Power plants located in the Latrobe Valley include Hazelwood Power Station, Loy Yang Power Stations A & B and Yallourn Power Station.

Emissions power play.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt's media spinners deserve a Christmas bonus.

Last weekend, Murdoch's tabloids led a nationwide chorus deploring data showing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions for the first year of the carbon price had declined by a mere 0.1 per cent.

“Carbon tax truly was load of hot air”, “The great carbon con,” “Carbon tax a stinker”, were among the headlines trumpeted by News Corp newspapers.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has ordered an inquiry into the Great Barrier marine authority.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Andrew Meares

The single number leaked to the papers looked compelling: emissions of the gases blamed for heating up the planet came in at 545.9 million tonnes for the year to June.

All that bluster for just 300,000 tonnes savings from a year earlier?

Scrapping the carbon tax, by extension, would give the nation's households more than $500 a year just in time for Christmas, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ministers chimed in. If only the ALP and the Greens in the Senate would stop playing Grinch.

Hook, link, sinker

But the release on Friday of the full greenhouse gas inventory figures reveals the bait swallowed whole by much of the media last weekend to be, well, off.

As Fairfax Media reported on Monday, the detailed annual breakdown would probably show that emissions from sectors of the economy directly covered by the carbon tax – specifically the power industry – had fallen. Other sectors, such as fugitive emissions from the gas and coal industries would show a rise.

"It was a disgrace for the government to selectively leak those figures," said Greens leader Christine Milne. "What the greenhouse gas figures show is that emissions are coming down in the biggest (emitting) sector in the economy."

Masked decline

How hard was it for journalists to fill in the blanks? Well, total emissions produced by Australia had been flat for more than a year.

In the year to September 2012, they were down 0.5 per cent. For the 12 months to December 2012, they were down 0.2 per cent and about 0.1 per cent for the year to March.

Each of those quarters had shown electricity sector emissions were falling but with the drop masked by increases in the agriculture and transport industries and a jump in those gas and coal fugitive emissions.

The formal release of the figures extended each of those trends for another quarter – not by itself very newsy.

Power sector emissions were down 6.3 per cent in that first carbon tax year, or 12.2 million tonnes. Hunt's office pointed to a fall in demand as driving the change but so is a switch to renewable energy with its near-zero emissions footprint. (The drop in power demand drop accounted for 2.6 percentage points of 6.3 per cent.)

“The Coalition has always said that the carbon tax doesn’t work,” Hunt said on Friday. “It’s an economy-wide electricity tax that causes a lot of pain but doesn’t clean up the environment.”

Agriculture's emissions were up 2.7 per cent and transport 2.8 per cent, with the public generally avoiding the carbon costs that aviation, marine and rail consumers cannot. Gas producers get most of their permits free while coalminers jostle for access to compensation funds, limiting any dent to their profits from an 11.4 per cent annual increase in emissions to the end of June.

Senator Milne said the rise in fugitive emissions comes as both the gas and coal industries ramp up for even faster expansion. Also of concern was a separate inventory table showing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation were up 11.7 per cent in 2012-13, or 5 million additional tonnes.

"What is Greg Hunt going to do to get emissions from land clearing and fugitive sources down?," Senator Milne said.

Second try

Hunt's office had previously used the “no change in domestic omissions” line about national emissions in October when the year to September data was released.

“Now we know that in the first year of the carbon tax there has been no change in our emissions,” he said at the time, in comments that gained a limited run in The Australian and The Australian Financial Review .

Sunday's spin may have hit its mark with the target media audience but in the end it failed in its main goal: to press Labor and the Greens senators to pass the carbon tax repeal bills.

“This (inventory) information flies in the face of Tony Abbott’s attempt to bully the Senate into agreeing to scrap an effective climate change policy this week, without having a credible alternative,” said a media adviser for Labor’s environment spokesman, Mark Butler.

Still, there is always next year and a new Senate from July to scrap the carbon prices and replace it with a Direct Action plan to pay emitters to cut back.

And in a couple of months' time, another quarterly set of greenhouse gas figures to pump into the political debate.