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Issue #1645      July, 2, 2014


What’s lurking behind the populist politics?

Clive Palmer pulled off one of the most successful populist stunts of all times by holding a press conference with former US vice-President Al Gore at his side. It is hard to imagine that Gore, the high profile global crusader for action on climate change, has any credibility left when it comes to saving the planet. He heaped praise on the billionaire mining magnate who just weeks ago was a climate change denier.

Palmer said his Palmer United Party (PUP) Senators would vote against the Coalition’s legislation to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Climate Change Authority (CCA), but would vote to abolish the carbon tax (and emissions trading scheme) that was due to come into operation in 2015. Palmer also indicated they would support retention of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), although Abbott has yet to announce its abolition – he is holding a review first before announcing his intentions.

According to media reports, Al Gore would only lend his support if Palmer agreed to keep the three environmental bodies. He also had to agree to an emissions trading scheme. Under pressure from his PUP Senate members to adhere to a previous commitment to abolish the carbon price/ETS and from Gore to support one, he proposed an ETS with a zero price on carbon until such time as the EU, US, China, Japan and Korea adopt similar schemes. Gore bought the zero dollar carbon price with the possibility (no certainty) of a real scheme at some later date.

Labor, the Greens and the PUP look set to defeat Abbott’s attempts to abolish the CCA and CEFC in the Senate. The Coalition has already killed off the Climate Change Commission and also plans to shut down the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). When questioned last week Palmer had no idea what his attitude was towards ARENA. It was not even clear whether he knew what it was. The carbon price and ETS look set to be abolished in the new Senate when it sits next week with Palmer and two other independents supporting the Coalition.

Gore described Palmer’s announcement as an “extraordinary moment in which Australia, the US and the rest of the world is finally beginning to confront the climate crisis in a meaningful way.” Palmer, aided and abetted by Gore with his green credentials, has pulled off an extraordinary stunt – a climate change denier appearing to do an about turn.

“True to our promises to the Australian people at the last election, Palmer United senators will vote in the Senate to abolish the carbon tax,” he said. “In doing so, Palmer United senators will move an amendment that all producers of energy are required by law, not by choice, to pass on to all consumers of energy the savings from the repeal of the carbon tax,” adding a populist touch which is hardly likely to see the light of day.

The key question of course is climate change and what is being done to address it. The carbon tax was far from adequate but served to appear to be doing something. As the Greens insisted, additional measures were and still are required. The Renewal Energy Target is misleading; it relates only to electricity production. Major electricity generators are required to produce at least 41,000 gigawatt-hours per annum (approximately 20 percent of their production) from renewables by 2020. This target, which has its origins with the Howard government, does not take into consideration other sources such as coal fired plants, petrol, gas, etc, which are responsible for two thirds of Australia’s emissions.

The Palmer/Gore show has served Abbott and the mining sector and other big polluters well in diverting attention away from the fact that Australia is doing next to nothing to address climate change. The Abbott government’s RET review, which is required this year under existing legislation, is headed by Dick Warburton, a lobbyist against the carbon price on behalf of manufacturers. “I am not a denier, nor a sceptic actually, of climate change per se. What I am sceptical [about] is the claim that man-made carbon dioxide is the major cause of global warming. I’m not a denier of that, but I am sceptical of that claim,” Warburton told Naomi Woodley on ABC radio AM program (18-02-2014).

No prizes for guessing the outcome of that review!

Next article – URGENT ACTION: Free all Palestinian political prisoners now!

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