Australian environment minister is totally, shamefully negligent with “direct action” policy

The Australian government’s “direct action” policy is like giving money to an illegal drug dealer to stop dealing drugs, then having no penalty if he keeps selling them.

Moderate conservative that he is, Australian environment minister Greg Hunt ran on a platform of “lean” government, where private businesses “are the true creators of wealth”, individuals need to take personal responsibility for their actions, and the former Labor government’s carbon price was a “non-delivery of an invisible substance”.

It was a surprise then, to learn last week, that Greg Hunt wants to give $3 billion to big polluting companies to reduce their emissions, but have no sanctions for those businesses if they fail to meet the reduction targets.

This is like giving money to an illegal drug dealer to develop innovative ways for him to stop dealing drugs, then having no penalty if he keeps selling them. Worse, the drug dealer could claim government funding for drugs that he supposedly didn’t sell over his “baseline” of sales, but carry on pushing drugs regardless.

You’d expect that a believer in lean government wouldn’t use billions in tax-payer’s money to create an expensive, totally ineffectual regulatory bureaucracy to auction permits to not emit carbon pollution.

The Australian government’s “direct action” policy will allow companies to bid for grants to implement the most efficient carbon reduction programs. Companies will have a “business as usual” baseline from which they agree to reduce their pollution. Several options are canvassed by Greg Hunt, including having multi-year compliance periods, or the ability for companies to “make good” by buying reduction credits from elsewhere.

In reality, the Emissions Reduction Fund is little more than a slush-fund for the big polluters.

What is surprising is that Greg Hunt seems unaffected by the cognitive dissonance of paying someone to not do something, to not emit a tonne of carbon dioxide, when his principle criticism of the carbon price was that it was a “non-delivery of an invisible substance”.

This policy is shamefully negligent.

Not just because it won’t actually reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and will fall vastly short of the inadequate 5% reduction target.

But because you can’t measure what you don’t emit. Instead, you just assume how much you would have emitted and compare it to what you did emit. This is, needless to say, utterly subjective, and open to manipulation. Private companies will be given public funds to magically reduce their carbon pollution emissions, with no consequences if they fail to deliver.

As is so often the case with this government, Greg Hunt and prime minister Tony Abbott have a very flimsy moral case to implement their direct action policy, and the federal election does not qualify as a mandate to abolish the carbon price. Abbott may claim that the 2013 election was a “referendum” on the carbon price, but if so, only around 45.5% of voters supported the abolition by voting for the LNP. This falls to a miserable 37.7% in the Senate.

Implicit in their “direct action” policy is that it is a more effective way to reduce carbon emissions than the carbon price. This is a view that could only be held by someone if they didn’t accept the scientific basis for climate change.

Considering Tony Abbott’s past statements that climate change is “crap” and that the carbon price was “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”, a common sense reading of the policy is that exists solely because of the climate change denialists in the ranks of the Liberal-National party.

In fact, according to an August 2013 report by Reputex, the cost per tonne of emissions reduced under Hunt and Abbott’s “direct action” policy, if it were to achieve the 5% reduction, would be $58 per tonne. Labor’s carbon price by contrast was just $23 per tonne (and would have gone to a floating market-set price next year).

Simply put, the “direct action” policy of Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott betrays either a shameful ignorance of the national perils inherent in climate change, or malicious intent to line the pockets of big polluters at the expense of everyone else.

What’s more, the “direct action” policy is utterly at odds with the pro-market, “lean” government, responsibility ideology of the Liberal-National party.

It abolishes the carbon permit market in favour of a heavily regulated grants/auction system. It creates more bureaucracy to replace the public servants who were administering the carbon price. It creates a consequence-free money tree for big polluters who won’t need to take responsibility for their pollution.

This Liberal-National government is shamefully attempting to fleece everyday Australians out of $3 billion, handed out in grants to big polluters for magical, unmeasurable carbon emission reductions.

Alexander White

Originally Published at

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