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What’s the point of debating the carbon tax?

It all started in February when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her government would seek to introduce a carbon tax. This signalled the start of a policy debate marathon that still shows no sign…

Argument has raged outside parliament - is there anything left to say inside? AAP

It all started in February when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her government would seek to introduce a carbon tax.

This signalled the start of a policy debate marathon that still shows no sign of slowing down. Is it time the debate stopped?

It’s been a hard slog for the government. The strategy of initially releasing the carbon tax concept, without details, attracted much derision from some commentators early in the year. The claims of Gillard having “lied” to Australians became a major driver of the political debate.

Furthermore, opinion poll after opinion poll showed a fall in the government’s support. More concerning for the government has been the fact that, even after the release of the carbon tax details and accompanying advertisements, an increasing percentage of the public seems to be supporting the opposition.

While the government has tried to deal with these problems, Tony Abbott appears to have succeeded in a simple task: saying “no” to the carbon tax. If opinion polls are anything to go by, Mr Abbott’s argument has resonated with a significant number of voters who are concerned about the impact of a new tax.

There have been rallies, forums, speeches and publicity stunts from both sides of the carbon tax argument. In this sense, the public has been “treated” to a lengthy debate on the merits of the government’s carbon tax proposal.

This week the debate entered a new stage when the government finally introduced the package of 18 carbon tax bills to parliament.

But the question is “what’s the point with debating the issue now?” After all, the government appears to have the numbers to pass the bills and the opposition has been unsuccessful in swaying the independents in parliament to their cause.

In Australia’s system of Westminster governance, one of the opposition’s roles is to question the government’s legislation in parliament. It could be seen as a dereliction of duty if the Coalition was to simply pass the bills because the government has the numbers.

Indeed, a robust debate, regardless of the impending result, would serve the interests of advancing Australia’s democratic tradition.

Of course the carbon tax is not the first controversial bill that has been debated in parliament even when the final outcome has been apparent.

The Howard Government campaigned on its desire to introduce a GST at the 1998 election, leading to months of public debate.

While the Howard Government eventually lost the two-party-preferred vote to Labor, it was still able to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and argued it had a mandate to implement the new tax system.

Despite the lengthy and passionate debates outside parliament, the bills were still debated in parliament.

The Howard Government’s WorkChoices provides another example of parliament debating bills even when their passage was a fait accompli. In fact, when the Howard Government introduced the WorkChoices bills, parliamentary debate was almost superfluous as it held a majority in the Senate.

So while it may seem strange that the opposition still seeks to debate the carbon tax in parliament, it is important their concerns are aired in the appropriate institutions of governance.

Ultimately these debates will feature in the media and will continue to draw attention to a policy that does not appear to be popular with voters.

But while the politicians are the ones huffing and puffing to the finish line, voters may already feel exhausted by the debate.

Join the conversation

12 Comments sorted by

  1. thomas connelly


    I am reminded of the Monty Python Argument skit

    M: I came here for a good argument!
    O: AH, no you didn't, you came here for an argument!
    M: An argument isn't just contradiction.
    O: Well! it CAN be!
    M: No it can't!
    M: An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
    O: No it isn't!
    M: Yes it is! 'tisn't just contradiction.
    O: Look, if I *argue* with you, I must take up a contrary position!
    M: Yes but it isn't just saying 'no it isn't'.
    O: Yes it is!
    M: No it isn't!

    I think you get the point

  2. Paul Richards

    Well put Zareh - "Does not appear to be popular with voters."

    Using fear to drive belief in poor future scenarios, is simple. A no brainer.

    What will be difficult issue to swallow, is when history records an opportunity lost.
    Lost twice by both parties, ball fumblers the lot of them.

    The EST was the first, the publics short memory of 'who' was backing that concept has been lost in the spin about the carbon tax and the short political vision of replacing labour at the next election.

    Where is the real vision of Australia's future? We need to be led.

    AlI we have is a drought of leadership from politicians purporting represent us.

    [ Love the comment Thomas : ) .... ]

  3. Leon Smith

    logged in via email

    Zareh, thank you for reminding me that the Coalition lost the two-party preferred majority, but won the majority of lower house seats. As I recall the passage of the GST legislation relied on the support of Democrats Senator (and Leader at the time) Meg Lees, who won the exclusion of essential/basic groceries from the GST.
    Whilst it's not surprising they argue in 2011 that they had a mandate for the GST, it is very debatable. They did however hold the government benches.
    Much the same is true for the current Labor government. Kevin Rudd won a mandate for action on carbon pricing. He produced a dog of a policy. Carbon still needs pricing - Gillard's policy is slightly less of a dog. Let's get it done and the LibNats can go back on their current vows to rescind it and thank Labor and the Greens for doing this important but unpopular work for them.

  4. John Chapman

    At large

    So there's an article about part of the politics ... so what ?

    The bigger picture is that climate change is occurring and that emissions pricing is about the most effective broad way to go about addressing it.

    I think the following reference is far more useful for us all:

    "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems. Emissions continue to increase…

    Read more
  5. ClubRocket

    logged in via Twitter

    I don't know who these yahoos are at the US National Academies are, but that is the longest bunch of crap I have ever read. Hear is the REAL truth (not speculation/assumptions/fabrications) human beings can not control the weather or the climate. Carbon Dioxide makes up .04% of all gasses in our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is required for plants and trees to breathe.

    This statement alone "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human…

    Read more
    1. Leon Smith

      logged in via email

      In reply to ClubRocket

      Perhaps, Mr Rocket, your logical conculsion would be that we should "Stop the Volcanoes" - I can hear Mr Abbott warbling that one already - since the planting of more trees would be futile in the face of such facts of life.

      Why not tap into the deep ocean methane-hydrates instead of pissing around with these little toy coal seam gas sphincters? Then we can really burn up that 20.95% oxygen and drive those under-nourished plants to grow Grow GROW!

    2. ClubRocket

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Leon Smith

      Why are you guessing? The logical solution is to plant more vegetation, not tax you into your grave. I could give a rats ass what Mr Abbot warbles on about since he could put up any argument he wanted to and it wouldn't hold water as well as my solution does. Many office buildings and grocery stores in America are already planting their rooftops. Rooftops covered in green grass and potted plants and square meter after square meter of vegetation.

      This has many benefits, it offsets the fossil fuel burned to produce electricity for the structure, reduces the cost of air conditioning, retains water and moisture longer without need for drainage and water runoff, reduces the amount of radiative heat back into the atmosphere, produces oxygen, and thrives on CO2 just to name a few.

      Your analogy that oxygen must be burned to produce plant and algae saving CO2 is incredibly absurd, and on the same level as a politician trying to pass off a carbon tax law as a solution to all our problems.

    3. Leon Smith

      logged in via email

      In reply to ClubRocket

      In several aspects I don't disagree with you Mr Rocket. Planting more vegetation is desirable. Not destroying species-rich native ecosystems in the first place is even more important. Reducing albedo from urban rooftops is great too - though whether solar energy generation might be a better use compared to green roofs is up for debate, and depends on what our other power sources are.

      I think you're missing the point though, that this carbon tax is actually just a brief prelude to a cap-and-trade…

      Read more
    4. ClubRocket

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Leon Smith

      Wow, you call yourself a biologist? Sorry Leon, I am done arguing with you on pettiness and a diatribe of chemical solutions that masquerade as a political solution. You have quoted non-facts, assumptions and even accused me of mentioning urban roof tops which never happened. As is the main goal of the Labor party in Australia and England, and the Democrats of America your one and only solution is to charge a fee, tax, license, or otherwise make money or profit from the plight of others.

      Your rhetoric…

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    5. Leon Smith

      logged in via email

      In reply to ClubRocket

      How courageous of you to reduce argument to abuse whilst failing to identify yourself.
      I wish you well planting sufficient trees to compensate for the amount of geosequestered carbon currently being extracted and burnt by humans.

    6. Shirley Birney


      In reply to ClubRocket

      @ ClubRocket: “Volcanic eruptions both above ground and below sea level produce billions of tons of CO2 every year. One volcanic eruption produces the same amount of CO2 as all transportation vehicles (cars, planes, trains, boats, etc) COMBINED since their existence.”

      USGS: Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Research findings indicate that the answer to this frequently asked question is a clear and unequivocal, “No.” Human activities, responsible for a projected 35…

      Read more