The Labor government hopes that the carbon tax is like the GST, so that when the sky doesn’t fall it will be accepted and everyone will move on.
The Greens, who are responsible for the world’s highest carbon price that kicked off yesterday, also hope that it’s like the GST, so that by the time a Coalition government is able to call a double dissolution election to repeal it, it would be too late and too hard to do so, and they wouldn’t bother.
Superficially, these are logical positions. The trouble is that it’s not 2000, it’s 2012, and a lot has changed since then.
On July 1, 2000 when the GST was introduced, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was in the final stages of planning the three aircraft hijackings and suicide raids in the US. Two of the hijackers were already in the US.
Also, “people smugglers” would have starting selling tickets on a fishing boat called Palapa 1, which was due to set sail for Australia the following year, and whose passengers eventually ended up on the deck of a container ship called MV Tampa, with Norwegian sailor Arne Rinnan at the helm.
The Tampa Affair in August 2001 and the terrorist attacks on the east coast of the United States a month later totally changed the results of the federal election held on November 10, 2001.
According to the research director at Neilson, John Stirton, by July 2001, as a result of the GST, John Howard’s approval rating had fallen by 8% to 44%. The polls suggested there would be a swing against his government of 5%.
But in November Howard won the election with a swing of 1.9% towards the Coalition and picked up two extra seats, taking him to 82. The humiliated Kim Beazley was immediately replaced by Simon Crean as Leader of the ALP.
Howard went on to win another five extra seats in 2004 against Mark Latham before eventually losing to Kevin Rudd in 2007, by which time the GST couldn’t be repealed even if the ALP still wanted to repeal it, which it didn’t.
Tony Abbott will win a big majority next year – a year after the introduction of the carbon tax – thanks to the Greens. The Greens forced Julia Gillard to break her promise not to introduce a carbon tax, and they negotiated a high price of $23 a tonne, and the Greens are now preventing offshore processing of refugees.
Gillard’s approval rating crashed after she announced the carbon tax deal with the Greens and has never recovered, and because the price they negotiated was so high the key business groups have remained opposed to it, even though they all agree with the idea of it.
It seems pretty clear that offshore processing of refugees deters boat arrivals, since the people smugglers can’t promise to get the passengers to Australia. Yet the Labor government can’t get either its legislation – or that of the Member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott – through the Senate because of the Greens.
Of course the Coalition is blocking it too, but Tony Abbott is playing a perfectly rational game designed to maximise his vote. Likewise on the carbon tax: he can’t oppose it without promising to repeal it, and opposing it is the rational political position given that 60% of the voters are against it.
The polls are quite clear that the Gillard government is blamed for the increase in the number of boat arrivals, even though its policy for dealing with the problem is being blocked by its opponents.
The way things are going, if neither the Greens nor the Coalition blink before the 2013 election, the seas around Christmas Island will be thick with bobbing fishing boats crowded with Afghans and Iraqis, and passengers in the water mingling with the debris of boats that have sunk.
Tony Abbott would cruise to one of the biggest ever election victories and a second election – a double dissolution – would follow soon after to repeal the carbon tax. Offshore processing of refugees, probably in Malaysia as well as Nauru, would have already been introduced with the support of the ALP.
The Greens would thus have set back action on climate change in Australia by years, along with what it regards as the humane treatment of asylum seekers, because the perfect would have driven out the good for years to come.
So thanks largely to the asylum seekers stand-off, businesses cannot assume the carbon tax won’t be repealed.
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This article first appeared on Business Spectator.