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John Passant

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July 2013



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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)



Carbon pricing and the death of the Greens’ neoliberal dream

The Green’s carbon pricing dream lies shattered, shipwrecked on the shoals of neoliberalism. Seduced by the sirens of the market the Greens supported Labor’s price of $23 per tonne of CO2 emitted by the top polluters (those 250 to 500 or so who contribute half of the CO2 gases emitted in Australia) from 1 July 2012. The plan was to move to an internationally linked emissions trading scheme (ETS) on 1 July 2015. Now they have been spurned by their erstwhile lover at the altar of profit.

Kevin Rudd, the new pimp of reformism, has decided to bring forward the start-up date of the ETS to 1 July 2014. For those environmentalists who see the market as the solution to the existential climate change threat the market itself has created, this is a disaster. Not because of the loss of about $4 billion in revenue that this will entail and the consequent attacks by Labor on social spending (although they will mouth platitudes about that) but because the price will fall from its current $24.15 to between $6 and $10 per tonne of CO2 emitted.

Australia’s ETS will link to the European scheme and the market price there will determine Australia’s market price. That price is currently around $6 per tonne and most predictions are that it will stay there for some time.

Rudd’s move is a crude but very clever pitch for votes in the soon to be election. Liberal leader Tony Abbott has maliciously but successfully painted the carbon tax as being responsible for all sorts of price increases when in fact the tax itself has had little price impact (about 0.7%) and most Australians have been more than adequately compensated in the short term for it. On top of that those big polluters covered by the tax receive compensation of up to 94.5% of the cost of their pollution permits.

Estimates are that electricity bills could drop by up to $380 a year, (see update below), allowing Rudd to claim he is the friend of ordinary working people.

The big increase in electricity prices has almost nothing to do with the carbon tax but everything to do with privatising the electricity sector and the need to replenish infrastructure after years of running it down in the name of short term profits.

Why have the Greens condemned the move to an ETS a year earlier than they agreed to? After all they voted for the shift from a carbon pricing scheme to an ETS. Why is moving to an ETS a year earlier such a betrayal? To give the Greens the benefit of the doubt, they perhaps thought, naively, that this was the first step to a pricing regime that would actually address climate change. They let hope triumph over reality.

I am more cycnical. They knew the scheme was a crock but had to agree to something to give the impression their retreat into do nothing parliamentarianism was working. Rudd’s proposal to move a year early to an ETS has hoist the Greens on their parliamentary petard.

Partly their current bleating has to do with the forthcoming elections. The Greens jumping up and down about the shift to an ETS when the price is so low will enable the party to distinguish itself from Labor, after 3 years of the Greens being Labor’s loyal lapdogs.

More importantly the neoliberal Greens know $6 a tonne will do nothing to address climate change. But in their more truthful moments they knew that too about the carbon price under the current scheme. The Gillard government set the price at $23 a tonne of CO2 emitted when they introduced it, with increases each 1 July of 2.5% above inflation. The current price is $24.15. It seems a lot but such are the disparities between the real cost of solar and wind compared to fossil fuel energy that in 2011 Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson Young told ABC radio ‘If we want to transition right through to renewables it’s going to have to be in the vicinity of you know $100 a tonne but that’s of course not on the table.’

Christine Milne knew this too when she told ABC’s AM Program :

‘Because, actually, what will bring on the renewables, which we need to replace fossil fuels, is the complementary measures to make sure there’s an adequate price. Because even at $40 it is not a high enough price to bring on renewable energy at large scale, like solar thermal for example.’

If $40 a tonne is too low, then $23 or $24 is inadequate (other than to begin the shift of production to gas rather than coal) and $6 does absolutely nothing.

What the Greens are really complaining about, without actually saying so, is that the price on carbon is too low until it makes solar and wind power generation competitive. But that price, be it $70 to make wind power compettive, according to Beyond Zero Emissions and $100 for solar according to Sarah Hanson-Young above would be political suicide.

According to the Treasury the price would need to be $131 a tonne to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

There’s the neoliberal rub. What the Greens want is a big increase in the price on CO2 emissions. Workers would bear that. The polluters would pass it on to workers in the form of higher prices or job losses or cuts to wages and conditions or a combination of all 3. The Greens want to make us for the sins of capitalism.

Climate change is real, and it poses a serious threat to our survival. Capitalism may not be able to address the challenge, or if it does it can do so only by imposing the massive cost of addressing climate change on to workers. It may be that the fact that capitalism is synonymous with fossil fuels means that the system is doomed. It was Australian National University earth and paleo-scientist Andrew Glikson who wrote in The Conversation that the consequence of the dumbing down of the debate was that ‘an irrelevant discourse ensues between those willing to undertake symbolic action and those who deny the science altogether.’

Symbolic action. That’s the carbon tax. It is time to end the fantasy of finding the ‘right’ price on carbon. As Simon Butler has said:

‘At the launch of last year’s Climate Summit, I argued that carbon pricing – the notion that we can best reduce pollution by extending private property rights to pollution – had a fatal flaw at its core. Prices can never reflect true ecological values because those values simply cannot be expressed in dollar terms.’

There may be alternatives within capitalism to the failed schema of pricing carbon to address climate change but they would need massive pressure from below to challenge the power of capital to implement. That would necessitate the Greens abandon an electoral strategy for an activist one of demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience. Such radicalism appears beyond them.

A few years ago at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival I went to a talk by Matthew Wright, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions. Matthew made the point that what he called a ‘twilight zone’ carbon price of between $30 and $70 a tonne would entrench gas fired power stations as the main source of our electricity for the next 40 to 60 years.

Why? Because business will only invest in gas if there is certainty of long term returns. The life of the plant is estimated to be at least 40 years. They are not going to invest in gas fired power stations if the return disappears after ten years because of a move to renewables. In that short period the investment may not have even paid for itself.

Is there that certainty? According to Matthew gas exploration companies have earmarked 30 percent of Australia for gas and coal seam gas exploration. The carbon pricing mechanism gives the exploration companies and the electricity generator companies that 40 year certainty.

According to Matthew, and viewed over the life cycle of natural gas (including coal seam gas) it releases fifty percent less CO2 than the next least polluting coal.

But to reverse the current headlong gallop to an environmental tipping point we need not just to reduce CO2 emissions but to stop them.
Instead the current carbon tax locks in CO2 emissions.

Is a renewable energy economy by 2020 feasible? According to Beyond Zero Emissions it is. They estimate that it would cost $370 billion over the next ten years to make Australia a completely renewable economy. That is on average $37 billion a year. That is a lot of money – about the same as a one percent tax on the wealth of the top 20% would bring in. A fully fledged resource rent tax would have bought in $12 billion a year on very very conservative estimates. Other estimates put it over $20 billion.

Solar thermal and wind power would create 150,000 jobs, according to Beyond Zero Emissions.

Instead of locking in gas fired power stations, let’s move to a totally renewable energy Australia by 2025. Despite BZE’s faith in the market, subsidies and government spending, that won’t happen without a social revolution, a mass upsurge of working people to move away from concepts of profitability to satisfying human need democratically. As a slogan of the left says ‘System change, not climate change.’

We need a democratic revolution and workers’ state based on production to satisfy human need, not to make a profit, to move as soon as possible to a renewable energy economy.

Clearly that is not on the agenda in Australia at the moment. But with the failure of the Greens’ nicely nicely let’s not upset the parliamentary applecart, maybe the time has come for the Greens to abandon respectability and lead a campaign of demonstrations and civil disobedience to force governments to address climate change.

Update: On Tuesday morning the Prime Minister and the Treasurer announced the fixed carbon price (aka the carbon tax) would be replaced with effect from 1 July 2014 by a floating price (ETS) for carbon. They estimate this will save an average family $380 a year through falling electricity and gas prices. The changes will see revenue drop by an estimated $3.8 billion.

According to Michael Roddan at Business Review Weekly the shortfall will be more than made up by:

  • changing car fringe benefits tax with an impact of $1.8 billion over the forward estimates;
  • ending the Energy Security Fund two years early, in light of the changes to the scheme since it was first legislated, with saving of $770 million over the forward estimates;
  • adjustment to the coal sector jobs package allocation in 2014-15 consistent with the lower carbon prices, saving $186 million;
  • a deferral of $200 million funding from the carbon capture and storage program and the return of $24 million to budget consistent with the profile of potential projects;
  • the return of unallocated funding from the biodiversity fund with a saving of $213 million over forward estimates;
  • the return of $143 million unallocated funding from the carbon farming futures program to the budget;
  • rephasing $200 million funding from the clean technology program and return of $162 million of unallocated funding to the budget; and
  • reforms to APS management structure and more efficient procurement of agency software, saving $248 million.



Comment from John Robertson
Time July 15, 2013 at 10:43 am

We should do something about extra CO2; namely to seize the magnificent opportunity that it offers. Spending one cent on trying to reduce it is folly of the first order and is based on lies.

The rise in CO2 since the year 1900 has brought us huge benefits in additional plant growth and thus food production. We have gone from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7 billion people now and from an average life expectancy at birth from 31 years in 1900 to 67 years now. This has run in parallel with an increase in CO2 from .029% to 0.40%. These changes are intimately linked at every level.

Holding more of Earth’s carbon inventory in the atmosphere is entirely appropriate and will bring us the same benefits of an abundant Nature that it did in geological times long ago.

Let us embrace it and its benefits enthusiastically and stop this fatuous drivel about ‘big polluters’ and other falsehoods.

Comment from Chris Warren
Time July 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm

“Flat-earthery” will get you nowhere.

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