Sunday, September 8, 2013

Will Australia do an about face on carbon pricing?

Sou | 2:38 AM Go to the first of 27 comments. Add a comment

UPDATE: (Tues 10 Sept 6:14 pm AEST) Not looking so good for Cathy McGowan now.  She is less than 300 votes ahead Correction - the website is changed again.  Now Cathy McGowan seems to be 700 or so ahead of Sophie Mirabella and there are still around 7,000 postal votes to count.  Antony Green has called it for Sophie and he's rarely wrong - but fingers crossed for Cathy.

UPDATE: (Mon 9 Sept 13 5:10 pm AEST) Cathy McGowan is now ahead of Sophie Mirabella by nearly 1800 votes.  This will go down to the wire but IMO most preferences and much pre-polling will favour Cathy.

The Australian federal elections were well and truly won by the Liberal National coalition today.  The coalition is between the Liberal Party, a generally moderate conservative party and the National Party - another conservative party, which is associated with rural Australians.  The National Party operates more as a grassroots democracy than the Liberal Party, which means that on some issues it is more conservative but on other issues it is less conservative than the Liberal Party.  (Neither are as right wing as the current Republican Party in the USA although the coalition has arguably shifted more to the right under the Abbott leadership.)  The Liberal National coalition has been operating for a long time at the federal level, but it can't be taken for granted.  In some states the parties are separate and have not formed a coalition.  Neither party could ever hope to win a federal election in their own right in Australia today.

Anthony Watts is crowing as if he had anything to do with Australia or its elections (archived here).  Why he would care is anyone's guess.  (I notice that I'm moving up in the denier world, rating a mention in Anthony's article - and in the same sentence as John Cook and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg no less.  I'm humbled to be in such company but recognise that it's just another example of Anthony Watts' dumb ignorance.)

For the benefit of HotWhopper readers from elsewhere, the election results are not a surprise and could have been a lot worse for climate politics.  Our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is a lowest common denominator style of politician, taking his lead from the tea party in the USA, with three word slogans being the extent of his policies for the past three years or so.  ("Stop the Boats"; "Great Big Tax"; "No Carbon Tax")

Once the election campaign got underway in earnest he shifted to a slightly more sophisticated approach.  He has sworn to get rid of the carbon "tax" (which isn't really a tax - it's a price on carbon).  To do that he will either have to wait till after the Senate elections appointments commence in July next year or call a double dissolution of Parliament.  That would mean he would have to call another election. (It's been pointed out in the comments that the LNP will probably have the numbers after July next year to remove the carbon tax.  So it may happen.  However nine months is a long time in politics.)

To explain - the Senate is the upper house of Parliament.  Half the Senate is elected every three years and senators have a six year term.  Today we voted for half the Senate and all of the lower house - the House of Representatives.

After today's election, the Liberal National coalition has the majority in the House of Representatives but it does not have a majority in the Senate.  That means that it will not be able to undo the carbon pricing legislation for at least 12 months.  It is arguable that business will not look kindly on them if they mess about too much with it.  Business has accepted it and, as always, prefers certainty to uncertainty.

A couple of other points that will give some (small) consolation to climate hawks.  The first is that Adam Bandt, the Greens member for Melbourne retained his seat with an increase in his primary vote and with the help of preferences from the Liberals.

The second is that in my electorate, Indi, the positively dreadful Sophie Mirabella, who in opposition was ironically the Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science, is under threat from independent Cathy McGowan.  Sophie is the least innovative person one could imagine.  She is also the most anti-science person one could imagine.  She was in a very safe rural seat until people power got behind Cathy McGowan.  Sophie has lost 8.3% of her 9% margin so far and as each count comes in Cathy sneaks a bigger proportion of the vote.  At the moment Cathy McGowan is around 700  votes short of winning the seat.  It will be a close one.  Sophie Mirabella would be to the right of Genghis Kahn politically and is one of the uglies on our political landscape. If Cathy wins, she'll be the first independent woman in Federal Parliament.  Even if Sophie gets back, our conservative electorate has sent a very strong message to her and to Tony Abbott.

Update: The latest figures show Mirabella has picked up a lot and now looks likely to retain her seat, I'm sorry to say. She is ahead by about 2,600 votes on preferences.  Now Cathy McGowan is ahead.

All up the results are pretty much as expected and could have been worse.

I won't go into all the boring details of Australian political silliness but one thing stands out as being excruciatingly silly.  The new PM Tony Abbott has promised to buy boats from people smugglers.  There are a few million dodgy boats in the world that will be heading for Australia tomorrow!  And a few million more waiting to take their place.

The next few months will be a challenge for Tony Abbott.  He won leadership within his own party from the more moderate Malcolm Turnbull by only one vote.  If Turnbull were to regain leadership (and hence become Prime Minister) in this term of Parliament the carbon price would no longer be under threat.  Turnbull is very aware of the dangers of global warming, as are some others in the Liberal National Party.

I don't know where the balance of power will lie now that there are more Liberal National members elected to the House of Representatives.  It could have shifted to the more conservative but with luck it will have shifted to the more moderate.  Perhaps someone who keeps a closer watch on our political scene than I can comment.


  1. Congratulations to your promotion. :-)

    "If Turnbull were to regain leadership (and hence become Prime Minister)"

    Which has happened twice in the Labour party recently. Is this normal in Australian politics, that a party changes its PM while in office? I have never heard of such behaviour in other countries. Sounds weird to me. Doesn't that always lead to losing the next election, such as just happened to the Labour party?

    1. It does happen and is not considered unusual here, although the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd changes recently happened more often than most of us wanted or expected. The Prime Minister is not elected as such by Australians, but chosen by party parliamentarians themselves, much as many boards choose their chair.

      There have been 22 changes of Prime Minister outside of elections.


      It doesn't necessarily lead to a loss at the next election. Gillard replaced Rudd and although it could be argued she didn't win the election, she did well enough to be able to form a government after the election. Rudd wasn't so lucky this time around. Gillard might have done better had she been allowed to remain, but then again might not. The "boys" of the Labor Party would probably say she would have done worse but I don't agree.

    2. Malcolm Turnbull as a PM would be the get-out-of-jail card for Australia, although it doesn't remove the permanent stain that is that a majority of the country was swayed by Coalition and media lies and their own embedded ignorance of the price on carbon, and the necessity for having one.

      Still, if Turnbull was to somehow replace Abbott in the near term, the price on carbon would very likely remain and Malcolm would likely recant his last-century stance on corroding copper and progress with a fibre-to-the-house national broadband network. They would be two enormously impressive gifts to bequest to the future - it's such a shame that the self-indulgent Australian populace saw fit to ditch them for their own short-term interests.

      Bernard J.

    3. Bernard, don't be fooled by Turnbull. He is just like the rest of them. http://uknowispeaksense.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/a-vote-for-the-coalition-is-immoral/ Tony Abbott himself spruiked for a carbon tax in 2009 only to now describe the price on carbon as a "toxic tax". Turnbull too would have to do some monumental flip-flopping to do what you suggest. Do you really want someone who changes their position so readily to please their party running the show? He has been viscious at times in defence of his party's flawed NBN and "direct action" plans. He was also caught out on Thursday night lying about a policy on internet censorship. No, i think the best thing that can come out of this debacle we have voted in for ourselves will be the realisation that those who voted LNP have made a huge mistake. Everyone will see the real Tony giving breaks to billionaires, paying millionaires to have babies while increasing taxes on the poor and ruining the environment and they will kick him and his party of moronic greed driven idealogues to the kerb with such ferocity his party will be forced to undergo some serious bloodletting, particularly amongst the ranks of angry old white homophobic, science denying racist idealogues, that currently call the shots.

    4. "I have never heard of such behaviour in other countries."

      Margaret Thatcher springs to mind. Australia has a Westminster style democracy just like the UK.

    5. I'm not at all convinced Turnbull would keep the carbon price. He'd be pissing off a large irrational but vocal proportion of his party's support base, and many of them would use Abbott "logic" to brand him "a liar".

      The LNP has got itself into the kind of problematic situation the Republicans did in the US, although I'm not convinced they understand it yet. Once you stoke up irrational fears into conventional "wisdom" amongst your supporters via endless media-reinforced repetition, you can't use rational argument to convince them to change their minds.

      The Republicans in the US are stuck in an ongoing tilt to ever more radical departures from reality - those politicians that resist generally find themselves challenged by someone advocating even crazier positions. So the party as a whole keeps getting loonier and loonier...

  2. Here in the UK, Major (who?) replaced Thatcher and won the following election. Brown replaced Blair and let's never speak of it again. There are many examples in British history, with mixed results. Sometimes it's a passing-on of the torch (e.g. Balfour, with the eponymous uncle Bob) and other times it's a poisoned chalice (Brown/Blair). And sometimes it's jumping the shark (Rudd/Gillard).

    My condolences to righteous Aussies. The long slow trainwreck just started for you. We've had three years of it here, and the Scots are on the point of walking out already.

    1. Unfortunately we don't really have that remedy available here. It's almost unthinkable that a State would attempt to go it alone. I'm not sure if it's even theoretically possible , having not looked at it.

    2. Passing the torch is a different case. I was thinking of a PM being sacked by his/her own party. That it is the party and not the parliament makes it ever stranger. I think I even heard a German pundit wondering whether this could count as a Coup d'État.

    3. The only way Parliament as a whole could effectively "sack" the Prime Minister would be through a motion of no confidence. Generally if a leader isn't performing (in the eyes of the Party, usually only because public polling shows their lack of popularity, but not always) then the party itself appoints a new leader. Same happens when in opposition, except then they aren't Prime Minister of course. Remember - we don't vote in our Prime Minister so there's no reason for the Party not to change the leader if they see fit.

      Here is a rundown on no confidence motions in Australia:


  3. Many years a go I used to work in a building that we shared with one Christopher Pearson, who had recently acquired a community paper called the 'Adelaide Review'.

    Leaving aside the issue of every second page of said publication being, literally, sponsored by some Govt. Department or Arts funding body while the new proprietor went on to espouse the Freest™ of Free Market™ triumphalism, one of the notable things he did was to hand a comment page over to one Tony Abbott.

    And as a result of repeated exposure to said commentary I don't get the 'Tony isn't really a real Reactionary' thing, because, well, yes he is. He's a power-hungry and canny pragmatist sufficient to keep his gut on a leash, but there's a reason this guy is so loved by Cory Bernardi, and all his instincts are pure Sophie Mirabella. To what extent he will get the opportunity to act on them remains to be seen...

    Um, and to clarify, Tony can't get control of the Senate until the next Federal election (whenever it's called) and it's associated half-Senate election (or full if a double-dissolution)- next year is only when the Senate roster actually changes over to the new electees. I'd argue he really didn't do well enough in the Senate to risk a double-dissolution, and he must be very aware how fickle the electorate is.

    I was very pleased to see the Green's Sarah Hanson-Young apparently (all the following is provisional on final counts) re-elected fairly comfortably here in SA, given that this also sticks it to the Australian, which was pre-emptively gloating over her assumed downfall.

    It's notable that SA has 3 independents/minor party electees out of its allotted 6.

    Plus congratulations to Adam Bandt!

    (And much traumatised I am by the loss of Don Farrell. Not. Thank whatever God you do or don't fancy he wasn't able to keep himself number one on the ticket above Penny Wong.)

    1. Not to forget:



      The next few months will be interesting in terms of seeing exactly where he stands now on climate change.

      Bernard J.

  4. I am a lurker here, Sou, and appreciate your reporting on Anthony and Co so I don't have to go near denier sites.

    A description for your international audience of the irrationality of Australia's climate debate might be in order.

    I am constantly amazed that the media do not talk about the irony that the ostensible left (ALP and Greens) support a market based emissions reduction mechanism (ETS) while the ostensible right (the Coalition) support a big government (dare I say socialist) solution ("Direct Action").

    1. ...pure Trotskyite, in fact! But relax - they haven't bothered to fund it...

      What was the Garnaut quote when he was asked why he'd proposed such a clear market-based solution? 'I was unaware I was living in a Stalinist state'? Something to that effect, but I can't currently find it!...

    2. Aren't they talking of taking over millions of hectares of prime farmland and conscripting a "green army" to plant trees on it? All at taxpayers expense, not the polluters.

      Or something like that.

      It's as if they think Australia will never have another drought or any more bushfires and that their trees will offset all the coal we dig up to get burned.

  5. Pardon me if I don't find any comfort in "it could have been worse". Anthony Watts' crowing is enough to convince me that the human race is getting the fate that it has earned.

    1. The Libs only had a swing of 1.6% according to the latest on the ABC website. Hardly a resounding victory on their own merits. They must have got in on preferences and by gaining marginal seats.

      It was the independents and minor parties that got the biggest swing in their favour - nearly 6%. Labor had a swing against by 4.1% and greens a swing against of 3.3%.

      Despite the swing against them, the Greens didn't lose any seats and probably gained a Senate seat.

      It wouldn't take much to shake the Liberal National coalition. Tony won't be able to keep any of his big promises. He won't be able to axe the "tax"; he won't be able to lift China's economy to revitalise the mining industry; he won't be able to "stop the boats" no matter how many taxpayers dollars he hands over to people smugglers; and he won't be able to get rid of the deficit without sending our weakening economy into a dive.

      Most of all, he won't be able to stop global warming and will probably exacerbate it.

    2. Found more details. The Liberal Party only had a swing in its favour of 1.2% and the National Party only 0.8%. So it was all down to the seats that capitalised on the swing and on the preferences of minor parties. That meant the LNP won a lot of seats in the lower house. Fat lot of good it will do them when it comes to things like the carbon pricing scheme.

      The gloating from WUWT and climate deniers is misplaced if they think Australians like Tony Abbott. All the polls show that he's unpopular. It's that they didn't like the Labor Party - and I don't blame them.

    3. Unfortunately Sou, what you say is not correct. I think it is likely that the ETS is doomed.

      "From July 2014, Labor and the Greens will only have 35 seats to the Coalition’s 33, with most of the rest being small right-wing parties. The Coalition will need to win over six of the eight others to pass its legislation."

      The best of the 8 others is SA Senator Nick Xenophon who is an anti-wind farm campaigner. Xenophon has indicated that he will support "Direct Action" if it can be shown that it will achieve the 5% target. With the others likely to include 2 Palmer United, 1 Family First, 1 Australian Sports Party, 1 Australian Motoring Enthusiasts and 1 Liberal Democrat, I am afraid the die is cast.

      Turnbull is also unlikely to be a last minute saviour. He has shown with his opportunism around that the NBN that his personal ambition trumps the future of the planet.

      But I am not into hand wringing. In any event preserving the carbon price alone would not have been enough to prevent dangerous climate change. This election result along with the laws of physics will continue to polarise the community. I suspect that is what is necessary to get the sort of political action that is required.

    4. I think I had something about 2014 in the main article above. I was probably correct there and maybe made an error later on, thinking it would be too hard. We'll have to wait and see what happens.

      Incidentally Tony Abbott promised to "Stop the Boats". He's already broken that promise and it's only day one. How many more? :-o

    5. Thanks Mike - I've re-read and corrected the main article. That would be dreadful if he did. There's a way to go before next July comes around. I'll be watching.

  6. Sou can you recommend a good article(s) that summarize the Australian Carbon Tax from it's inception to enactment and further trials and tribulations - for those of us living on the other side of the world?

    1. CC I don't know of a single article that covers the lot, but here is an excellent collection that should give you an overview:


  7. 1000 misplaced votes just found put McGowan 1700 up; fingers crossed that this could be the end of at least on of Abbott's most egregious anti-science cadre...

  8. They just found 1003 votes for Cathy McGowan. I looked at her website and she approves of action on climate change.

    Hopefully we'll see the end of that other Mirabella thing. She reminds me of a female version of George Costanza.


  9. Thanks Bill and Cliff. That's fantastic news, isn't it.

    I was in the car when I heard it on the news. I believe even Antony Green has called it for Cathy McGowan having previously said he thought Sophie would win the seat. I expect it will still be a few days before we know for sure but it's looking very good and I reckon that will be enough to get her in.

    I wonder if Cathy wins the seat will Sophie Mirabella concede or will it be up to Cathy to declare victory? (Sophie isn't gracious at the best of times.)

    I don't imagine Abbott will give her a diplomatic post :D


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