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Issue #1639      May 21, 2014

Abbott govt promotes climate change, rewards polluters

The Abbott government’s first budget imposes many penalties on Australian workers and their families. However, the industries with the biggest carbon emissions not only emerge unscathed, but actually benefit because of the removal of the carbon tax.

Sydney March in May. (Photo: Jill)

The budget speech failed to mention climate change, but the budget itself reveals that the government wants to cut funding to renewable energy agencies or abolish them altogether. If the government gets its way, funding for programs intended to track or mitigate climate change will be cut from $5.75 billion to $500 million in 2017-18, with specific impacts as follows:

  • The Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which had $2.5 billion in funding and was responsible for promoting innovations in renewable energy, has been dumped in the budget.
  • The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which provided funding for the development of new renewable energy systems, is also likely to be dumped when and if the government gains control of the Senate.
  • The CSIRO, the nation’s primary scientific institution, which has tracked climate change and issued many warnings about its menacing impact, will lose $111 million per annum.
  • The Bureau of Meteorology, the national weather forecaster, is due to lose $10 million in funding.
  • The Australian Climate Change Science Program is to be swallowed up into another agency.
  • The “million solar roofs” program has been dumped.
  • The ABC, the nation’s broadcaster, has been the primary source of information on climate change in the mass media, now faces major funding cuts.

An ineffective plan cut in half

Even the government’s own climate change strategy, the pathetically weak and grossly misnamed “direct action” scheme, has been cut. Four weeks ago the Environment Minister pledged $2.55 billion for the scheme, but in the budget this had been more than cut to only $1.14 billion.

Other nations are aiming for emission cuts of 19 percent by 2020 and 40-60 percent by 2030, but “direct action” only aims to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by five percent by 2020, and even that figure is now in question.

Under the “direct action” scheme industries would be paid by the taxpayer to reduce their rates of pollution. The biggest-emitting 130 companies would be invited to submit “reverse auction” bids, and those who offered the “smallest bids” (the greatest reductions in emissions) would win the rewards.

The scheme would be funded over the next four years, but there has been no commitment to funding it beyond that period.

The 130 companies would only be subject to penalties if they increased their level of emissions beyond the maximum level emitted by any company over the last five years.

The government has no intention of actually lowering the permissible level of emissions below that point over time, and in any case there is no guarantee that any action would be taken against companies that exceed it. In an unbelievably feeble statement the Environment Minister Greg Hunt said: “If they breach that, then that may be the cause for discussion or activity”.

The penalties for exceeding the specified level have not been defined, nor have the rewards for reducing emissions. Moreover, no penalties would be imposed before 2015. The government has given a vague undertaking that a committee will overview the scheme’s operations, but otherwise there appear to be no compliance mechanisms to ensure that companies cooperate.

Companies not included in the nominated 130 worst polluters would not be obliged to improve their act, even though they produce about half of Australia’s emissions. Climate change expert Frank Jotzo has said the scheme would not lead to any significant cuts in emissions.

Coal and gas rule the day

The government’s complete subservience to the coal and gas industries is shockingly evident in its concurrence with proposals to dump three million tons of sludge into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, to facilitate the movement of vessels carrying coal. The UN has voiced deep concern and may officially declare the Reef in danger next year.

The main beneficiaries of the budget will include the coal and gas industries, the petroleum industry and those involved in road construction. The fuel tax will not seriously affect petrol sales, because many Australians have little choice but to travel by road because of the lack of adequate public transport.

Farmers will lose the diesel fuel rebate, but the mining industry will still get it, on the government’s ridiculous excuse that mining vehicles don’t use public roads.

The government has attempted to justify the budget cuts by pointing to Australia’s national debt. It’s certainly true that debts are unwelcome because they incur interest. However, the nation’s per capita debt level and ratio of debt to national income are extremely low compared to most other developed nations.

There is absolutely no excuse for the ruthless cuts proposed for climate change authorities or related institutions – nor, for that matter the cuts to welfare, pension entitlements, education, health and other crucial government services.

In fact money is being squandered on payments to polluting industries to cut their emissions, rather than penalising them for not doing so – not to mention the $12.4 billion purchase of 58 new fighter aircraft (which the US Congress refused to buy because of the cost), the offshore processing of applications for asylum, (which is hugely more expensive than rapid processing on the mainland), and the construction of massive new road networks (rather than efficient rail transport systems), among other things.

The global impact of climate change is now clearly evident. The average annual global temperature is rising, as is the sea level. Huge floods like those currently devastating Bosnia and Serbia are on the increase, and the rate of extreme weather events in the US has more than doubled since 1980.

Graeme Pearman, scientist and former leader of the CSIRO atmospheric research team, commented that the government is “not concerned about our children and grandchildren’s future at all.”

But plenty of other people are, and they’re the ones who will oust the Abbott government from power, hopefully in the near future.

Next article – Budget goes after victims of failing system

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