Where to now on the CPRS

 

We all agree (even the Government) that the CPRS is not good enough to seriously deal with the climate crisis, but the voices saying that it is “better than nothing” are growing louder. And, disturbingly, there seems to be a feeling almost of resignation growing in parts of the rest of the movement – a feeling that this is going to happen and we might as well not try to stop it. But for all those who argue that it should (or might as well) be “passed now and improved later”, I have one critical question:

How?

We cannot sit back now and assume that, if the CPRS passes in its current form, we’ll simply be able to improve it further down the track. If we agree it is not good enough, we must lay the groundwork now to improve it later. We need a strategy, not just a vague hope.

As part of the effort to find a way forward – the best path for us, as a movement, to ensure that we get strong, ambitious, science-based climate policy – here are the options as I see them for what may conceivably happen in the Senate in the coming months:

  • The CPRS fails again because all non-Labor Senators oppose it, leading to a possible early election;
  • The CPRS becomes law with the Government working closely with the Greens to make it environmentally effective and economically efficient, securing Senate support through bringing to bear their moral authority with a bill that matches the scale of the challenge;
  • The CPRS becomes law with the Government browning it down even further with the Liberal Party, and the Greens supporting it because it is better than nothing;
  • The CPRS becomes law with the Government browning it down even further with the Liberal Party, but opposed by the Nationals and Greens for different reasons.

Let’s take these one by one, looking at the implications for any campaign to achieve ambitious action.

In the extremely unlikely event that we face an early election on climate change and the CPRS, the implication for us all is clear: we need to be ready to run a powerful campaign calling for the strongest possible action from the next Parliament. We need to make it abundantly clear that there is an appetite in the Australian community for meaningful government action on the climate crisis, and that the community will not accept the CPRS or anything worse. If we fail to deliver a mandate for strong action and a rebuke to the CPRS, we cannot believe that we will see anything stronger than the CPRS actually implemented.

On the second option, if you don’t believe that the Government has no intention of working with the Greens to green up the scheme (and I can tell you from personal experience that they don’t have any such intention), you will at least acknowledge that the Government has no political reason to do so in the absence of a strong public campaign calling for them to do so. It is just imaginable that, if such a campaign were to build this month and grow to a crescendo by November, the pressure on the Government would be such that they would at least consider their options in the Senate. With silence and division in the climate movement, it is absolutely guaranteed that they will not do so.

Taking the third and fourth options together, it seems pretty clear to me that, once the CPRS passes, the heat will very swiftly go out of climate debate in Australia. Mainstream opinion will be that something is being done. It will be incredibly difficult for us to bring the issue back to the boil in time to deliver a safe climate.

If the Greens, and the climate movement more broadly, fall silent now, or, worse, support the CPRS now as ‘better than nothing’, I believe that it will be simply impossible to rescue the situation and strengthen Australia’s climate response in the little time we have left. We will have allowed the Government to frame the CPRS as action on climate change, the best that can be achieved at this time, and we will have given away the only thing we have: the fact that we are right.

However, if we campaign hard against the CPRS now, highlight its flaws and promote a positive alternative, it may just be possible to continue and build on the frame that this is a polluters’ paradise that must be swiftly replaced with something meaningful. The stronger our opposition now, the more clearly articulated our alternative, the more likely it becomes that we can succeed down the track.

The clear lesson from this analysis is that we must strengthen our resolve and work now to build the strongest possible campaign for ambitious climate action. Now is the time to provide a counterweight to the continued and accelerating rent-seeking of the polluters. We need to throw everything we have at this – from details critiques and analyses to NDAs and other protests, from continuing letters to editors and calls to talkback to doorknocking campaigns.

We can debate for months (as we have already) whether the CPRS is better than nothing or worse than useless, but one thing is clear: if the CPRS passes and is not rapidly strengthened, it will legislatively ensure that Australia’s emissions cannot and will not start heading downwards until 2013.

I am convinced that, if we reject that bill to lock in failure, we will be able to achieve faster emissions cuts sooner than the CPRS could ever deliver.

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