Australian politician Tony Windsor. Photo credit: Getty Images - Cole Bennett
The ABC reports that death threats have been left on the phone of Australian member of parliament, Tony Windsor, in relationship to a heated national debate on the government's announcement it will be taxing the country's carbon emissions from next year. Right wing leaning media commentators and talkback radio hosts are as happy in pigs in mud.: they have two of their favourite hobby horses -- Taxes and Climate Change -- to rant over.
That the debate has led to death threats is ludicrous. All the government did was indicate their intention to tax carbon. The detail outlining how the tax will be implemented, and what share of it the person on the street is likely to shoulder is not due for several months yet. But into this details void has flowed some pretty nasty rhetoric. Tony Windsor, alluding to the notion that highly emotive language in the US media may've had some influence on the tragedy that saw Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 bystanders shot, said, "There should be substantive debates on substantive issues, not just slogans and one-liners and abuse on the airwaves. And I would hate something happen to someone in our parliamentary system and that would change it forever."
Some background for those readers fortunate enough not to be barraged by the current Australian media blitz on the subject:
In 2010 Australians went to the national polls to elect a new government for the next three years, but we couldn't decide, giving half the vote to each of the two major parties, when 60%, or more, is required to form government. The Labor party managed to woo the Greens and three Independents to support them to make the numbers. Tony Windsor is one of those independents.
Climate Change is "crap."
Labor had previously swept into power in 2007 on a platform that included signing the Kyoto Protocol, and establishing a carbon Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Although highly contentious the government did come within a hair's breath of getting their ETS up. But at the 11th and half hour the opposition party, the Liberal party voted out (by one vote) their leader who'd negotiated several compromises on the Scheme. The new Liberal leader is on record saying climate change is "crap." And has attacked Labor's efforts to mitigate carbon emissions at every turn.
Greatest Challenge of Our Time
When Copenhagen failed to deliver a global mandate for action on climate change the ruling Australian Labor government, for reasons best known to itself, opted to walk away from their Emissions Trading Scheme. Which the populace and media saw as a lack of leadership, given that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had said in no uncertain terms, climate change was, "the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time." From this point on the government and its leader were on a downward spiral.
Some months before the government's three year term was up, the party voted out Kevin Rudd and voted in Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Julia called the national election in late 2010. On the campaign trail she famously announced that although she believed in the merits of an ETS, "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead." A stance she emphasised one day before Australians heading off to polling booths, "I rule out a carbon tax."
However, as neither major party (Labor and the Liberal/National coalition) could drum up sufficient votes to govern in their own right and lay claim to any mandates, only by compromise and negotiation with the Green and Independents was Labor returned to office. Hence an about-face on a carbon tax or carbon price.
Political Pillow Fight
A pillow fight has erupted in Parliament and on the nation's media, with the feathers are flying thick and fast.
The Sydney Morning Herald notes that, "The federal government's economic adviser on climate change [Professor Ross Garnaut] has urged the community not to judge the controversial carbon tax proposal until all details are on the table."
That same community might also care to recall that Australia is the world's largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, and polluting coal is our export. We recently had a summer with not only the usual bushfires, but also one-in-200-year floods, and our biggest, feistiest, tropical cyclone on record. That many Australians were recently stranded in the Northern Hemisphere when it froze over with unseasonably severe winter storms. Government modelling shows Australia's emissions are on track to rise 24% above 2000 levels by 2020 despite the energy efficiency and renewable energy measures already in place.
There is much talk about why countries like China aren't doing more to reduce their carbon emissions. Would that be the same Chinese emissions generated to make most of clothes we wear, the wide screen TVs we watch, the smart phones we use? Would that be the same China that has filled our national coffers buying up our treasure trove of mineral resources to make the cheap consumer goods we clamour for. China's greenhouse gas emissions are, in large part, also the western world's emissions.
But even with all those caveats, The Age's Associate editor, Shaun Carney adroitly observes,
"Opinion polls have suggested regularly that either a majority or a plurality of Australians accept the theory of climate change and have favoured action to reverse the process.
However, there's a gap between accepting a theory and embracing the real economic, social and lifestyle costs that inevitably flow from taking action. In other words, when it's just an idea, it's easy to endorse. When it looks like it will cost money and force changes in behaviour, it starts to become less attractive."
Shaun Carney concludes,
"To get a carbon pricing policy across the line, political leadership of a quality that Australians have not seen for a long time will be needed."
Here's hoping such leadership is forthcoming, and that the war of words never escalates beyond sometimes being a rather sordid debate. (But we do wonder about that second hope, with just today an opposition politician calling the Prime Minister "as deluded as Colonel 'My people love me' Gaddafi" is she thinks Australian's will support carbon pricing.
More Australian Politics and the Environment
• The Greens Are The Only Winner From Australia's Federal Election
• Australia's New Prime Minister on Climate Change
• Australia's Prime Minister May Fall on Climate Change Sword
• Decision Time for Australia's Emission Trading Scheme
• Australia: The Politics of Environment - A Brief Round-Up