Comment: Coalition losing its grip on carbon tax mandate

Prime Minister Tony Abbott arrives for House of Representatives question time at Parliament House, Canberra, Monday, July 14, 2014. (AAP)

"Scrapping this toxic tax" was meant to be a slam dunk for the Prime Minister. What happened?

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

After more debate yesterday the vote on the repeal of the carbon tax was delayed once again. It seems likely the bill will limp through the Senate today. As the Government celebrates however the victory must feel bittersweet.

More than anything the 2013 election was supposed to be the mandate on the carbon tax. Just like the 2007 election resulted in Workchoices being ‘dead, buried and cremated’, 2013 was supposed to see the end of carbon pricing for good.

 

As the repeal bill makes its way through the Senate however, it has become clear the mandate the Coalition received has slowly slipped away. The bills have been stripped of much of their infrastructure - with the survival of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), Renewable Energy Target (RET), The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Climate Change Authority (CCA). In doing so, each are making it through with significant opposition - opposition that seems to refuse to back down.  

This is the problem for the Government. Whilst it will pass the repeal it has done so with none of the authority required to have a long-lasting impact. It has temporarily gotten rid of the carbon price but it has not gotten rid of the debate - and in fact made it worse for Tony Abbott and his cabinet over the past months.

“The Coalition’s campaign on the carbon price has failed. Now in Government, their authority on the issue has quickly vanished - leaving an emboldened opposition and climate movement - even in spite of the major set back coming today.”

This is best highlighted by the reaction of Opposition to the legislation. In the lead up to the vote, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused the Prime Minister of “sleepwalking his way into a major climate policy disaster, a disaster for the Australian economy and for our environment, a disaster that guarantees that forever more Tony Abbott will be remembered as an environmental vandal”. For a leader that at one point actively considered voting to support the repeal this is a massive turn around.

This sort of belief has been reflected in the broader community as well. Whilst there was basically no discussion of climate change in the 2013 election, debate on the issue has exploded once again. Tony Abbott’s position has taken Australia’s role onto an international level, activism on the ground is growing, and more people are now in favour of the carbon price. This is quite a remarkable turn around in just ten months.

The Coalition’s campaign on the carbon price has failed. Now in Government, their authority on the issue has quickly vanished - leaving an emboldened opposition and climate movement - even in spite of the major set back coming today.

This means that climate change is definitely not going to be leaving the agenda any time soon. With the upcoming debate on the bills to repeal the other parts of the legislative infrastructure, the UN Climate Summit in September and the G20 in November, in fact it is just going to get stronger. While this was supposed to be a good thing for the Coalition - an opportunity to slam the Opposition for refusing to pass the repeal legislation - this is no longer the case. The Government has showed a weakness on the issue - one that has allowed the cross-bench to define its agenda and that has lost them the narrative on climate change.

Herein lies the biggest problem of all. If the Government can’t win on the carbon price, it shows how weak it truly is. This was supposed to be its slam dunk - Tony Abbott's easy and major victory. But instead it has been the opposite - a shambolic process that has highlighted many of the Government’s weaknesses.

That shows lots of worrying signs for the next two years.

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.   

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch