Lost among the bustle of yesterday’s continuing Palmer sideshow, otherwise known as federal parliament, was proof that the miner’s alternative emissions trading scheme is a sham.
The ETS was brandished by Palmer last month as proof of his Damascene conversion to the need for climate action and the merits of carbon pricing.
In reality its purpose was little more than to greenwash Palmer’s coal-blackened hands and mitigate observers’ queasiness that Al Gore had been compromised into apparently sanctioning the miner’s vow to scrap the existing carbon-pricing scheme.
At the time Palmer placed caveats on what has been described as his “dormant” ETS to ensure it did not activate before Australia’s key trading partners had their own schemes in place. This was ostensibly to protect our exports from being disadvantaged by having to incorporate a carbon price when our competitors’ products did not carry a similar impost.
That’s the theory, anyway. But in reality, Palmer’s requirement for international action before reinitiating a domestic price on carbon was only ever a stalling tactic. Only a few of the countries nominated by Palmer have the prospect of a national ETS in the next few years, the others will take a great deal longer.
The true purpose of the Clayton’s ETS was exposed when it emerged yesterday that Palmer wanted to add India to the list of prerequisite countries. India relies heavily on coal-fired power to improve the living standards of its 1.2 billion people, around a third of whom live in poverty. Like many other developing nations, it is unlikely to take on an emissions trading scheme before the developed world does.
Therefore Palmer’s inclusion of India as one of the countries that must have a national scheme before Australia initiates its own, exposes his ETS for the empty promise that it is. So much for Palmer being a born-again supporter of genuine climate action.
Not that Palmer’s casual relationship with verity, consistency or the public good should come as a surprise after this first fortnight of the new crossbench-dominated Senate.
As Lenore Taylor pointed out yesterday, it has quickly emerged that Palmer’s preferred method of operating within the new Senate configuration is to cause maximum drama (and resulting media coverage), extract a few concessions and then support the Coalition anyway.
Such is the case with the regulations introduced by the Government to weaken the Future of Financial Advice reforms. Palmer initially vowed to get rid of the regulations but ended up supporting them after securing a few ‘improvements’ that consumer advocates say will do nothing to deter shonky financial advisers.
The same applies to the repeal of the existing carbon price, and by extension the perfectly good ETS that already exists in law and could be brought forward with minimal fuss.
Due to dramas completely of his own making, including the appalling bawling-out of a Senate employee, Palmer has managed to drag out the carbon price repeal debate – and keep political observers enthralled – for most of the past fortnight.
The changes he’s required the Government to make to the repeal bills, essentially to force the passing back of savings from the scrapped carbon tax to end consumers, are again minimal, but also conveniently exempt Palmer’s own energy-intensive nickel operations from having to do so.
In fact, this points to the other pattern in Palmer’s behaviour: he attaches voter relief from the harshest elements of the budget to those Government reforms that directly benefit him and his commercial interests.
Both the carbon price and mining tax repeals, which will save Palmer’s operations many millions of dollars, now also involve electricity and gas savings being passed on to consumers as well as retention of the school kids bonus, income support bonus and low income superannuation contribution.
Clearly Palmer believes the public will excuse him lining his own pockets as long as he shoves a few dollars in theirs as well.
The broader implications of Palmer’s influence on government decision-making, parliamentary process and the budget bottom line are only just beginning to emerge.
Palmer has pointed out that it’s not his concern how the Government pays for his concessions, or the extent to which his reversal of budget spending cuts increases the nation’s debt.
So the Government can expect Palmer to continue to influence the Senate with the same economic recklessness and impunity that he’s demonstrated so far.
Yesterday’s revelation about Palmer’s empty ETS shows the true extent to which the miner is genuinely concerned (or not) about climate action. It’s also a strong indicator of his broader intention to serve the public good (or not) rather than personal commercial interests.
Abbott has little hope of reining Palmer in over the next few years. It make take another election and a shift in the balance of power to do that. And even then, it will be voters’ capacity to see past their own financial concerns and assess what is in the nation’s best interest that will determine whether Palmer gets away with his democratically-dangerous self-indulgence.
This post first appeared at The King’s Tribune.