Cap and Trade melts in Australia

Heat of Intellectual Climate Change Responsible

by Tom Minchin


"If you don't understand [the ETS], you shouldn't vote for it. If you do understand it, you'd never vote for it."

"The [climate change] argument is absolute crap."

—Tony Abbott, new leader of the Australian Liberal Party


The Australian Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), Australia's version of "cap and trade," has been rejected by the Australian Senate for a second time. This time, the public opposition to the bill was more intense and better informed; a government pushing such a bill again will risk losing office.

In a perfect stroke of timing, the defeat comes ahead of the attempt to trap the US into agreeing to a massive transfer of wealth and sovereignty to the UN at Copenhagen next week. Australia was supposed to commit an act of economic suicide to set an example.

On Wednesday, December 2, the fight over the bill reached its climax. The Labor government of Kevin Rudd was beaten on the law by a re-invigorated Liberal Party who, one day before the vote, threw aside their old leader, Malcolm Turnbull—a climate change true believer—because he lied about having majority support in his party to pass the ETS. In his place, the Liberals installed Tony Abbott, a Rhodes scholar and former amateur boxer, on the record as calling the climate change argument "absolute crap." A party vote was taken and the true mood of the party was revealed: 55 to 29 wanted rejection of the bill. With 24 hours left to act, Abbott and his Senate leader Nick Minchin moved to do it.

The government's key tactic had been to hide both the content and meaning of the bill. Days before the final vote, a poll on November 27 showed that 80% of Australian voters did not understand the law and 60% opposed rushing it through. As a measure of the government's indecent haste, senators had been asked to vote on it by November 24 even though they had not seen the text of the bill until the day before. (In this, there are strong similarities with the way business is now conducted in the US Congress.)

But the opposition senators refused to be rushed, buying time for the revolt. When the Liberal revolt did occur, within minutes, at his first press conference Abbott declared the ETS "a giant tax on everything." The cat was out of the bag. Then Abbott added the straight truth: Prime Minister Rudd simply wanted "a trophy to take to Copenhagen." This is the kind of plain talking Australians respond to. It was over.

There will be much to write about the role of thinking Australians. They did what they have always done when their politicians try to heavy them: climb to the intellectual ramparts. This was a war fought by thinkers armed with the modern world's equivalent of the longbow: the email and website. The medieval elite, clad in their armor and mounted on their giant horses—like today's mainstream media and politicians—were invincible until the advent of a weapon that could pierce the toughest breastplate at a hundred paces. That was the longbow—today, the Internet.

Honest Australian climate scientists, like Professor Ian Plimer and Dr. Bob Carter, had already given Australian intellectual activists the arrows of truth they needed. Climategate added hundreds of new ones. The Internet gave them the means to fire those arrows with the velocity they needed—the speed of instant.

A great cloud lifted off Australia today. A tax with an opening price tag of $120 billion was defeated. After Climategate, how long will it take the world to follow?

Tom Minchin is a writer, researcher, and businessman in Melbourne, Australia.