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Making sense of Palmer's climate policy

His press conference with former US vice-president Al Gore got plenty of attention, but confusion abounds over the details of Clive Palmer's climate policy. Analysis with Chris Hammer and chief political correspondent Mark Kenny.

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Clive Palmer is being hailed in several quarters as a jolly green giant saving Australia’s carbon emissions trading scheme, not to mention lauded as a master political strategist. Hold the phone at least on the first part of that.

One of the problems with Clive is working out what he’s saying, what he might think he’s saying and what he actually means.

They can all be quite different things. For businesses having to plan and invest around carbon policy, that’s not very helpful.

Clive Palmer, right, announces climate policy flanked by former US vice-president Al Gore.

Clive Palmer, right, announces climate policy flanked by former US vice-president Al Gore. Photo: AAP

Last night’s Lateline interview with Tony Jones is a case in point. If you’re feeling strong, read the transcript and try to understand exactly what is going to happen to the ETS and other carbon-related legislation in what order.

The most likely translation is that today’s Sydney Morning Herald editorial is incorrect – Palmer’s willingness to axe the carbon tax is not contingent on the adoption of an ETS with the carbon price set at zero.

The main act in Palmer’s Parliament House circus yesterday – PUP’s commitment to an ETS – falls into the civil rather than criminal law test: a balance of probabilities rather than being beyond reasonable doubt.

And a wise person wouldn’t bet on any PUP-sponsored legislation until after it had been passed by both houses of parliament.

Palmer made clear on the ABC - as clear as he makes anything, at any rate - that repealing the carbon tax is only dependent on some form of legislated guarantee that power companies will pass on the saving to consumers:

TONY JONES:  Your senators plan to pass legislation repealing the carbon tax. Will that be contingent on anything? For example - on anything that you haven't told us so far. For example, on the government agreement on an emissions trading scheme - will it be contingent on an emissions trading scheme?

CLIVE PALMER: Repeal of the carbon tax is contingent upon the government bringing into law a system where the energy producers will refund the benefit to their consumers. So it's unfair to think we repeal the carbon taxes and electricity prices remain so high for Australians. So, that's what we're mainly concerned with on that particular bill. You've got to remember these are all 11 separate bills, they're not all interlinked.

TONY JONES: So - but you won't make your repeal of the carbon tax contingent on any of these other things you want to see happen? That's a critical question to answer tonight.

CLIVE PALMER: That's right, yeah.

Legislating for carbon tax savings to be passed through to consumers  should prove interesting for the constitutional lawyers to draft, but at least we understand what Palmer means on that score.

As to what reduction consumers might actually see on their electricity bill after the many non-carbon tax costs bite, well, we’ll see.

Palmer says his ETS will be a new piece of legislation.

TONY JONES: So Tony Abbott, when he negotiates you with tomorrow, going on what Greg Hunt is saying today, will be able to offer you fairly easily the kind of agreement that you've asked for. Does that mean you're now convinced you'll vote the carbon tax out of existence?

CLIVE PALMER: If that's the case, it is, and we'll then be bringing an ETS as a amendment to the Climate Change Authority repeal bill and seeing if we can introduce it that way to the Senate and have it passed by the Senate.

TONY JONES: So, can you just explain that one more time? Because you don't want the Climate Change Authority repealed, so how can you link the two things together?

CLIVE PALMER: Well it's the bill and we'll be amending that bill to introduce an ETS which'll only take effect on another country's operating an ETS into that bill.

Interesting times

Yes, there will be some very interesting days ahead in the Senate. Heavens knows what Ricky Muir might make of all this, what with motions being passed and amended, let alone anything being read a second time.

Earlier on the 7.30 Report, Greens leader Christine Milne was persisting with the inane conviction that we already have an ETS and that it’s working well. Um, there’s a considerable difference between legislation being in existence and actually having a working ETS, just as there is a big difference between me having a Powerball ticket and winning Powerball. Tony Jones asked Palmer what Senator Milne would like to know:

TONY JONES: The Greens have asked the obvious question: are you aware that the carbon tax is in fact the first stage of an emissions trading scheme? It is in fact legislated as an emissions trading scheme and can go to a flexible price as soon as someone amended it, or, as it's due to do next year. It is an emissions trading scheme already. Why do you need another one?

CLIVE PALMER: Well it's not, actually; it's a fixed price, it's a fixed price this year and the fixed price is probably around four or five times higher than the international price. It's cost us jobs and it's cost us enterprise. So that's just rubbish. There's no emissions trading scheme operating in Australia at the moment. That's just not true.

TONY JONES: No, the emissions trading scheme is built into the legislation. All one would have to do theoretically is to amend it to bring the floating price forward, which is what Labor attempted to do.

CLIVE PALMER: Well we'll just chuck it out.

TONY JONES: So, you want a brand new emissions trading scheme starting from the floor up. Have you got the legislation ready?

CLIVE PALMER: Yeah, we have, but we want to have a scheme which is conditional upon other countries and doesn't become operable until those countries do that, introduce a similar measure.

Palmer subsequently relented, perhaps thinking on his seat about what might be involved in drafting a whole new beast:

CLIVE PALMER: Well, I mean, as I said to you before, the ETS infrastructure is virtually designed in the present moment, a lot of work has gone into that, we're not throwing any of that away. So that's not truth to say that we're redesigning it ourselves. And certainly we'll take advice, but whether we'll decide to accept it's another thing. We'll listen to advice, we'll try to make the best decision.

So something is going to happen. The carbon price will certainly go – and it’s no doubt purely coincidental that that will save Clive Palmer many millions of dollars. And Palmer, the Liberal spurned, has Tony Abbott over a particularly uncomfortable political barrel in the process of achieving that ends.

What happens after that though is less certain, given the various personalities and motives at large. The final word belongs to Clive Palmer MP, Federal Leader of the Palmer United Party:

CLIVE PALMER: We announced today the final decisions on a number of bills and we didn't want to confuse the Australian public by being too extensive.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.

 

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