Baillieu government joining Abbott's circus

The Dreyfus Files - The Age

The Tony Abbott circus of lies and misinformation about climate change and the carbon price came to my electorate, Isaacs in Melbourne, last week. And this time the state Baillieu government joined the show, with no less than six state MPs lining up to deceive and alarm the residents and business people of southern suburban Cheltenham.

On stage before a not-so-large crowd of about 90 were Liberal federal frontbenchers Andrew Robb and Senator Mathias Cormann (who came all the way from WA to recite his slogans), state Energy Minister Michael O'Brien, and ringmaster Senator Mitch Fifield. In the audience were state Liberal MPs Inga Peulich, Murray Thompson, Lorraine Wreford, Donna Bauer and Elisabeth Miller. That's nine Liberal MPs in attendance at the circus!

The performers - Robb, Cormann, O'Brien and Fifield spouted the usual Liberal false claims. The show featured Mr Robb questioning the science of climate change, and suggesting the science might go ''belly up'. This is despite resounding advice from scientists and expert organisations such as CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Academy of Science and the Climate Commission, that climate change is real and human activity is the major contributor.

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The most outrageous of all the claims raised was to suggest that because of the carbon price we are risking our electricity base load and doctors may lose power while performing surgery. That suggestion is clearly untrue, intended to cause fear and deserves condemnation.

Even the most cursory examination of the Gillard government's Clean Energy Future package shows energy supply will be secure. An Energy Security Fund and Energy Security Council will be established with just this in mind. And in addition to the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target, there is more than $13 billion in economic incentives for businesses to invest in low and zero emissions power generation to gradually replace fossil fuels.

Then there was the claim that the poor will suffer as a result of a carbon price. As usual at Coalition circus performances, there was  no mention of the tax cuts, pension increases and other assistance that will see the poorest in our community better off under the carbon price legislation. The truth is that low-income households and pensioners will suffer if Tony Abbott has his way and the Gillard government's tax cuts and pension increases are scrapped.

Another theme of the performance was that Victoria's economy will suffer most from a carbon price. Readers may recall that Mr Abbott and Premier Ted Baillieu have previously made the misleading claim that ''Deloitte Access Economics modelling, commissioned for the Victorian government, shows that there would be 23,000 fewer jobs across Victoria by 2015 as the result of the carbon tax''.

In fact this modelling shows no such thing, is loaded to show higher costs from a carbon price and has been widely discredited as a politically motivated stitch-up job. For example, the modelling assumes much higher emissions with no carbon price than are considered likely while it fails to fully model the government's assistance to important sectors in the Victorian economy such as paper products and chemical manufacturing.

Both of these inaccuracies inflate the estimated cost of a carbon price.

But even with these inaccuracies, the Deloitte modelling actually shows that employment in Victoria will continue to grow under a carbon price. And much more credible modelling of the carbon price done by federal Treasury projects an additional 400,000 jobs created in Victoria by 2020 with the Victorian economy to grow by 30 per cent to 2020, and by 162 per cent by 2050, with a carbon price in place.

I am happy to stand by the Treasury modelling. It is a more comprehensive exercise, it is not politically motivated and it includes crucial assistance programs the Baillieu government chose to ignore.

Like many other senior Liberal politicians, Mr Baillieu was, until recently, an outspoken supporter of pricing carbon. On October 15, 2008 he said: ''We support an emission capping and trading scheme as the least costly way of responding to global warming.''

And in November 2009 Mr Baillieu spoke in strong support of a carbon pollution reduction scheme: ''We owe the world an honest response to climate change,'' he said. ''Carbon transition is one of the biggest issues that will face Victorian businesses and families over coming years, but I have no doubt that we will in a few years be living in a carbon-managed economy.''

But it is no longer clear what stance the Baillieu government takes on climate change, and their environmental record is increasingly poor.

The Victorian Coalition took power in November 2010 without a policy on the environment or climate change. Since then we have seen the Baillieu government:

  • Attempting to destroy Victoria's fragile alpine national parks by reintroduce cattle grazing - halted by action from federal Environment Minister Tony Burke;
  • Curtailing wind farm development through an overly restrictive and unnecessarily burdensome approvals process;
  • Inviting councils to provide wish-lists of reductions that they would like to see in Melbourne's green wedge areas;
  • Back away from Victoria's legislated 20 per cent by 2020 emission reduction target - Mr Baillieu now calls this target ''aspirational'' and his government failed to provide any funding for climate change in its 2011 budget;
  • Ending talks to replace Hazelwood power station;
  • Approving the proposed HRL power station, Victoria's first new coal plant in 20 years.

As a Victorian I was proud of the leadership shown in Victoria in addressing climate change and other environmental challenges in the past 20 years. Up until now that proud record has been the result of bipartisan support. It is profoundly disappointing that the Baillieu government is walking away from those commitments, and policies established by previous Victorian governments, preferring to join Mr Abbott's circus of lies and misinformation.