Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Global Warming Revolt Down Under

Other than Al Gore, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may be the world's leading climate-change crusader, and he has made a sweeping cap-and-trade bill the centerpiece of his legislative agenda. But his ambitions met a fresh obstacle at home yesterday with the election of a new opposition leader who opposes a steep carbon tax that would do nothing to curb global emissions.
For two years, Mr. Rudd's climate alarmism has gone almost unchallenged. The conservative Liberal Party, which embraced a cap-and-trade scheme before losing the 2007 election, first said it would oppose any legislation that hurt the economy. Then last week, under then-party leader Malcolm Turnbull, the Liberals threw in with Mr. Rudd and agreed to carve out as many handouts as possible for big business. Given that Australia accounts for only 1.5% of global emissions, the bill would pile on economic costs with no real environmental benefit.
The conservative wing of the party revolted on Thursday, with six MPs stepping down from the front bench in protest—an unprecedented event in the Liberal Party's more than 50-year history. Yesterday the party ousted Mr. Turnbull as party leader in favor of Tony Abbott, an MP from Sydney.
Mr. Abbott has spared no time in setting out his views. Yesterday he called cap-and-trade "a great big tax to create a great big slush fund to provide politicized handouts, run by giant bureaucracy." That is exactly what Mr. Rudd is proposing: to have business pay government for carbon credits, starting in 2011. Canberra would then redistribute the revenues to the constituencies it is courting, especially green industries and middle-class voters, and build a bureaucracy to manage the whole thing.
Mr. Abbott asked his Liberal Party colleagues yesterday to vote on whether they would support cap and trade. They overwhelmingly oppose it. That's a welcome switch for the party, which has been emboldened by Mr. Abbott's courage of conviction.
This means Mr. Rudd now has a fight on his hands to pass cap-and-trade in the Senate, which his Labor Party does not control. He said Tuesday that further delay of the bill "equals denial on climate change." If Mr. Abbott can mount a solid economic case against such fact-free moralizing, then the Liberals may soon revive their electoral fortunes.