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John Passant

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February 2011



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



A carbon tax – the end of the Greens’ electoral growth?

The Government and the Greens have announced there will be a price on carbon – a carbon tax – with effect from 1 July 2012.

The details, such as the price itself and the compensation package, have yet to be determined.

The virulent anti-working class joy that some Greens and other environmentalists have shown, inspired by the carbon tax, has shocked me.

First it is dumb politics to argue, even if you believe it, that cutting workers’ living standards is a good thing. Consume less is a message that most workers don’t and won’t like.

They want more spending on health, education, child care, aged care and public transport.

Second the carbon tax is a neoliberal solution to a problem that arises from capitalism itself.

It imagines a world of consumers only and ignores capitalist production and the accumulation of profits for reinvestment. As Liz Ross says in her review of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, Richard York: 

Gillard, amongst many others, is tapping into the new economic consensus that “green” capitalism’s new ecological markets hold the key to survival. But even managing the problems we face is beyond the current social institutions, argue The Ecological Rift authors John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York:

“The structural significance and scale of the ecological crisis is not reflected in solutions of a corresponding significance and scale. This failure of both imagination and social practices is in many ways a product of a double alienation: from nature and within human society itself. Not only has this [alienation] generated inertia with respect to social change – indeed a tendency to fiddle while Rome burns – but it has also led to the belief that the crisis can be managed by essentially the same social institutions that brought it into being in the first place.”

They then hammer home this point that not only is capitalism the cause of current ecological crisis, but it cannot provide the solution.

“It is an inner characteristic of the capitalist economy that it is essentially limitless in its expansion. It is a grow-or-die system. The “drive to amass capital” recognises no physical boundaries. All obstacles are treated as mere barriers to be surmounted in an infinite sequence. Capital is thus, from a wider social and ecological standpoint, a juggernaut, an unstoppable, crushing force.”

A price on carbon won’t stop the juggernaut.

The neoliberal position of the Greens – the market can solve all the problems of capitalism – and its view that workers consume too much is Malthusian in the breadth of its contempt for workers.

Malthus was wrong 200 years ago and is wrong now. But his theories and later recyclings provide ‘intellectual’ backing for the paid puppeteers of profit like the Greens and Labor.

What could the price be? Well, last year in the run up to the election, Greens leader Bob Brown said:

“We take the Garnaut prescription for a carbon tax upon the polluters – not on the people – of $23 per tonne, indexed at the CPI, plus 4 per cent per annum,” he said.

A report in this weekend’s Australian Financial Review by Jackie Range called ‘Devil in detail as business juggles the pros and cons’ estimated, based on Treasury estimates, that a carbon price of $25 per tonne would cost average families almost $1000 a year.

As both Labor and the Greens have made clear, that is the whole point of a carbon tax. 

The Agreement talks about compensation for those most in need but gives no details. The words themselves are ambiguous. The Agreement says ‘that assistance should be provided to those households and communities most needing help to adjust to a carbon price.’

However the other principles – including efficiency, budget neutrality, competitiveness, energy security, investment certainty – are neoliberal in the extreme and will, coupled with the surplus fetishism of the Labor Government,  limit any compensation paid to workers and possibly the poor.  

This logic won’t necessarily limit the compensation for business, since profit is paramount to all politicians. Workers will bear the cost of such compensation through cuts to public and social services.

The polluters will try to raise their prices. There is no hint in the agreement of price controls, of compensatory wage increases. That is no accident because its whole purpose is to make workers pay for the costs of addressing the bosses’ climate change. 

That same AFR report argues that petrol prices will increase by 6 cents a litre. The Greens support this, although Prime Minister Gillard has said that is something to be worked out and is not a done deal.

The reactionaries have jumped on the carbon tax and their message about the adverse impact of the tax – Paul Keating and the GST in reverse – might possibly lead to a shift of some workers politically from Labor to the Opposition.

Certainly the underlying neoliberalism of the Greens and their enthusiastic support for cutting workers’ living standards through a carbon tax may well mean they have little appeal to many workers.

This may halt the Greens’ political momentum. That may already be occurring. The 1.5 percent swing against the Greens in the Broadmeadows’ by-election in Victoria and the abysmal result of 6 percent in this working class electorate indicate that the appeal of the Greens might be more to well educated workers and middle class professionals than to less well paid workers.

If so the Greens electorally are likely to remain trapped in inner city voting ghettos and the Senate.

In Ireland the Greens joined the Government and supported the International Monetary Fund bailout and the consequent government attacks on workers’ living standards. In the election on Friday they won 2 percent of the vote and lost every one of their seats.

The neoliberalism of the carbon tax is different in a practical sense from that of the IMF and the Irish Government. It is saleable to sections of society on the basis that saving society transcends class divisions and we all should do our bit.

Yet it’s underlying logic is the same. The market is the only way to organise society. Profit must come before all else.

“There is no alternative’ will appeal to some.

Yet there is an alternative. Saving the environment and increasing working standards are not mutually exclusive.

A society based on democracy and cooperation to satisfy human need rather than competition and profit offers the real chance to save our environment from the ravages of capitalism and provide for the well-being of workers, the people who produce the wealth.

The environmental crisis facing capitalism poses our choices starkly – socialism or barbarism.



Comment from Ben Courtice
Time February 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm

You raise useful points about the carbon tax. But there will also be critiques from within the environmental movement (such as Friends of the Earth, who have already put out a press release on this). The really damaging thing about this, though, is it is not likely to have any significant result on its own terms, in reducing carbon pollution. People worried about climate change would probably wear some extra costs, but if the measure isn’t even seen to be serious, it is all the more onerous.

However, for all that, it will be interesting to see how this does play out electorally, since the mad Abbott is also basing his opposition to the tax on these same general points.

Comment from Tony
Time February 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm

“The virulent anti-working class joy that some Greens and other environmentalists have shown, inspired by the carbon tax, has shocked me.”

This is not a new phenomenon. The attitude has been around for years amongst Greens supporters. Most major cities have an electoral boundary where the Green vote collapses.

The willingness to drop so many of the Greens earlier views on economic issues is to work on the brown-Green vote (inner urban soft-environmentalist Greens base), as I described in an earlier post.

Note: Green advertising records were broken at the last Federal election and I saw a story today indicating the NSW Greens will be spending up at record levels this time around.

The disconnect between the contemporary Greens and segments who previously voted Lib/Lab (usually on family traditional lines and now disaffected), and some Greens supporters from pre brown-Greens days who are disengaging, seek a “fourth element” that successfully blends workers rights, environment and improved standards of living, rather than its charlatan alternate, lifestyle consumption. As you’ve stated many times, that mass movement is yet to organise.

This looks to a repeat of the farcical feed in tariffs, originally an industry policy measure in major PV panel manufacturing countries to become top tier manufacturers and dominate the industry, ie. not >2000 Australia. They missed that point in the analysis for Australia. In many jurisdictions this became a farce of welfare for the rich, and price gouging by entrepreneurs. This was principally caused by “gross” feed in tariffs, which in a market sense didn’t even encourage the rich to reduce consumption to “turn a dividend”.

Perversely, as I understand the situation, it encouraged the exact opposite! Redistributing from the less well off (those at the lower end who did not find themselves not adequately covered by a full rebate) to the rich through the use of gross tariffs. We see the perverse situation of those struggling to met the bills paying for the rich to use their air conditioners, who had already received massive government subsidies for the systems.

Comment from John
Time February 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

Thanks Tony. We seem to agree on quite a lot. Did you read my solar panel scam articles on this site? Just writing an article for a tax journal on the taxation of the payments and I include a bit of a tuttle about how they are a wealth transfer from the poor and average workers to the rich and well off. And completely inefficient. We’d actually be better off just buying green energy (70 per tonne) than the level of cost per tonne the solar panel subsidy costs – $150 to 390 from memory).

Comment from John
Time February 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm

It won’t make much difference Ben in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As that ebcoems clearer the calls to screw workers more will proliferate. Abbott’s position is very different to mine. He wants no action; just to allow the profit polluters and their mates to contnue what they are doing. A green cheque, billions and billions on renewable enrgy, a commitment to retrain and guaranteed jobs in solar, wind and other renewables; a tax on the polluters’ profits; all of these could have been offered.

Comment from Walter
Time February 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm

You say there is an alternative but then you don’t spell it out. I believe in climate change and am dismayed at the weak actions taken by government, but let’s be ration for a moment. If we close down coal exports tomorrow, our economy collapses. Thousands on unionised workers – working proletariat people – lose their incomes.

While they look for alternative work, they may lose their homes, be indebted to the capitalists even more.

How does this help working people? It doesn’t. What may help is a transition from emitting industries to clean energy. As industry moves from one to the other, workers will re-skill and re-train and there will be economic and social continuity.
The critical issue here which you don’t address is China (and maybe India, not sure). China is already signalling its shift to renewable energy. It cannot afford to maintain its growth and import its energy (coal and gas). So we may end up with an economy based on exporting a shit product that other countries are withdrawing from.
Once renewables are viable –and the US Congress has before it a report which shows American can be efficient on renewables if the investment is right – then Australia is up shit creek unless we act now.

I realise you oppose the ALP and Greens, but the world’s economy and lifestyle doesn’t just change overnight. This proposal signals a transition which ensures working people a) don’t lose their jobs and b) are compensated for the increases. And regardless, we should force people to consume less electricity and petrol anyway, so I would have thought you would support a proposal that attempts to reduce excess consumption and penalise corporate polluters?!

Comment from Tony
Time February 28, 2011 at 10:34 pm

John: I read at least one of your pieces.

Walter: You raise some interesting points. I would add, for over 20 years political leaders have framed everything in terms of rational individualism usually resulting in an irrational aggregate result. So I’m starting to think more rationality is not necessarily the answer we need right now.

Even without a carbon tax, we could cease corporate welfare and welfare for the wealthy, concurrently channeling those billions in resources toward solving these apparently intractable problems. In my view, this is largely caused by sectional interests undermining broad interests. I see this action as the first pillar of an alternative, but this government is far too weak to pursue such a direction. It is clear the government would first have to establish a compact with workers to sideline the bosses and pull it off. We all remember the resources tax fiasco. These measures can be done now, are unlikely to result in job loses that will not be offset with new activity and likely to deliver results in a timely way.

However, they must be implemented by competent people, and not fly-by-nighters who have seemingly undermined and profiteered all recent public programme deployments. It should be noted successful implementation has been made harder by governments at all levels deskilling its workforce back in the 80’s and 90’s of most technical managers. This created a situation where it is almost impossible for it to adequately oversee complex infrastructure projects.

Comment from mhab
Time February 28, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Of course you’re right that the Greens are “going to be trapped in inner-city voting ghettos and the Senate”. Research has shown that they are the party which attracts by far the most educated members and voters of all the political parties. This is not likely to change. They have already succeeded by getting balance of power in the Senate, which looks unlikely to change for several terms at least. And they will probably build a bridge-head in a few middle class inner urban seats. This would be an amazing achievement in a context like Australia. They are already significantly affecting public debate and public policy. But if anyone is going to woo the general vote in Broadmeadows away from the ALP, it is more likely to be the Liberals or One Nation than the Greens. And I think that the Greens should not try to be all things to all people: they are middle class do-gooders, in the best possible sense. Doing good to the planet, and to the most vulnerable members of the community – standing up for kindness and clear thinking, rather than talking about the class system.

Comment from Ben Courtice
Time March 1, 2011 at 7:37 am

Just a note on feed-in tarriffs: they have indeed spurred the solar panel (PV) industry. Which remains the most expensive renewable energy. But in Spain they are spurring the construction of concentrated solar-thermal power plants on a much larger scale.

A FiT can certainly be regressive, although the article John posted on it some time ago accidentally inflated the figure by a factor of ten or so. But as in effect a subsidy to renewable energy it may work quite effectively if allowed to include large-scale renewables like solar and wind.

The real key to driving renewables at a scale that might actually turn around carbon emissions in time to save us from a very unpleasant future is government picking up the tab and building renewables. Carbon taxes and more so emissions trading are simply more neoliberal price mechanisms. As a measure to achieve any rational outcome, they are like shooting in the dark.

The main impact of any likely carbon price, as indicated by Beyond Zero Emissions’ research into carbon pricing, is a massive growth in the gas industry (including destructive coal-seam gas mining in QLD) and only a slow decline in coal, while renewables will remain in third place.

Comment from Tony
Time March 1, 2011 at 9:54 am

True Ben

“Just a note on feed-in tarriffs: they have indeed spurred the solar panel (PV) industry.”

Although, it has only benefited the installers industry. Like “pink batts”, it has resulted in a huge activity impulse. As the FiTs are curtailed due to too much impact on state budgets, these operators will similarly collapse. Some of the regulations regarding PV installation and RECs incentive schemes introduced after Labor won office also appear to have caused price gouging. This happened with Howard’s LPG systems for cars programme too. My interpretation of the intent of FiTs in Europe was as you later point out: to provide the manufacturers with a supporting mechanism to increase their production line and gain scale to be globally competitive. In that sense it worked. Australian policy makers failed to distinguish between the objectives and those in the Australian PV R&D sector mistakenly hoped the intent was as an manufacturing industry policy. We had too smaller production base for it to be effective. BP Solar closed their Sydney factory in late 2008, after Rudd took office, which was later acquired by Silex Systems with unknown future prospects, it’s still making losses. As far as I can tell, Origin Energy as sitting on Australian’s own Sliver cell technology licence hoping to flog it off to an overseas manufacturer rather than expanding production.

“The real key to driving renewables at a scale that might actually turn around carbon emissions in time to save us from a very unpleasant future is government picking up the tab and building renewables.”

Agreed. Simply through ending corporate/wealthy welfare, government could be activist by buying the entire output of these PV and solar concentrator factories for 10 years, allowing them to modernise/expand capacity, create jobs and act on the issue.

I agree with your comments on CSG and gas.

Comment from Tony
Time March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm

If the charts in the article below regarding tax benefits to the fossil fuel industries are anything like accurate, it’s quite clear that eliminating tax concessions should be the first line of action. The Carbon Tax and ETS are a smoke screen to make people feel like things are being done.

Comment from CitizenPlusPlus
Time March 4, 2011 at 7:48 am

A carbon tax is great if it is directed to local, municipal renewable energy projects: wind, heat pumps, solar.

A carbon tax sucks if it is dumped into the general fund and spent on war and corporate tax cuts.

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