Tanner on the Greens

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner authored quite an interesting column in The Age yesterday, dredging up one of the most excruciating and ultimately inconclusive debates in Australian leftist politics. What does a vote for the Greens actually achieve? If the Australian Labor Party fails to deliver on the progressive policies hoped for by the broader left, is a vote for the Greens the most sensible option for the modern progressive voter?

Arguably, Tanner’s contribution to the debate is prejudiced; he obviously has some concerns about what an upsurge in support for the Greens would mean for his own federal electorate of Melbourne. If the recent state election results in Tasmania are anything to go by, traditionally Labor-held seats in the inner-city like Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler may be under increased threat at the next federal election due to the increasing support that the Greens stand to attract, particularly in affluent, inner-city areas. He nevertheless raises some fair points. Would it have been better for the environment, overall, if the Greens provided the support necessary to pass the government’s ETS? Even if it is true that the Rudd Government’s scheme as it currently stands is inadequate for reducing emissions to the extent necessary, surely it would have been better to get some well-meaning scheme over the line and then lobby to improve it, than to have no scheme at all?

While I think that Tanner over-eggs his point of view in his article, I think my own point of view, exemplified by membership of the Labor Party, speaks for itself. As Gough Whitlam once intoned, only the impotent are pure. It will be interesting to observe what happens in Tasmania over the coming weeks, but I can only hope for the sake of the environment that the Greens come to their senses and actively seek an alliance with one of the major parties. It is well past time that the Greens started engaging more with its opponents with the aim of producing the best possible compromise result for its supporters, rather than holding out for some impossible, uber-green solution that will never, ever, ever come about.

Balancing economics with all our environmental concerns

The Rudd Government’s credibility on environmental (and perhaps, by association) economic issues is likely to depend to a significant extent on the eventual outcomes of the Garnaut Climate Change Review, and of course the government’s reaction to the report’s findings. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol so soon after being elected ensured that the new government got off to an excellent start from a symbolic perspective, although its stance on emission cuts was left somewhat undefined at the UNCCC meeting in Bali last December. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong nevertheless articulated Australia’s position quite clearly; namely that the Rudd Government would, having announced the Garnaut Review prior to the election, await the review findings and recommendations before setting any interim targets. It obviously wasn’t quite as forthright a position as the environmental lobby would have liked, but in process terms the position made eminent sense.

Since then there have been some pre-emptive ad hominem attacks on the “green” credentials of Professor Ross Garnaut, mostly centred on the fact that he is an economist, and therefore that he is likely to focus on the economic impacts of emissions cuts, rather than the disastrous consequences if emissions cuts are not adopted, according to the climate change science. Considering these attacks, it is quite interesting to observe Garnaut’s recent comments from a conference in Adelaide yesterday (as reported by Penelope Debelle in the SMH):

On the eve of the release today of his interim report on climate change, Professor Garnaut told a conference in Adelaide yesterday that without intervention before 2020, it would be impossible to avoid a high risk of dangerous climate change. “The show will be over,” he said.

The Government’s existing target is to cut greenhouse emissions by 60% by 2050. Professor Garnaut said Australia would need to go “considerably further” as part of a global agreement, with full participation by developing countries, to keep climate change at acceptable levels.

These are strong words in a “green” sense for someone who has been typecast in some quarters as the stereotypical “grey” economist. I look forward to the outcomes of the Garnaut Review, and I certainly have a strong level of confidence that Garnaut will get the balance right between the economic aspects the nation will need to deal with and the potential environment repercussions. The man’s economic credentials are unquestionable. These recent statements reinforce the fact that he is cogniscent of and ready to accept the implications of the science. The early indications are that this appointment, made in Opposition by Federal Labor, was an excellent one.

UPDATE: Details of how you can make a submission to the Garnaut Review if you are so inclined can be found here.