The powerful spin of Abbott's wrecking ball
Advertisement

The powerful spin of Abbott's wrecking ball

Bill Kelty had some advice for the labour movement this week. He was puzzling over why Labor seemed to have lost hope and trust and a sense of purpose. The day before, speaking to the same ACTU Congress, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had blamed her woes, in part, on the fact that Australians had been ''screamed at'' by the opposition for more than a year and also on the ''the schlock and horror that modern media reporting runs to''.

But the former ACTU secretary was having none of that.

May have overlooked the finer details ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

May have overlooked the finer details ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

''I've got to be frank, it's too easy to blame the media … and there 's no purpose blaming the opposition for doing what, after all, you would expect them to do, and that is to beat you. In a sense I think we simply make politics too hard. The truth will normally do,'' he said.

And there it was. An idea at first blush obvious but in this political climate somehow also exotic and audacious. Telling the truth - now there's an idea whose time has surely come.

Advertisement

Because of course the very notion of truth has itself become the subject of spin. By dint of endless repetition, the antithesis of truth has become incorporated into the Prime Minister's very name.

The unspun truth is, as always, more complicated. Yes, Gillard promised before the last election that there would be no carbon tax, but in the retelling, that is widely misconceived to have been a promise not to have a carbon price at all.

In fact, if you cut through Labor's spin at the last election - which admittedly requires secateurs and a mattock - it was promising to have a carbon price, but it was a floating price, not a tax. The government really had no idea exactly what it was going to do because Labor had run away from its original emissions trading scheme policy and it didn't have a new one.

When it did negotiate a policy with the Greens, it started with a tax for three years before moving to a floating price because that was the only way they could overcome their previously intractable disagreement about what the ultimate ambition of the scheme - the emissions reduction target - should be. The three years theoretically leaves open the possibility that the target could become tougher.

Having convinced the nation that Labor's policy was built upon a categoric lie, rather than a half-lie mixed with obfuscation, confusion and political necessity, Tony Abbott skilfully set about demolishing it without much regard for the truth either.

Almost every one of his photo opportunities regarding the carbon tax exaggerates or wilfully misrepresents its impact.

Just this week he visited the successful food distribution business PFD Food Services at its premises in Victoria. PFD would have high power bills due to its use of refrigeration. But it should also be able to pass on any extra costs without any worries about being undercut by overseas competition - it's a bit hard to replace a domestic trucking fleet with a cheaper offshore version. And those passed-on costs are part of what households are being compensated for.

None of that detail concerned the Opposition Leader as he began his speech about how the carbon tax would be like a wrecking ball through the Australian economy.

''First of all,'' he said, ''power costs will go up by an estimated 20 per cent''.

Actually, the Treasury has estimated that power costs will go up as a result of the carbon tax an average of 10 per cent. The actual power price increases now announced in all the states where prices are regulated are actually at, or below, the Treasury estimates.

In Victoria, where the carbon market is not regulated, Treasury estimated an 11 per cent price rise from the carbon tax, and there is no evidence that the actual price rise will be any higher than that.

But Labor has failed to refute the Coalition's misrepresentations, or defend its own carbon pricing scheme, partly because it's a product of a the deal with the Greens and begins with a price significantly higher than Labor would ever have come up with on its own.

Labor also woefully failed to explain that it was fully compensating many households for the impact of the tax, so woefully that it was forced to mollify a sceptical public with $5 billion more in compensation that it claimed (with almost a straight face) wasn't actually about the carbon price at all.

And if all of that wasn't sufficiently insulting to our collective intelligence, the government then started advertising the original carbon compensation package as if it was just free money unrelated to any new impost, like anyone would ever have to advertise that.

So carbon pricing, the issue that more than any other has defined this Parliament, is a veritable Sara Lee of lies and misperceptions: layer upon layer upon layer.

And there are still more layers upon which we have yet to focus. Take the Coalition's implausible claim that it could quickly repeal the carbon tax even if it does not win control the Senate, or that it could reduce Australia's greenhouse emissions by the same 5 per cent as is pledged by Labor with its ''direct action'' plan, which keeps losing the parts that might have actually reduced emissions and now seems to involve just soil carbon and tree planting. It seems to suggest the whole ''problem'' can be solved by a kind of agrarian boy scouts movement on steroids. That's if in fact it's a problem at all, which after the election the Coalition may well conclude that it isn't.

And what is the truth? The truth is that the science of global warming is becoming more conclusive and the global efforts to address it are painfully slow and piecemeal but happening. The truth is that a market mechanism is probably the best and cheapest way for Australia to begin cautious preparation for the economic changes that must inevitably come, although a genuine ''direct action'' program through regulation and government grants and the like could also work, if one were ever to be proposed. And the truth is also that the tax about to be imposed, while certainly high by present world standards, is not going to precipitate the economic apocalypse predicted by Abbott on a daily basis - not for the nation, and not for household budgets.

And that's a truth surely much stranger than our current political fiction.

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading
Advertisement