It is refreshing to find a journalist who has done a little bit of homework prior to an interview and is ready to question spin, half-truths, strategic inexactitudes and "misstatements" from political leaders.
Rather than contribute another dissection of this particular interview, instead I thought I'd gather a few thoughts on the Australian carbon price and its place in contemporary Australian politics.
As Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott is so fond of reminding us (especially when facing an interviewer turning the screws on his own truthfulness), Australian PM Julia Gillard did indeed say during the 2010 election campaign, "there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead". Yet one of the signature pieces of legislation from this minority government has been the introduction a price on carbon coupled with income tax reform.
A straightforward broken promise? Yes and no.
It is axiomatic that a minority government will need to compromise its electoral platform in order to get the support of other parties or independents required to govern. If a party could gain the support of enough MPs without altering its policies, then the extra MPs would just join the party. It is abundantly clear in this case that the price on carbon was the top item on the Greens agenda (and also on the radar of the independents) and so compromise was necessary. Once the election results were known, that such legislation would be the price of Greens support (needed by either party to govern) was entirely predictable.
As far as I can see, there were really only four other alternatives: (a) for the Greens to have dropped this demand, which was considerably more core for them than a promise made once on the campaign trail (did Gillard make this claim more than once? If so, I am not aware of it), (b) for the Greens to have negotiated an agreement with the Coalition, which would have faced the same sticking point (along with likely even more disagreements on other policies), (c) for the two parties who were against a carbon price (Labor and the Coalition) to have made this the sine qua non of their respective positions and so come to a power-sharing agreement between them in order to prevent the Greens from introducing such an idea, or (d) for no agreements to be reached and a new election called.
As I've said before, too much is usually made of campaign promises. Governments exist to execute wise political authority, not merely to implement the majority will.
While it is a minor point, it's worth noting that the carbon price is not a tax. The current system is based on carbon credits that are sold to the five hundred or so largest polluting companies in a market mechanism that spends the first few years with a fixed price and unlimited credits in order to give business certainty and then shifts to a fixed number of credits (declining each year) and a moving price (with a floor and ceiling imposed). It may well have been better as a direct tax at the point of extraction with proceeds distributed equally to all Australian citizens (tax and dividend), but that is not the system that was chosen. Now it is quite arguable that most Australians do not understand the difference, but that is because there has been such an effective effort by the Opposition to muddy the waters and no effort on the part of the government to explain it. Public ignorance is assumed and reinforced by both sides.
More importantly, the current legislation is way too unambitious, with tiny targets that put Australia towards the back of industrial counties in its level of ambition and which, if adopted by all advanced economies, would most likely see us sail past two, three and four degrees. Furthermore, current legislation does not including our massive coal exports, which are already the largest in the world and are planned to double in the next decade (blowing any domestic reductions out of the water), nor the embodied carbon in imported goods, nor international aviation or shipping. It provides extremely generous free credits to many industries to soften the initial burden. And it includes international offsets, so that we can continue to emit locally while paying someone else to make changes elsewhere that Treasury does not actually expect domestic emissions to decline very much, if at all.
Yet perhaps the greatest failure by the government regarding this legislation has been the failure to make use of its introduction to keep raising climate literacy, explaining the basics of climate science (which are still widely misunderstood), why serious action of carbon emissions are morally justified (getting beyond short-term cost-benefit analyses) and necessary at every level (personal, local, national, international), why Australia must do its bit (which is considerably more than most other nations, not less) and why this battle is worth fighting, even if it looks like we're currently losing.
So be assured that I am no particular fan of the present legislation or government, but repeating Gillard's broken promise - while it may be a satisfying way of expressing anger at a government that has had its fair share of controversies while being surprisingly effective at getting more than an average amount of legislative work done - is doubly misguided.