trading of emissions licences – appears to have caused a significant rise in energy bills. One report notes: ‘According to the Australian Industry Group (AIG), energy cost increases have averaged 14.5 per cent for businesses as a result of the carbon tax, whilst TD Securities and the Melbourne Institute found that due to the introduction of the carbon tax, the price of electricity for households rose by 14.9 per cent. The increase in household electricity prices after the carbon tax was introduced was the highest quarterly increase on record.’

The debate about the tax raises the issue of how much voters are really concerned about climate change and what sacrifices they would be prepared to make to try to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And the answer to both questions seems to be ‘not a lot’. Far from being the epoch-defining issue that politicians, campaigners and media pundits would like to believe it is, climate change is in reality an elite obsession. According to ABC’s Vote Compass, climate change ranks well below issues like the economy, health and education among voters’ concerns.

As Rupert Darwall convincingly argues in his recent book, The Age of Global Warming, the drive to put the environment centre stage in politics long predates concern about climate change. But the prospect of a rapidly warming world, which really started to hit the headlines in the late Eighties, was the key issue to give such concerns purchase with wider society.

However, with economies around the world struggling to maintain living standards, voters are less willing to shrug and accept environmental regulations and green taxes. Scare stories about an overheating planet don’t seem to be borne out by reality, either. No wonder the Canberra elite’s concerns no longer wash with Aussie voters.

Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.

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