In the two sitting weeks of parliament, the Labor Opposition have spent an enormous amount of time attacking Emissions Reduction and Energy Minister Angus Taylor.
Taylor is almost a hometown boy. His electorate of Hume borders the ACT and his pre-occupation has been farmers and protected grasslands in the Monaro. The fact that his brother is one of those farmers and Taylor has an investment in the farm run by his sibling got the Labor party pretty excited about the appearance of a conflict of interest. For all money, it looks like the minister was going into bat for his own interests, whereas he is adamant he wasn’t. But with his Prime Minister’s support and Pauline Hanson in the Senate joining the government blocking an inquiry, it looks like the minister will ride out this storm.
Whatever doubts linger for some about his integrity, the title Scott Morrison gave to Taylor’s portfolio is, in fact, a much bigger headache for him. He knows it too. For starters, it took him at least four goes in Question Time to finally admit that greenhouse gas emissions have actually risen in the past three years. Even then he couldn’t quite come at the truth of the matter, merely conceding “from year to year and quarter to quarter emissions go up and down”. In fact, they began rising soon after Tony Abbott abolished the price on carbon. What has also risen exponentially are energy costs.
Abbott made huge political capital tying the price on carbon to rising electricity prices and potential job losses in coal mining, one of our biggest export industries. He was aided in that by Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s inept handling of her “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”. Now though, the government and the minister charged with delivering both lower emissions and lower electricity prices have nowhere to hide.
Taylor has three years to deliver on the double-barrelled promise of addressing climate change concerns and lower gas and electricity prices. He is doing it with his hands tied behind his back by the failure to resolve what have been dubbed the energy wars. The Abbott Liberals, aided by the Nationals, used the issue to defeat Labor and later Malcolm Turnbull’s efforts to cut emissions with some sort of emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The retiring head of the Prime Minister’s Department, Martin Parkinson, an economist who previously headed Treasury and the Rudd Government’s Climate Change Department, says it has cost the nation dearly. He told ABC TV there is no cheaper way to cut emissions than a trading scheme. He says that had the scheme attempted in 2009 survived, it would have delivered “much lower prices” for consumers than is now on the agenda.
Opponents of an ETS are apparently much happier to have a hidden cost on carbon pollution than an explicit one. The hidden cost, according to Parkinson, is a major contribution to continuing high electricity prices.