Liberals: big on cost, small on action

The Dreyfus Files - The Age

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has taken his campaign of fear and misinformation across the country but his latest stunt is a blood oath to make Australian families, pensioners, workers, industry and business worse off.

Mr Abbott would remove pension increases. That's the pension increase of $338 for singles and $510 for couples that the Gillard Labor government is introducing. He has promised to remove the extra payments that are going to families receiving family tax benefits and he has committed to remove personal tax cuts. And on top of this, Mr Abbott would put a $1300 tax on families and give the money to polluters.

Mr Abbott supports the government's minimum 2020 carbon reduction target and he has an alternative plan to cut carbon pollution. Mr Abbott holds his alternative up as the panacea but he doesn't want anyone to look too closely because he knows it's riddled with holes.

To meet a 5 per cent reduction in carbon pollution by 2020, Mr Abbott plans to plant enough trees to cover five Tasmanias, or an area the size of Victoria and Tasmania combined. This would end Australia's role as a global food producer, with food exports worth about $24.4 billion in 2009-10. Mr Abbott would achieve 60 per cent of his emissions reduction from soil carbon, an approach not recognised under international rules. And instead of the biggest polluting businesses paying for their carbon pollution, Mr Abbott would pay polluters with a new tax of $1300 for every household.

Mr Abbott's plan is not funded. The independent Grattan Institute has estimated that there is a $100 billion hole in the costings. That's a third of the current federal budget.

No credible scientists or economists support Mr Abbott's plan, and nor previous Liberal leaders. Former prime minister John Howard supported an emissions trading scheme very similar to that which the government is legislating. He took that as a policy to the 2007 election. Former leader Brendan Nelson supported this policy. Malcolm Turnbull supported this policy, many others in the Liberal Party support it and Labor has always supported doing this. Mr Abbott stands alone on his non-policy.

On the other hand there is widespread independent support for the government's market-based mechanism, from world leaders, eminent economists and industry leaders.
National Australia Bank's CEO Cameron Clyne said "If you're asking for an economic assessment of the two, the carbon price followed by and ETS (emissions trading scheme) is economically superior to the direct action policy."

AGL CEO Michael Fraser said: "AGL supports the introduction of a price on carbon emissions as soon as possible to provide investment certainty for the energy industry as Australia begins the transition to a low carbon economy."

In a letter to Prime Minister Gillard, Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron said "I was delighted to hear of the ambitious package of climate change policy measures you announced on July 10 and wanted to congratulate you on taking this bold step.

"The policy will add momentum to those, in both the developed and developing world, who are serious about dealing with this matter."

Perhaps most telling is that Mr Abbott's plan is nothing more than political spin. Mr Abbott proposes to do a lot - but only until 2020. After that, Mr Abbott will, according to Greg Hunt, Coalition climate action spokesman, take a ''wait-and-see-approach'' to tackling climate change. Mr Abbott does not have a long-term plan because he is not serious about tackling climate change.

Yesterday Australia took an historic first step towards a clean energy future with legislation passing the House of Representatives. Yet every member of the Coalition voted against Labor's plan to cut carbon pollution and drive investment in clean energy technologies such as solar, gas and wind. The opposition's position against credible and fair action on climate change is untenable and Mr Abbott is becoming increasingly ridiculous - he has after all had at least eight different positions on climate change in the past three years.

Mr Abbott's threats to scrap the carbon price are economically irresponsible and environmentally reckless. The government's Clean Energy Future plan will ensure we cut carbon pollution in the most economically efficient way, support jobs and assist households.