The cynicism of today’s stunt by Clive Palmer became clear late tonight as the Palmer United Party leader confirmed that his senators will vote for the abolition of the carbon tax and the emissions trading scheme.
Earlier today, Palmer called for the establishment of an emissions trade scheme (ETS) that would only come into force once China, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Korea had also taken action to establish similar schemes. International action of this order is all but impossible to imagine.
In an interview with Tony Jones on the ABC’s Lateline program, and in a subsequent encounter with journalists, Palmer clarified his earlier remarks and confirmed that no conditions would be set for the abolition of the carbon tax, other than a legislative guarantee that companies would pass on to consumers the savings from abolition.
He said that PUP senators would move an amendment to the bill to abolish the Climate Change Authority that would provide for the establishment of an ETS. Even if an amendment is carried in the Senate, the government will not legislate it in the House of Representatives.
The overall effect of today’s political pantomime is that the government will get its way on abolition of the carbon tax and the ETS that is built into the existing legislation and due to come into effect next year. Palmer made it clear that the PUP senators will support the Abbott bill to abolish the ETS.
It is a breathtakingly cynical move to do one thing whilst claiming to be aiming for the opposite.
Palmer claimed to have modified his views on climate change after discussions with members of the public, scientists and the former US Vice-President, Al Gore. Today’s announcement by Palmer was made in the Great Hall of Parliament House and attended by Gore.
The Palmer United Party will vote against abolition of the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. A bill to abolish the CEFC has already created a double dissolution trigger for the Abbott government. The PUP will also support retention of the Renewable Energy Target until after the next election. Whilst some will see these as positive developments, it is clear that they are second-order priorities for Palmer.
Palmer has demonstrated today that he has a deft and populist political touch, even though his political positions don’t withstand close scrutiny. He has positioned himself to be seen to be sympathetic to climate change policies, although nothing he has proposed will ever come to pass. The carbon tax will be abolished, with a direct financial benefit to Palmer’s companies.
When Palmer meets with Abbott tomorrow, he will be seen to be negotiating guarantees that cost savings from abolition of the carbon tax will be passed onto consumers. The Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, made it clear tonight that the government will be prepared to bend on this issue. Hunt argued that guarantees already exist in the proposed legislation. Palmer will portray himself as fighting for lower electricity prices but it is just more smoke and mirrors.
With new senators due to take office next week on July 1, Palmer has engaged in a major stunt that allows him to portray himself as the friend of struggling families and businesses. He has sought to shore up criticism of his stance on climate change, even though the practical effect of his positions will be negligible.
Consider the political environment the Abbott government faces. Palmer has flexed his political muscles whilst the Prime Minister is still struggling to get significant portions of his Budget passed into law. The new Senate has to deal with contentious Budget measures, including the Medicare co-payment and indexation of the fuel excise.
Down the track, with the carbon tax disposed of, Palmer has already signalled his opposition to the government’s Direct Action policy on climate change. Imagine how negotiations on all these issues are going to pan out.
Whilst some members of the media decry Palmer’s behaviour, he shows he understands their function better than they do. The media bemoans his “feeding the chooks” strategy that stems from his days with former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, but Palmer knows the chooks will always keep turning up to sample the meal.
It is not clear what Palmer’s long-term aims are, but he has positioned himself to take maximum advantage of the fortuitous position in which his party will find itself in the Senate from next week.
Over the next nine months or so, Palmer has the opportunity to establish himself in such a way as to maximise PUP’s prospects in the Queensland state election due around March-May. His aim of dealing a body-blow to the Queensland Liberal National Party, from which he split just over a year ago, is probably a high priority, as important to Palmer as any federal ambitions.
It is a byzantine game Palmer is playing, one that today embroiled, and probably duped, a former Vice-President of the United States. It was a bold stunt. As Graham Richardson said tonight, you have to admire Palmer just a little bit.
- Listen to Palmer’s comments to journalists (1m)
- Listen to Palmer’s interview on Lateline (20m)