Liberals' carbon confusion

The Dreyfus Files - The Age.

I've given up expecting the opposition to tell the truth about the government's clean energy future plan. But they could at least tell the truth about their own past positions.

I include as part of the Opposition's misinformation campaign a recent intervention in the carbon price debate by former prime minister John Howard, who has attempted in recent weeks to reinvent the Liberal Party's history of support for an emissions trading scheme.

Asked by Barrie Cassidy on the ABC's Insiders program on July 17, "you went to the 2007 election supporting an ETS. What's so wrong with it now?" Mr Howard said: "Well, the rest of the world is not doing it. Whereas the whole basis of what we put forward was that the rest of the world was inexorably moving towards a carbon tax and yet that's not happening".

This answer is wrong for at least two reasons. First, the rest of the world is acting. Secondly, in his desperation to back the opposition's misinformation campaign, Mr Howard has forgotten his clear statements in 2007.

This is what he said on announcing the Liberal ETS plan in 2007:

"Australia will continue to lead internationally on climate change, globally and in the Asia-Pacific region," he told a Liberal Party federal council meeting two days after announcing his ETS blueprint.

"This will be a world-class emissions trading system more comprehensive, more rigorously grounded in economics, and with better governance than anything in Europe."

In an address to the Melbourne Press Club a month later, Mr Howard said: "In the years to come it will provide a model for other nations to follow.

"Being among the first movers on carbon trading in this region will bring new opportunities and we intend to grasp them."

And what about Mr Howard's response at a news conference in the run up to the 2007 election: 

Journalist: ''Haven't you locked Australia into an emissions trading scheme in the next term?''

Howard: ''Yes, I have.''

Journalist: ''Regardless of what our trading competitors do?''

Howard: ''Yes, but that is precisely the sort of contribution we should make.''

Mr Howard is not alone in this orchestrated Liberal Party attempt to rewrite history.

The whole Liberal front bench with the notable exception of Malcolm Turnbull, wishes to forget that the Liberal Party went to the 2007 federal election firmly committed to the introduction of an ETS and pricing carbon, and remained committed to that policy until the end of November 2009. The worst memory seems to be that of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who said last week that he had ''never been in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme''. In 2009 Mr Abbott said that Liberals were ''taking this issue seriously and we would like to see an ETS''.

The Australian media is now holding the opposition to account for this attempt to rewrite history. Laurie Oakes, Barrie Cassidy, and even The Daily Telegraph in its editorial on August 3 have blown the whistle, and rightly so. The debate on pricing carbon in Australia has been made much more difficult than it needs to be by the campaign of misrepresentation and deliberate confusion the opposition has engaged in. It should be beneath a former prime minister to join such a campaign.

With respect to the claim that the rest of the world is not acting - another favourite line of Mr Abbott's and those behind the anti-carbon tax ads - this too is debunked by the facts.

Eighty-nine countries, representing 80 per cent of global emissions, have already pledged to take action on climate change. In fact 32 countries already have emissions trading schemes in place, and many others have them in the works.

And it's not just far away countries such as the UK that we would be joining - even though Mr Abbott is quick to suggest the government is engaging in ''cultural cringe to the old country''. The fact is that Australia's top five trading partners - China, Japan, the US, the Republic of Korea and India - and another six of our top 20 trading partners (New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands) have implemented or are piloting carbon trading or taxation schemes at national, state or city level.

The rest of the world is acting. And to quote the Conservative British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who congratulated Australia a couple of weeks ago on our government's policy, (it) ''will add momentum to those, both in the developed and developing world, who are serious in dealing with this urgent threat''.