Friday, February 22, 2008

Garnaut & Labor politics

During the Federal election campaign last year I criticised the Labor Party as a collection of me-tooers who would say anything to get into power and would then do what they like. Peter Garrett explicitly said that the me-tooism didn’t matter since once they got into power they would, in fact, do what they liked. It is for this reason that Garrett has been reduced to the role of making cups of tea – the Labor bosses know he spoke the truth but think he was a bit of a fool, anyway, and a specific twit for not engaging in more strategic deceptions.

Nothing left me less impressed in the Labor Party’s policy than their platform on climate change. Given the current irrelevance of Kyoto their policy was indistinguishable from that of the Coalition.

Greenhouse gas cuts would only be made in Australia if developing countries agreed to make cuts, no interim targets were specified and no details on a carbon trading scheme provided – recall this was the policy that John Howard espoused and which was subject to so much criticism from the Green left.

The Labor Party did agree to 60% cuts by 2050 but, let us be honest, undertakings to deliver outcomes in more than 40 years time count for nothing in Australian politics. They are vacuous.

Ratifying Kyoto was a largely symbolic event since the force of this agreement runs out in 2012. The post-Kyoto environment is what matters. Paul Kelly was one of the few to sense the gap between Labor Party rhetoric and practical policy-making at the time of the Kyoto ratification.

When the Labor Party declined to spell out interim targets for 2020 and were criticised the standard response of their supporter running dogs was to say – ‘the Labor Party is entitled to wait for the results of the Garnaut Review’. ‘Give them time!’.

I never bought this response – how can you firmly adhere to 2050 targets without having intermediate targets at 2020? It makes no sense. What could Garnaut offer that was not already well known?

Well now Garnaut has made his interim report, called for 2020 targets and for steeper 2050 targets. It is an excellent report. He rubbished the Labor Party’s renewable target but, most of all, suggested the need to get real on climate change.

It seems however that the Labor Party is already distancing itself from his views. They have the right to do this because Garnaut is not an elected official but one hopes this is not just a sign of further inaction.

I quote from The Age:

The federal government has tried to play down its chief climate change adviser's call for even deeper cuts to dangerous greenhouse gases.

Economist Ross Garnaut in his interim report on climate change policy says the government should set a 2020 greenhouse target this year and consider setting a tougher 2050 target.

"Australia should be ready to go beyond its stated 60% reduction target by 2050 in an effective global agreement that includes developing nations," Prof Garnaut said in a statement.

The report says such an approach would see the nation play a positive role in global talks for a post-Kyoto regime.

"Australia should formulate a position on the contribution that it would be prepared to make to an effective global agreement, and offer to implement that stronger position if an appropriately structured international agreement were reached," it says.

It calls on the government to set an interim 2020 target later this year similar to those accepted by other developed nations.....

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said Prof Garnaut's report would be an "important input" to government policy.

"We welcome Professor Garnaut's input ... of course we will also be looking at other inputs, such as modelling from the Australian Treasury," she told reporters.....

Senator Wong called the interim report - the final document is due in September - "early thinking" on the policy response to climate change.

The Australian Greens say the federal government is back-pedalling fast on its climate change promises. Greens leader Bob Brown claims the government is trying to minimise the importance of Prof Garnaut because he has followed the science.

"Penny Wong has reduced Ross Garnaut to input," Senator Brown told reporters in Canberra.

"That sounds to me like the Rudd government is subject to coal capture.....

....The Australian Coal Association welcomed Prof Garnaut's acceptance of clean coal.’ (my bold).

I think the Liberal Party policy on climate change was excessively cautious and believe Labor Party policy as yet offers no substantive improvement. It is easy to promise decisive action on climate change but, when making these promises, it is necessary to consider the costs of actually implementing policy. John Howard understood this and moved with (excessive) caution. The Labor Party deceived voters because of the apparent political difficulties.

It easy to promise but tough to deliver in a world where powerful economic interests play a role. I prefer excessive caution to being fed lies.


Anonymous said...


it's interesting to see you quoting that The Age at length and citing Bob Brown as an authority on climate change policy.

Really, did you expect Wong to just say that she accepts Garnaut unconditionally, five months before he brings down his final report?

Let's see what they do before jumping to any conclusions.

In the meantime, you might care to reflect on the fact that Garnaut was commissioned by Rudd and the (Labor) state governments and in one year he has done much more to advance the climate change policy debate than John Howard did in the dozen years he was Prime Minister.

Thanks to Howard's "excessive caution" about climate change, brought about by his own denialism combined with a psychological need to do whatever George W did, we are a decade behind the game, in considering policy options. You can't expect the Government to catch up 10 years of inaction by their predecessors in 10 weeks.

If we have some serious policy decisions by the end of the year that will be a great achievement.


Bring Back CL's blog said...

Harry, what have they lied about?

They have not changed their target for 2050.

They said they would announce their 2020 target after this report.

They are still doing this.

I still note metooism circa 1996 was acceptable but unacceptable in 2007.

hc said...

Spiros, I am all for seeing what they will do. But the criticism of the Coalition was that they were always undecided - how does Labor differ? There is not one new fact in the Garnaut analysis. It is well-known stuff.

And desapite their critical noises I see no difference between the climate change policies of the respective parties.

BTW I do not endorse anything Bob Brown says. But I do agree climate change is qan urgent issue.

Anonymous said...

Labor wants to get emissions trading going by 2010; the Liberals said 2011 (or was it 2012?)

Labor has set a renewables target by 2020 of 20%; the Liberals had it at 15%.

So there's two ways how they differ.

And of course Labor signed Kyoto. Now you may think this is irrelevant, or just symbolic, but doing so dealt Australia in to the international negotiations for post 2012, whereas under the previous government, we were out.

Bur most important, Labor (with one or two exceptions) believe that climate change is a serious problem. The Liberals, when in government with one or two exceptions, believed it was a fantasy concocted by greenies and scientists looking for a research grant.


hc said...

Siros, The first 3 truivial points you make are acknowledged. Notice that Garnaut poured scorn on the renewables targets.

The last para I disagree with. Labor has many climater change skeptics also - particfular amid its bone-headed ex trade unionist brigade. Try Martin Ferguson.

Ratifying Kyoto now is like apologising to indigenous peoples - its a symbolic act with bugger all payoff. On the other hand I agree not signing in 2001 a bad mistake.

The verbiage and critical tones differ between the parties but the substance of policy does not.

Bring Back CL's blog said...


you claimed they lied so what did they lie about?

Anonymous said...


I said that the Labor had one or denialists, and Martin Ferguson is foremost among them.

I disagree that signing Kyoto has no tangible payoff. For one thing, if we didn't sign, we couldn't take part in any international carbon trading scheme.

For another, since it is a global problem, unless we are part of an international agreement, then no one in Australia will believe that we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions so there will be no, or far less, incentive to invest in energy efficiency measures or for people to change what they are doing.

Under the previous, now thankfully departed, regime, people could have been forgiven for thinking that any federal government talk about reducing climate change emissions was just that, talk, and that they were never serious about it.

Signing Kyoto was an important signal that the new government is fair dinkum.

Of course, they have to follow up with real action.


Anonymous said...

The long term nature of climate change requires long term solutions. The claim that commitments going out to 2050 are meaningless is just plain wrong on an issue such as this. What should they do - make a series of 3 year claims for every election cycle? I agree that a 2020 target would provide more certainty, but there are strong arguments for no interim targets.

As an economist working in environmental issues, you should be big enough to accept that Labor has done more in a few months than the Coalition achieved in 11 years. Denial is not an action.