He raises two valid points about the current carbon price debate. First, it is correct that the Liberal Government will use the carbon price as an alibi and excuse for non-performance for a long as it is in place. No doubt about it. Second, it is correct that there are alternative ways of reducing carbon emissions, such as through regulation.
In my view these points cannot be allowed to over-ride the case for Labor to continue to support its carbon price legislation in the Parliament, a case which entails the following points:-
1. If you allow a Bill through the Parliament, you lose the right to complain about the result. Nick wasn’t in the Parliament when we were last in Opposition, but I was. Every time we allowed a Liberal Bill through, we got no credit for ‘respecting the Government’s mandate’ – we were mocked and derided by Liberal Ministers. If we complained about the Bill’s consequences afterwards, we were told, “well if it was so bad, why did you support it?”
2. We need to keep faith with those who voted for us and the basis on which we were elected as individual MPs. To say we have skin in the game is an understatement. In the language of the joke about involvement and commitment being like bacon and eggs, where the hen is involved but the pig is committed, we are committed. We cannot retreat from supporting the carbon price without causing great dismay to our supporters and associated head-scratching about whether we are men and women of genuine conviction or not. When we retreated from the carbon price at the end of 2009 our support dropped. It would happen again.
3. However much we try to pretend otherwise, not opposing repeal of the carbon price will weaken our capacity to defend it and to point out that it has been successful in reducing the CO2 emissions from electricity, and has not undermined our strong record of economic management, including low unemployment, low inflation and $1 trillion in business investment. It will be painted as conceding that the carbon price has damaged the economy, which is just not true.
4. Climate change is too important to conduct experiments. We don’t have time to prove a political point about the inadequacy of the Liberal plan to tackle it. Just last week 60 bushfires took off in New South Wales, and we’re not even half-way through September.
We should not be spooked by the claims of mandate. We were elected in 2007 on an express undertaking to put a price on carbon. Did the Liberal Party in the Senate respect our claims of a mandate? No they did not. Together with the Greens they blocked our Bill. At the time Tony Abbott said “they have their mandate, we have ours”. The Liberal Party has no moral authority on this issue. The Senate is a House of review. If the electorate had wanted the Liberal Government to control the Senate, they’d have voted for that.