May 17, 2010

The smoking gun – Labor always planned to shut the Greens out of the ETS

The ALP has, predictably, started a major campaign against the Greens, trying to blame the party for the collapse of its appalling emissions trading scheme. Lindsay Tanner, whose sea

Tim Hollo

Tim Hollo is an adviser to Australian Greens’ Deputy Leader Christine Milne.

The ALP has, predictably, started a major campaign against the Greens, trying to blame the party for the collapse of its appalling emissions trading scheme.

Lindsay Tanner, whose seat is vulnerable to the Greens’ Adam Bandt, has hit the airwaves across the country and used his regular spot on Fairfax online to attack the Greens. A parade of senior ministers, all the way up to the Prime Minister, has slavishly trotted out the “Greens are bad” talking point.* They have been joined by friendlies such as Bob Carr writing in The Australian and Paul Howes at every opportunity, as well as, extraordinarily, the Secretary of the Department of Climate Change, Dr Martin Parkinson, according to Saturday’s Canberra Times.**

That the Greens would not support the scheme without a few amendments to turn it from a barrier to action into at least a small step in the right direction has been turned into “making the perfect the enemy of the good” – a great irony when the unamended scheme was far from good and an amended one would certainly not have been perfect – and being “intractable” – a deeply frustrating attack when the Greens made every attempt to negotiate in good faith but were rebuffed each time, with every proposed amendment or negotiating point rejected out of hand.

The government’s hope of clinging to any remaining climate credibility relies on pretending that it was the Greens who were intractable, not them. This fits neatly with the Labor mythology of who the Greens are, but it contrasts dramatically with the actual behaviour of the Greens, as 12% of Australian voters now realise. The Greens’ positive approach to legislation such as the stimulus package and many other bills that would have been very different if the Greens were in power show this up as old Labor prejudice rather than fact.

Unfortunately, up to now it has only been Greens saying that Labor refused to negotiate and it is a next to impossible task to convince people with a “he-said she-said” argument, particularly up against the might of a government publicity machine and very strong party discipline.

But now, thanks to Paul Daley in the Fairfax Sundays, someone has squeaked and we have the smoking gun.

Daley quotes a Labor source saying “Kevin was crystal clear from the start – the Greens couldn’t be allowed any sort of ownership of the [emissions] trading scheme.”

This may not sound like much, but it entirely undermines the government’s claim to climate credibility. It was always Kevin Rudd’s political strategy to do a deal on an ETS with the opposition – whom he had consistently branded climate sceptics – so he could share any blame for higher prices with them and to shut the Greens out of any negotiations. The Greens would either have to sign up to a policy the party knew was completely unacceptable or vote against it and wear the orchestrated ALP attack.

This quote should now be put to ministers every time they trot out the anti-Greens lines. Is it or is it not the case, Minister, that your government deliberately shut the Greens out of the ETS negotiating process? It will certainly be used by every Greens candidate in every election debate.

The ALP can’t have it both ways – they can’t blame the Greens for rejecting the CPRS after having crafted a policy the Greens could not accept and refusing to let them in to any negotiations.

This debate has a long way to run, and we Greens have to convince more people of our position that Australia and the world is better off without this CPRS than with it. But the smoking gun will make it a much more interesting debate.

* Interestingly, it is worth noting that Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard are, I think, the only two senior ministers who have refused to follow the party line of attacking the Greens. These are probably the two ministers with whom the Greens have had the most positive relationships in this term.

** Sadly, this story is not online, but it reveals that the senior bureaucrat has been party political campaigning on behalf of the government, attacking the Greens at a recent public forum, misrepresenting the Greens’ position to belittle and undermine the party. The Greens will be pursuing this very serious misuse of Dr Parkinson’s position.

UPDATE: I’ve put a typed out version of the Canberra Times article on the GreensMPs website here.

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34 thoughts on “The smoking gun – Labor always planned to shut the Greens out of the ETS

  1. antonbruckner11

    Amazing how the Greens here slur the two senators who crossed the floor to vote for the legislation to justify the fact that their cohorts didn’t vote for it.

  2. blinkybill

    And to think they only got in thanks to the green vote and the environmental platform

  3. Tom McLoughlin

    There were some rediculous errors in Bob Carr’s article. Quoted X as like Fielding. Quoted Prof James Hansen who junked the Rudd CPRS approach Lateline live on 7/12/09 – note the date pre Copenhage disaster. Which is also why Hansen was frozen out on his visit earlier this year?

    Carr talks big, but The Australian last year in a profile on Penny Wong’s career quoted Dailan Pugh on Carr’s RACAC east coast forest process as saying Carr implemented 1/4 of the science of forests. In this wide brown land. People forget woodchipping of natural forest has increased after Carr not decreased.

    That’s about what Carr wanted to do with climate. Enough to wedge the coalition but keep all the power structures in place. He works for Macquarie Bank!!!!

    Carr said the ACF supported the CPRS – but they did only grudgingly and then rejected it under pressure of indy groups like Greenpeace and Wilderness. So yes the loss of a carbon price incentive has been a blow to sunrise investements but there is no excuse for a real carbon tax price incentive. Just like Prof Hansen said, criticising the selling of medieval indulgences via a CPRS.

  4. green-orange

    Pfft, it isn’t about ownership of the issue, Labor never really wanted to pass this politically disastrous bill.

    If Labor really wanted this bill, why did they wait until _after_ Turnbull’s reputation had been trashed by “utegate” and he could no longer get the opposition to support the bill ?
    That was almost two years after they were elected !

    Now, they can pass the bill after the election – but they’re going to wait until after the _next_ election.

    Wake up and smell the roses folks.

  5. Rohan

    Stafford – wrong article. He was referring to Parkinson’s article for the Canberra Times.

  6. Stafford van Putten

    Tim, not sure when it was posted but the article you mentioned with the quote from Lindsay Tanner is now online

  7. cmagree

    Why isn’t this article on the top of Crikey’s home page?

    While I applaud Crikey for its willingness to report much more honestly and rigorously than the Murdoch rags, the ABC and sadly these days the Age, unfortunately, like the major dailies and the ABC, Crikey is too often locked into business as usual, giving readers the impression that they only have two ‘choices’, really no choice at all.

    Please Crikey, start to give the Greens their due — 12-13 per cent of voters support them.

  8. cud chewer

    The simple fact is, had the government negotiated with the greens, in the current Senate, the bill could not have been passed. Its simple arithmetic. They would have needed two Liberals to cross the floor and none would have done so if the bill had had the Greens’ amendments.

    Of course it is going to be different when the Senate changes (after the election if its a double dissolution or not till July 2011 if it isn’t). Then we’ll see Labor negotiating with the Greens as they will have to.

  9. Tim Hollo

    Jeremy, don’t blame the labelling of the Greens as loons solely on News Ltd. Kevin Rudd indulges in that kind of nasty slander all the time, making snide comments about how the Greens want to shut down the economy by next Tuesday.

    Re your points on the CPRS being better than nothing, please have a look at the explanation here: http://christine-milne.greensmps.org.au/content/greens-ets-carbon-levy-info-hub

    The CPRS as it stood would have held back action, paying polluters to keep polluting and hiding the lack of emissions reductions with unlimited access to unreliable overseas permits. It would have been politically and economically next to impossible to improve once passed, because polluters would have a legal expectation that the free permits they were promised would eventuate.

    While of course there are some negative consequences, we are definitely better off without it. The uncertainty now is holding back investments in coal that would have been immediately unleashed if the CPRS had passed.

  10. MichaelK99


    Many (including The Greens) think we are better off without a bad CPRS.

    It is hard enough now to argue that we need to phase out coal electricity. But it would have been even harder to argue that coal should be phased out without massive “compensation” if legislation had been passed telling the industry that they are given “certainty” that they could continue, and that would be compensated as well as being able to continue.

    The CPRS was not only evil politics because the Carbon Reduction of the name was a distortion (because under the scheme out emissions would actually increase!), but Rudd knew that most people would think that this scheme was a good first step, and thus he could get away with a scheme that was mainly about locking in bad practices.

    I assume from your post that you also remain of the view that Rudd actually wanted to do something about climate change. If this is the case, how do you explain his almost complete lack of action on anything other than the CRPRS? How do you explain all three Rudd budgets being business as usual?

  11. Jeremy Williams

    I have no doubt what you are saying is true that rudd under no circumstances wanted to alllow the greens any creadit for the cprs. But thats because of the political reality that newslimited, shock jocks et al. have succesfully portrayed the greens as loony to mainstream australia.
    I must admit Bob Carr’s piece in the liberal brochure the australian was pretty convincing – what about all those start up projects that will not occur with no cprs. I understand the labour party was never going to negotiate, I understand they were always going to give no ground but still it always comes back to wouldn’t we be better off with a bad cprs than no cprs ? It could have always been modified later and it would have at least sent a message that there is some what of a price on carbon even if its partly psychological. It also would have meant the climate sceptic campaign would have disappeared from the media. You watch as soon as this issue comes up again the oz will be printing sceptics by the day. A passed cprs voids this activity and a weak cprs assures the selfish public that they won’t have to pay to protect the planet.

  12. Damien Anderson

    Hi Tim – I had a look at them months ago. My impression is that most mugs (like me) really only notice big reforms when they feel someone’s hand going into their pocket. The amendments were polarising because, regardless of the truth, they would open the Govt to a scare campaign that would make the mining companies’ super profits tax scare look insignificant.

  13. MichaelK99

    Tim’s “opinion” is based on insider knowledge of discussions held with those involved.

    I’m always amazed how a persons political bias enables them to elevate their own opinion above those who actually know about the topic.

    Any rational look (thus something that most people even on these forums have not thought about) actually shows that it has been Howard and now Rudd that are at the end of the scale, and the Greens are actually rather centre.

    Compare Australia to the rest of the OECD and very often Australia (Howard and now Rudd) are the looney right. And this applies not just to our (lack of) action on climate change, but to education spending, subsidizing rich private schools, low taxes, low spending on public transport, health, how we deal with asylum seekers, human rights, … the list is long.

    (I think The Greens should be using international comparisons more often.)

  14. denise allen

    well, if this is the case then they have no one to blame but themselves if Abbott becomes (Gold help us) PM….

  15. Andos

    Sure, Tim, and from my point of view that is your opinion.

    If the imminent election pans out in the way expected, then maybe we will see a Senate where the Greens really do hold the balance of power. In that case, it will be interesting to see how they handle the new burden of responsibility balanced against the hard-line ideologies of their traditional supporter base.

    Until then, this is just a fun hypothetical. It’s important to make it clear that a simple two party negotiation between the Government and the Greens would have achieved exactly nothing in regards to carbon pricing legislation.

  16. Tim Hollo

    Damien, why do you say that the Greens’ amendments were polarising? Most of them were implementing Professor Garnaut’s very middle-of-the-road proposals. You can read about them here.

    Andos, that is your opinion. I can tell you, however, that from several meetings there was a very real chance that a deal could have been struck to pass the carbon levy proposal.

  17. shepherdmarilyn

    Why are the Greens still whining here when the bill was a dog cooked up to protect the thugs we saw on 60 Minutes last night?

    You all saw them didn’t you? The Santos and Origin mob crawling all over Queensland with their CSG mines, destroying the water and soil and building on other people’s land without permission?

    With the bill on the shelf the coal industry misses out on their billions, that is why the Murdoch hacks are cutting up.

    And puhleeeeeese, Paul Daley? He wrote a book about the Light horse in Palestine, covered a shocking massacre by Australia after the end of WW1 and didn’t bother to talk to a single Palestinian, just got paid by Israel to tell only their side of things as if Israel existed in 1917.

  18. Andos

    I did, yes. I saw them cross the floor, yes. That was a vote on a bill that had been agreed to by the Government and the Opposition, and they were the only two Coalition senators to stand up for that deal. But we’re not talking about that situation, are we?

    We’re talking about a purely hypothetical situation in which the Government negotiates with the Greens an acceptable ETS bill, and then has to find two more Senators to support it. Are you seriously saying that you would have expected senators Troeth and Boyce to cross the floor in that case?

    I’m in no better a position than you to predict how Coalition senators behave, but I seriously doubt that the Government would have had any success in finding even one other senator, if it did get agreement with the Greens and Xenophon (not a foregone conclusion), to support the resulting bill.

    This is just the political reality of the current Senate.

  19. Damien Anderson

    I agree with Andos. Exactly what would successful negotiations with the Greens have yielded politically? I doubt a carbon pricing mechanism would be on the list. The Greens simply couldn’t deliver the Bill in the Senate and their amendments were too polarising to include. That’s why the Government wouldn’t negotiate with them. Politics is the art of the possible not the art of the preferable.

  20. Tim Hollo

    Epoymous – actually, the CPRS didn’t pay people to stop what they were doing. It was far worse than that. It paid them to keep doing what they were doing!

    Andos, did you watch the debate last year? 2 Libs did cross the floor – Sue Boyce and Judith Troeth. And, for your information, neither of them have future political careers in the Liberal Party to be concerned about. Troeth has already announced she will retire as of the end of the current Senate and Boyce is in an unwinnable spot on the QLD Senate ticket. Neither of them have any love lost for Tony Abbott.

  21. Eponymous

    That line from Parkinson is just incredible. Apolitical public service my arse.

    Also, didn’t Martin Ferguson recently say ‘we don’t negotiate with the Greens’? Can’t remember where I heard that.

    Personally, as a Greens voter I’m glad they rejected the scheme. Writing those handouts into legislation made me sick. Rather than encouraging innovation and good work, the CPRS was going to pay people to stop what they were doing now because we now realise it is wrong. In my way of thinking this was completely arse-about. It’s why I’ve come around to the carbon tax way of thinking. Penalise those who pollute. Nothing more or less.

    Also as a Greens voter, I want to see idealism. The Greens are no threat of governing at the moment. More than anything, I want them to have their say in the house of review; to put the idealogical green stamp on everything that comes through the Big House. With this in mind I am much happier with a hard line party than one that could bend over at the negotiating table. I imagine many Democrats/Meg Lees fans felt the same way during the GST negotiations.

  22. Andos

    MichaelK99: my point was that the numbers in the Senate means that if the Coalition + Fielding oppose a bill, the Greens can’t deliver the Government enough votes to pass it.

  23. Andos

    Tim goes “That could have been achieved had the government been willing to engage.”

    What you left out of that sentance was “… and two Liberals had been willing to completely sacrifice their political careers by crossing the floor to vote with the Greens.”

    In all seriousness, you can’t actually believe that any Liberals would have voted to pass a bill that was acceptable to the Greens. On top of that, how likely do you think it would have been for the Government to conduct one-on-one negotiations with Liberal senators to try and find two who would do so?

    The political reality of the current Senate is such that the Greens don’t hold the balance of power. The most practical way for the Government to pass legislation through the Senate is therefore to negotiate with the Opposition.

    Conveniently, that allows the Greens to maintain their purity by not having to worry about being involved in passing legislation.

  24. MichaelK99


    Isn’t your question like asking someone who works for Penny Wong “What is the very most that you would change to get The Greens to approve your ETS?”

    As future negotiations still might take place, Tim would be very silly to answer.

    My expectations is that The Greens would approve any step in the right direction, no matter how small.

    The problem comes when a step in the right direction has an attached locking-in to something bad. So the hard questions for The Greens is how much, for example, long term protection to coal would be acceptable as part of a package.

    To put this into another context, should an anti-smoker support a bill that increases tobacco taxes, ensures that only plain packaging is used, promises compensation to the industry for any loss of profits, and limits any further anti-smoking legislation.

    Rudd’s CPRS is very similar to this analogy.

  25. alexander white

    >>There are multiple options that could have been imaginable – ALP + 5 Grns + 2 Libs, ALP + 5 Grns + Xenophon + 1 Lib. Even, conceivably and pre-Abbott ALP + Grns + all Libs would have been an excellent tri-partite option that, with effort, could have been made to work.<<

    What fantasy land are you living in where the Liberals would vote with the Greens to pass controversial Labor legislation? They barely (actually didn't) support an ETS where they won major concessions. The fact that the Greens didn't vote with the two Libs who voted for the ETS is a major betrayal. The fact that the Greens didn't like the ETS was one of the reasons used by the Libs to support voting for it.

  26. Tim Hollo

    Andos, the Greens proposed 22 amendments to the CPRS but at no point demanded that they all be passed before supporting the legislation. Some of them would have had to be supported – enough to ensure that the scheme could effectively be improved down the track and would not lock in the appalling outcome.

    There are multiple options that could have been imaginable – ALP + 5 Grns + 2 Libs, ALP + 5 Grns + Xenophon + 1 Lib. Even, conceivably and pre-Abbott ALP + Grns + all Libs would have been an excellent tri-partite option that, with effort, could have been made to work.

    Since the second rejection of the CPRS, there was a real option for the Greens’ carbon levy proposal. There was a real prospect that at least one of the Libs who crossed the floor in December and Senator Xenophon would have supported it.

    The basic point is that the Greens were not holding out for the perfect scheme. The Greens wanted a scheme that would at least not lock in failure and could be easily strengthened over time. That could have been achieved had the government been willing to engage. Sadly, they were not.

  27. Andos

    Tim: can you tell us under what circumstances Government negotiations with the Greens would have resulted in the ETS (or any carbon pricing mechanism) being passed in the Senate?

  28. alexander white

    >>Alex, there were no negotiations between the govt and the Greens on the CPRS. If your Labor mates are trying to tell you there were, they are lying to you. There were brief negotiations around the Greens’ proposed carbon levy, but they were dropped pretty quick smart.<<

    OK – I conflated the two (ETS and carbon tax) together. However, please explain how you negotiate with a group (The Greens Party) who've flat out said they won't budge on supporting the ETS – and whom, even if they did support the ETS, wouldn't be able to deliver the numbers in the Senate to get anything past.

    The reality is that the Greens Party and Labor do not have enough votes in the Senate to pass legislation, rendering negotiations with them (even if they were inclined to be reasonable) rather pointless when Xenephon and Fielding don't agree.


  29. alexander white

    >>This fits neatly with the Labor mythology of who the Greens are, but it contrasts dramatically with the actual behaviour of the Greens, as 12% of Australian voters now realise. <<

    The actual behaviour of the Greens Party saw them vote with climate change deniers Minchin, Bernardi and Abetz to block the only piece of legislation that would actually have put a cap on carbon pollution emissions.

    The Greens Party regularly vote with the Liberals in Victoria, including voting with the Liberals to block legislation that would have required a referendum to allow any nuclear power stations in Victoria. The Greens Party voted to stop Victorians having a say.

    How's that for "actual behaviour"?

  30. MichaelK99

    How is it that Labor have any credibility at all on climate change?

    The issue is far bigger than just the ETS.

    An ETS or Carbon Tax is an essential major step towards taking action.

    But there are many other things that need to be done as well, and many of these things can be done before an ETS.

    We need to end the subsidiaries for things that harm the environment (eg fuel subsidiaries, company car discounts), we need to move our transport infrastructure spending away from roads to public transport, we need to have more support for renewable energy, ending old growth logging is a quick easy step, etc

    Many of these things have long lead times, and so starting as soon as possible is essential. For example, improving public transport requires more trains and trams, and this takes time.

    If the Rudd government really believed that climate change was a environmental and economic threat, they would have started all of these things. One only has to look at the first, second, and third Rudd budgets to see the proof that under Rudd it is business as usual.

    Now Rudd clearly does believe that climate change is a major POLITICAL problem. The CPRS is a brilliant political solution because on one hand it gave most people the impression that this was a good first step towards taking real action, whilst the actual legislation makes clear that the CPRS is really about giving certainty to the major polluters that they will be able to keep going with minimal impact to their profits.

    Even greater political brilliance (but used for evil) is shown by how the Rudd government dealt with the growing cost of supporting the solar cell rebate scheme. Their solution was to give solar cells 3 times the renewable energy credits they should have, so that these made-up credits would subsidise the solar cells. The result is that under the Rudd scheme installing solar cells is now bad for the environment (which is why reputable sellers of solar cells now focus on the financial side and make no mention of the environment or carbon emissions).

    If we look at the evidence of the ACTIONS of the Rudd government, it is clear that they NEVER intended to take real action on climate change.

    The greatest failure of The Greens is that they have failed to get across this truth.

    Of course the media are mainly interested in spin, and even for the ABC it seems that “balanced reporting” now means equal coverage of Labor and Coalition spin. So The Greens have a very hard task ahead of them.

    To increase their vote, The Greens need to convince Labor and Coalition voters to change their vote. The first thing that needs to be done to get someone to change is for them to realize that the old way is bad.

    Labor spin and a compliant media will out perform Greens slogans. I think The Greens need to look at ACTIONS and show that Labor is failing.

    When looking at actions, how can any Labor supporter defend Rudd’s record? I don’t think they can if the look at what has actually been done.

  31. Tim Hollo

    Alex, there were no negotiations between the govt and the Greens on the CPRS. If your Labor mates are trying to tell you there were, they are lying to you. There were brief negotiations around the Greens’ proposed carbon levy, but they were dropped pretty quick smart.

    The fact is that the Greens were shut out of the process. This quote in the SMH gives a reason for that decision.

  32. kuke

    Given Tanner’s spin, I’ll be glad if Melbourne mobilises to kick him out, not least with Hazelwood still choking along. It’s just a shame that Batman’s so safe.

    As I’ve posted elsewhere: it’s greed and gutlessness from Labor that they won’t countenance the polluter-pays system, which can be budget and power-price neutral. This is the reimbursed carbon tax (or fee-and-dividend scheme) as championed by James Hansen and the weapon to fight the Libs scare campaign. We may barrack for Robin Hood at the movies to fight tyranny, but we won’t invoke him to fight pollution – the super profits tax and cigarette taxes are all OK though!

  33. alexander white

    Are you serious. This entire post is based on a single sentence from an unnamed Labor “insider” saying the “Greens can’t have any ownership over the ETS” – and from that you extrapolate a bizarre theory about Labor not negotiating with the Greens.

    If this was true, surely there would have been a much bigger outcry from Christine Milne who was negotiating with Penny Wong.

    The fact that an unnamed source said that Rudd didn’t want the Greens to have ownership over the ETS does not equate to “deliberately shutting out the Greens” from the ETS negotiations.

    In fact, it means the opposite. The fact that they WERE in negotiations and didn’t want the Greens to gain political capital out of it is far more likely. How could the Greens possibly get ownership over the ETS if there were no negotiations?

    This article is just a poor attempt to smear the ALP based on a very, very flimsy premise and an overactive imagination.

  34. Frank Campbell

    “This debate has a long way to run, and we Greens have to convince more people of our position that Australia and the world is better off without this CPRS than with it.”

    The real environment requires your urgent attention, Mr Hollo. The obsession with one ramshackle AGW scheme after another is depressing many Green supporters (like me).

    Stop wasting our fucking time.

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