Handling the climate change issue: lesson two.

I must say that Bill Shorten seems to be getting the idea. Attacking Tony Abbott as the most unscientific prime Minister ever, is brilliant.

There is probably a general perception in the electorate that Abbott takes a fairly unscientific approach to everything. This is fairly reasonably founded on his refusal to accept climate science. And this “Unscientific” tag can be trotted out to discredit anything he may say in the future.

The Electricity Bill campaign is based on the idea that you shouldn’t vote for Shorten because he’ll put electricity prices up. The unscientific prime minister campaign is based on the idea that you shouldn’t vote for Tony Abbot because he’s dumb. Clever!

So here is lesson number two: Always start with the big picture, then go for the detail.

So this is what you say, Bill

“I want to talk to you about electricity prices. Tony Abbott argues that electricity prices will go up under Labor and that ordinary Australians cannot afford for electricity prices to go up, but this is only part of the picture. The question that the Australian community must ask is whether we can continue to wear all the other costs of climate change: the increased food prices during the floods in Queensland, the higher insurance premiums as result of Australia bushfires, the cost of coastal erosion in our seaboard cities or the cost of replacing everything in your home when it has been destroyed by flood or bushfire.

queensland-floods-2013-460x250

A series of floods hit Queensland, Australia, beginning in December 2010. The floods forced the evacuation of thousands of people from towns and cities.  At least 90 towns and over 900,000 people were affected. Damage initially was estimated at around A$1 billion before it was raised to $2.38 billion. The estimated reduction in Australia’s GDP is about A$40 billion.

Electricity prices are only one part of the wider debate about how we deal with climate change. The focus on electricity prices ignores the huge costs that we will carry if we do nothing about climate change.

You start with this big picture, then you have a number of lines of argument you could follow: Increased food prices etc etc. Such an approach gives you more room to manoeuvre. Once the debate starts to narrow, it becomes very difficult not to be bogged down on the details and the specifics.

I have to admit that I’m sceptical about Bill Shorten’s leadership abilities and think that if Labor wins the next election it will be despite, rather than because of, the current leader. But since his appearance at the Royal Commission, he is gone from strength to strength.

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Why we shouldn’t compensate low income earners for the effects of an ETS.

Emissions trading schemes are an imperfect means for reducing emissions because they allow large carbon emitters to purchase credits to continue polluting. However, it appears to be the best we can get and we’re stuck with them as the best solution.

The best aspect of the scheme is that it endeavours to change the behaviour of companies whose behaviour needs changing. But this only deals with the supply side of the equation. It does nothing on the consumption side.

Companies with out-dated technologies would be hard hit by an ETS

Companies with out-dated technologies would be hard hit by an ETS

Here, the problem is compensating low income earners for the impacts of emissions trading schemes when the price of electricity goes up. This is because the compensation is targeting the wrong group. The assumption that the compensation should be allocated on the basis of need rather than behavioural change, is fundamentally flawed.

If low income groups are compensated for increases in the price of electricity then there is no incentive for that group of the population to change its behaviour either by moving to renewable energy generators or by using less electricity.

The people who should be compensated are those who move to renewable energy generators and who reduce their electricity consumption.

This is why subsidies to people who install solar panels is such a good idea. It’s a quick and very efficient way of moving people away from large coal-fired electricity companies and towards self-sufficiency in the electricity generation.

The goal should be to have every home look like this.

The goal should be to have every home look like this.

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Handling the climate change issue: lesson one. 

Bill Shorten is soon going to need to fend off the inevitable attacks over his decision to introduce an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The first attack will be over whether this constitutes a tax or not. It will be a difficult argument, given that Joel Fitzgibbon is already on television saying “you can call it a tax if you like.”

Joel Fitzgibbon practising buttoning his lip. Keep up the good work, Joel

Joel Fitzgibbon practising buttoning his lip. Keep up the good work, Joel

It’s very easy to get lost in the semantics so you need to be crystal clear and clowns like Fitzgibbon are certainly not helping. So it is going to be really important that the argument about the nature of taxes and of trading schemes is worked out and everybody in the Labor Party understands it and sticks to it.

But it’s more important not to be fooled by the sucker punch. It’s a political manoeuvre that the Right is particularly adept at using: never argue the big issues, go directly to the detail, confuse and obfusticate. It’s the style that seems to come naturally to Environment Minister Greg Hunt who seems to be making the running on this.

Let’s take the issue of the price electricity. The government has labelled Shorten “Electricity Bill”. It’s clever, it’s glib, it simple and it’s an easy sell. Also an argument that Shorten can’t win. So he shouldn’t get into a fight over issue.

Someone needs to stand up and say: “If we take climate change seriously, we’re going to have to find some way of using less energy, particularly coal-fired energy. What the government will do, is to subsidise a shift to renewable energy to provide it with a price advantage over coal-fired energy. This will inevitably involve costs to many Australians who continue to remain dependent on fossil fuel energy.”

But if you look at the way the Liberal Party is mounting the case for a move towards a 15% GST then there are some interesting and informative lessons to be learned.

The first is to create consensus, particularly external consensus, for the need to change. In this case, the consensus is being formed, albeit tentatively, amongst the State Premiers. Having NSW Premier Mike Baird float the idea was a stroke of genius.

Abbott begins to build consensus on a GST increase

Abbott begins to build consensus on a GST increase

It means that Tony Abbott can wipe his hands of the issue and say “Nothing to do with me, it was Mike’s idea and the other premiers agreed. Anyhow, it’s a state issue so I really should agree with them.”

Now, an increase of the GST to 15% is far from a done deal but the way the political process is being handled is extremely clever and extremely effective. With Labor in power in three states, it should be possible to create the same”consensus” over climate change and in particular the ETS.

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Choppergate is Tony Abbott’s perfect storm

In the greater scheme of things, Tony Abbott has no one to blame over Choppergate except himself and Joe Hockey and Barnaby Joyce and George Brandis and Philip Ruddock and Teresa Gambaro, all of whom have been involved in claiming, and then paying back, travel expenses to which they were not entitled.

Some of the  attendees at Sophie Mirabella's wedding paid their own expenses. But some didn't.

Some of the attendees at Sophie Mirabella’s wedding paid their own expenses. But some didn’t.

Abbott was caught out claiming over $1000 to attend a wedding (as were a number of his colleagues). He was also in the habit of claiming taxpayer funded expenses to compete in ironman events and for other events including attending the Melbourne Cup, the Boxing Day Ashes test, the AFL Dreamtime game, the Birdsville races , the AFL grand final, the Bathurst 1000 V8 super cars, the men’s final of the Australian Tennis Open and the Tamworth Country Music festival.

There is a list of the expenses he has claimed. It makes really interesting reading

 Tony Abbott completes in a ( taxpayer-funded) triathalon

Tony Abbott completes in a ( taxpayer-funded) triathalon

Abbott argued the case for claiming the expenses for the Ironman by saying that  people in remote centres don’t often get the chance to see a politician, it was a community event and besides, it was hard work. None of which really make it official business.

So the groundswell of public anger at the kind of behaviour that Bronwyn Bishop is being pilloried for, began building sometime ago.

And Bishop remains defiant and unrepentant in the face of mounting public anger.

Don’t go Bronwyn. Your presence and your outrageous behaviour as Speaker of the House will only serve to underline the entitlement culture and arrogance of this government. But when the analysis of the defeat of the Abbot government is done, Choppergate will be seen as a major contributing factor.

That should cement your place in Liberal party history.

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Not good enough Madam Speaker

House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has described allegations she misused her travel allowance as a “political beat-up” and says she is sorry they distracted attention from Labor leader Bill Shorten.

 Speaker Bronwyn Bishop ponders her next response to the travel rorts scandal.  Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop ponders her next response to the travel rorts scandal.
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

In a short statement issued on Thursday afternoon, Bishop contended the travel last November was conducted within the rules. This particular reimbursement was to avoid “any doubt”.

When Bronwyn Bishop says that her travel is “within the rules”, she means she is entitled to it. But the problem is that the government of which she is a member, has been pretty hot and strong on entitlements, on lifters and leaners. And she is beginning to look very much like leaner.

Bishop was neither apologetic nor contrite for spending $5200 on a helicopter ride to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser. She contended repaying the money was apology enough for what she said was “clearly an error of judgment”. When the ABC made an  “error of judgement” over the appearance of Zaky Mallah on Q&A, Tony Abbott said “heads must roll.”  Obviously there are different standards for the ABC and the speaker of the House of Representatives in the Prime Minister’s mind.

Bronwyn Bishop first came to the federal parliament in 1987. That means she’s been there 28 years. As Speaker of the House, it is her job to know and enforce the rules.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop: good at making sure everybody else follows the rules

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop: good at making sure everybody else follows the rules

So it’s probably reasonable to expect that she wouldn’t be making “errors of judgement” particularly on the sensitive issue Related to what appears to be the extremely extravagant  spending of taxpayers’ money.

But the expenses of the helicopter trip pale into insignificance against the spending in Geneva. And a full explanation of this needs to be given for each of the $90,000. It’s no good for the Speaker to hide behind the fact she’s admitted an error of judgement and repaid the money for the helicopter trip. There needs to be a full examination of what went on in Geneva.

When questioned about the $90,000 spent on this trip, her response was “It wasn’t $90,000, it was $88,000.” Well, that’s okay then, that sets the record straight.

Bishop is clearly not going to resign. Why should she? She’s on a salary of over $300,000 a year, with an annual expense account in excess of that and the Prime Minister is standing by her.

Bill Shorten shouldn’t push too hard for her to resign. The longer she stays, the worse she and Tony Abbott look.

 Bill Shorten has every right to feel smug

Bill Shorten has every right to feel smug

The Abbott government’s Royal Commission is pursuing Bill Shorten over  of its own money $40,000 that labour hire company Unibilt spent  to partially fund a campaign manager for Shorten yet appears to be unconcerned over the speaker spending double that amount  of taxpayers money on what appeared to be fairly questionable travel expenses.

Someone will need to talk to Tony about the political costs of not cutting Bronwyn Bishop loose. Probably only one person who is brave enough to do that.

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The warped logic of the NRA.

The National Rifle Association of America has launched an attack on Australia’s gun laws. The article There will be blood can be found on their website.

In discussing the John Howard-initiated buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre, the article says What occurred in Australia in 1996 was not just a stricter gun law—it was a mass confiscation. To paint it as the product of a national consensus is an insult to those Australians who were furiously opposed to being disarmed by their government.

There certainly were many people who were deeply upset by being required to surrender their pump action shotguns and John Howard courageously confronted angry gunowners to argue his case in Sale.

 John Howard wore body armour when he addressed this rally of angry gun owners.  They felt deeply insulted.

John Howard wore body armour when he addressed this rally of angry gun owners. They felt deeply insulted.

Many people feel that the gun buyback defined John Howard’s political legacy.

Nationally, there had been 13 mass shootings in the 18 years before the 1996 reforms. There had been none since.  It’s difficult to get accurate figures on the mass shootings in America however one study suggests there has been one month since 2009.

The logic of the NRA, which opposes any restriction on the number or firepower of guns that the public can own, goes like this: Everyone should have a gun. This means that there will always be a good guy around to shoot the bad guy who has got a gun.  Simply stopping people having guns isn’t the answer.

While the jury is still out on the  Martin Place massacre in Sydney, it seems highly likely that the arrival of the good guys with guns precipitated the tragedy.

Most Australians are very happy with their gun laws and believe that restricting firearms is the best way to protect public safety.

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What gets up my nose about Bronwyn Bishop (updated)

Actually, it’s a matter of too much outrage and too few nostrils. In one year, Bronwyn Bishop managed to spend around $214,000 on travel and related expenses.  That is nearly 4 times the median income of $54,548 in Mount Druitt, the area worst hit by the last two Abbott/Hockey budgets.

 Joe likes to think the age of entitlement is over that he didn't   reckon on Speaker Browyn Bishop's travel expenses

Joe likes to think the age of entitlement is over that he didn’t reckon on Speaker Browyn Bishop’s travel expenses

With the Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey rattling on about the age of entitlement being over, this is an obscenity. Bishop’s defence that she didn’t break any rules is not the point. The political party to which she belongs and continues active membership in her role as Speaker is demanding that the poorest in our society should be tightening their belts. The speaker appears to be letting hers out a couple of notches. The Member for McKellar managed to rack up nearly $400,000 in expenses in a single year. In fairness, some of this is related to the expenses of the office but the vast proportion of it has gone on travel. So why does the Speaker of the House need to travel so much. It’s not as if she has portfolio responsibilities that Cabinet ministers have. The salary of the Speaker of the House of Representatives is $341,477. Surely this is enough to enable the Speaker to dip into her own pocket for the trip such to Geneva to lobby for a plum post-parliament job. But no. She slugged the taxpayer.

“Travel expenses? I did nothing wrong. Who cares?”

On this trip she and her two parliamentary staff colleagues spent $25,000 on two weeks accommodation. That’s around $4000 per week each, around $570 per night. Not a lot by European standards, but enough to be luxuriously comfortable. But they also spent $14,000 on ground travel. That’s $1000 a day riding around, presumably together. There must have been some pretty lengthy day trips built into that one, because the city of Geneva (population 200,000) is only about 5 km in each direction. Perhaps they were travelling in gold-plated Rolls-Royces. Actually you can hire a Bentley (admittedly not  gold-plated) for around $A700 a day but I think you have to drive it yourself.

Fairfax Media can reveal the Speaker racked up a $14,000 limo bill in a little over a fortnight during her European trip in October. On the same trip, Mrs Bishop’s four fellow delegates spent between $1200 and $2800 each on ground transport. They typically travelled by public transport or in more modest embassy-arranged cars. “There was a black BMW carting her around like royalty,” said a source involved with the trip. “She wasn’t about to take her eight-inch heels on the subway.”

Bentley Flying Spur: well within budget.

Bentley Flying Spur: well within budget.

This level of expenditure by Bishop raises an interesting question: How much would the Speaker have spent on this trip had she been paying for it herself? There’s also a more general and important issue here. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is meant to uphold the standards of our Parliament. The actions of the current speaker would lead many to think she has fallen far short of this.

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