At a press conference Clive Palmer, Leader of the Palmer United Party, along with climate campaigner former US Vice President Al Gore, announced his party's policies in response to the Government's changes to carbon pricing and clean energy laws. Walking onstage with former US Vice President Al Gore, you could feel this was a momentus occasion for Clive Palmer.
"I'd like to thank him for the productive discussions today. My discussions allowed me to reconsider important considerations for all Australians and the rest of the world." Palmer announced transforming himself into the contradictory personas of both coal baron and climate warrior.
The big announcement was that the block of Palmer United Party senators would vote to abolish the present carbon price and move an amendment for the establishment of a conditional Emissions Trading Scheme with a carbon price rated as zero at the start. The carbon tax repeal is conditional on all energy price savings being passed on to consumers. The Government's Direct Action Plan and Emmissions Reduction Fund was labelled as a waste of money and would not be supported.
Palmer outlined that the PUP voting block would vote against abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which was established to loan $10 billion over 5 years to companies and organisations to help transition to clean energy through renewable and energy efficiency projects. The Climate Change Authority would also be saved, as well as support for continuing the Renewable Energy Target (RET) until at least 2016, after the next election.
Palmer said "There can be no justification at any time to close an enterprise when it is profitable, providing income and jobs for Australians. This is moreso when that enterprise is by its very efforts providing a better solution for the environment. Palmer United senators will vote against the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation."
"The Prime Minister promised the Australian people prior to the last election that Australia would retain its Renewable Energy Targets. Now, like many other promises he seeks to break this one." said Palmer announcing his party wants no change to the Renewable Energy Target before 2016 and after the next election. Currently a review is being undertaken of the RET scheme with a hand picked review panel that has been accused of bias against renewable energy with terms of reference antithetical to carbon pricing assumptions and climate change.
The Climate Change Authority was setup to make independent recommendations on targets and climate policy will also be supported by Palmer United Party block.
This press conference was Clive's recognition of the inconvenient truth of climate change. And that says a lot coming from a person who established a multi-billion dollar mining empire and was a leading donor and supporter of the Liberal Party. Clive Palmer is a coal baron with interests in coal in Queensland's Galilee basin. Clive Palmer's company Mineralogy owns Waratah Coal which is proceeding with the China First mine (40mtpa) and Alpha North mine (40mtpa), a Rail line to Abbot Point and a coal terminal at Abbot Point (240mtpa). In 2012 Clive Palmer, Australia's 5th richest person, accused the CIA of funding the Australian environmental campaign to shut down the coal industry. (Read Coal barons and climate change driving Great Barrier Reef destruction)
In his speech Palmer made several motherhood statements of doing what is right for future generations and the importance of keeping electoral promises. This announcement keeps faith in the Government's pre-election slogan of 'Axe the tax' and the Palmer United Party's pre-election policy of opposing the carbon tax, while recognising the ground is moving internationally and that Abbott's policies are untenable to the general public in Australia and for Australia's international credibility.
"The Government response to climate change as the Prime Minister has outlined, is to tackle the problem, as he has acknowledged, by Direct Action. Direct Action is a waste of money at a time when families, pensioners, young Australians, stay-at-home mums and single parents and indigenous communities are facing unfair measures in the budget. To increase excise and indexation is not the answer.
"If New Zealand can join the international community, then why not Australia? Australia acting alone cannot change the world, and change the world we must. Not just for ourselves, but for our children, not just for them but for all the children of the world. Not just for our time but for all time. For time waits for no man and the challenges that we face are not easy but face them we must, and face them we can together.
"Climate change is a global problem and it must have a global solution. Air moves around the world. Many countries fail to act because they are unsure that issue will be dealt with by other nations. Australia has an opportunity to set a standard for it to act as a catalyst for the whole world. To set a fair framework that the world can follow."
"In understanding climate change we must remain ever vigilant and be aware of how Australia is part of what the international community is doing, and more importantly what the global community could do together to make the lives of all those who inhabit this planet more secure. Together we can achieve the extraordinary. As President Obama in the United States has shown great leadership in encouraging all countries to act, Australia needs to do its fair share.
"In voting against the abolition of the Climate Change Authority, the Palmer United senators will move an amendment to establish am Emissions Trading Scheme. This scheme would only become effective once Australia's main trading partners also take action to establish such a scheme. This measure cannot be defined as a financial measure. It will have a carbon price zero rated. At a future time the Government or parliament will have the ability to set the financial parameters of the scheme. These should be set based upon the actions of our leading trading partners China, the USA, the European Union, Japan and Korea.
"We need to ensure the jobs and enterprises of all Australians can remain competitive. If this amendment is supported and passed by the Government the world will know that once they act, they can be sure that Australia will respond in like terms.
Recent opinion polling by both the Lowy Institute and the Climate Institute has shown there is overwhelming support for renewables and clean energy policies and for positive action on climate change. Opposition to the carbon tax peaked in 2012 and now there is a substantial degree of support for ongoing carbon pricing.
Al Gore upbeat and disappointed
This was very much Clive's show. Al Gore responded:
"We have also seen the nation of China implement a cap and trade system in two provinces and five cities and we heard an announcement last week by a high official that these pilots will serve as the basis for a nationwide cap and trade system in China in the next few years.
"We have also seen just within the last month the election of a new Prime Minister in India, with Prime Minister Modhi announcing on his first day in office a stunning initiative to provide electricity to the 400 million Indians who do not now have it by principally relying on photo-voltaic energy."
"All of these developments add up to the world moving to solve the climate crisis. That is why it is so significant that Clive Palmer has announced that his party will support the continuation of the renewable energy target and the continuation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the continuation of the Climate Change Authority and that he has announced as well that he and his party will fight to implement an ETS under the conditions he has described to you.
"While I will be disappointed if the immediate price on carbon is removed because it is the policy which I believe to be ultimately critical to solving the climate crisis, I am extremely hopeful that Australia will continue to play a global leadership role on this most pressing issue. An emissions Trading Scheme, a strong renewable energy target and sound guidance from the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are all highly effective in reducing carbon emissions."
So why the importance of the Palmer United Party? They hold a key block of 4 votes in the new Senate crossbenches that commences from 1st July 2014. They are represented by Glenn Lazarus from Queensland, Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania and Zhenya Wang from Western Australia. The fourth person of the block is Ricky Muir from Victoria from the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party.
Their crossbench numbers are crucial for the Government to pass legislation if the larger Labor opposition and Greens Party decide to oppose such legislation.
Clive Palmer's falling out with the Liberal Party in 2012 has motivated his political actions to date. There is an element of political revenge, of one of the largest donors to the Liberal Party being spurned by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and PM Tony Abbott.
I got the feeling last year during the election that Clive was positioning himself as a centre right politician to capture the conservative vacuum left as Tony Abbott move the Liberal Party further to the ideological right of the mainstream political spectrum. Palmer appears to be doing a relatively good job of driving a wedge between the right wing Abbott Government on the one hand, and the centre right Labor Party and progressive Greens on the other. The Palmer United policies are predominantly populist pro-business policies with support for social welfare, with the party narrative attempting to draw upon centrist politics from both the Labor and Liberal traditions.
Clive Palmer's eccentric media statements are often ridiculed, yet they raise his public prominence and don't go unnoticed. Noely (@YaThinkN) makes some interesting prescient observations of Clive Palmer in April 2013 (Laughing at Clive Palmer? Let’s see who is laughing in a few months...).
It seems initially incongruous Al Gore appearing with Clive Palmer, but when considering the Australian politics it makes some sense. Al Gore recognised the fate of the framework for clean energy and climate action hung in the balance and his discussions with Clive Palmer could tip that balance to retain a scale-able framework for climate mitigation action. The price he paid was elevating our eccentric mining magnate coal baron turned MP into a climate warrior, a statesman and political powerbroker.
Straight after the press conference and without answering any questions from the media, Gore and Palmer attended an important dinner. Lenore Taylor from the Guardian revealed the intriguing list of people in attendance at this dinner in the Member's dining room at Parliament House. As well as former US vice president Al Gore and Clive Palmer, it included: former chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry; former chief of staff to Bob Brown and Christine Milne, Ben Oquist; former adviser to retired independent MP Tony Windsor, John Clements; Palmer United party senator-elect Glenn Lazarus; and the staff of Gore and Palmer.
It is perhaps worth considering that Al Gore's support of Palmer in retaining the clean energy and basic climate change policy framework - while losing the established carbon price - provides a convenient payback for Tony Abbott's effective snubbing of President Obama's request for climate change to be on the G20 agenda at the upcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane. Abbott's attempt of an international coalition with Canada to wreck climate action on an international level did not go down well with President Obama. Obama is cranking up the rhetoric and action on climate. Have a read of his recent speech at the University of California Irvine on increasing action to reduce greenhouse emissions. Having former US Vice President Gore lend his qualified support to Palmer's stance would be a subtle bit of US diplomacy in response to Abbott's ideological and non-diplomatic stance.
Greens leader has commented via twitter welcoming Palmer United Party's support for Renewable Energy Targetm Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate change Authority.
The Australian Conservation Foundation also commented:
The Renewable Energy Target is the future of Australia's clean energy, and it's just tremendous news for all Australians.— ACF (@AusConservation) June 25, 2014
John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute commented in a media statement:
“The ‘good’ is clearly that the Renewable Energy Target and agencies like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority, might remain in place and unscathed,”
“The ‘ugly’ is the potential repeal of the carbon price.”
“The ‘uncertain’ is whether the Palmer United Party’s call for an emissions trading scheme, or ETS, is a pre-condition for repeal of the carbon price and exactly what is intended. The devil is in the detail.”
“A strict interpretation of the requirements for an ETS with similar schemes at national levels among major trading partners would mean an extremely high threshold unlikely to be achievable this decade. A less literal interpretation of international action, with the Climate Change Authority having a role, could mean an entirely different thing. The Authority itself said in a report earlier this year that there already is significant international action underway.”
“In our view, tonight underlines that the repeal of the carbon laws should not be rushed. Far better to allow the new Senate to have an inquiry into the proposed alternatives and the consequences of potentially broken promises in relation to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which remained unmentioned tonight.”
“It is also important to remember that the Prime Minister re-affirmed in the election debates the Coalition’s promise to go beyond the minimum five per cent target, should international circumstances change.”
Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment stated that the important point from the announcement was that the carbon tax would be repealed and outlined that the Government was open for discussions and possible negotiations regarding any amendment for creation of an ETS as proposed.
Members of the Government congratulating themselves after abolition of the carbon price was passed in the House of Representatives:
So it seems the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Climate Change Authority are both safe for the moment, and that the Renewable Energy Target might also avoid emasculation. The current carbon price of $25 per tonne might be dead, but it appears that Tony Abbott's Direct Action policy is also dead.
Will the zero priced ETS framework succeed? I doubt Tony Abbott will support that in the lower house, even if Labor and the Greens chose to support it in the Senate.
In the meantime Clive Palmer's mining business interests are advanced through no carbon pricing. As Michelle Grattan writes, Clive Palmer promises carbon tax repeal in a policy that throws bones in all directions.
Rather than taking two big steps backwards, we are only take one step backwards, just as most countries are taking steps forward. It is more delay at ramping up the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. More accumulation of a climate debt to future generations
So Australia seems to be at a political stalemate with progressing climate policy. And we now have the contradiction of a climate warrior coal baron to boot!
Update: Lenore Taylor reveals more about how the Palmer United Party position came about in the article: Al Gore and Clive Palmer: behind the scenes of an unlikely bromance. So it seems Clive was initially happy with the existing carbon price transitioning to an ETS and it was his 3 senators who insisted it must go to keep their electoral promise and instigate the framework for a new ETS scheme.