The SMH has a look at the benefits of a carbon tax for Australia - No need to be afraid of a tax on carbon.
The most significant policy issue in the deal struck between the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party was that of climate policy.
Agreement between the parties that a carbon price is paramount to tackling carbon pollution signals a restoration of a significant climate policy agenda in Australia, since earlier efforts were so carelessly abandoned by Kevin Rudd last April. The agreement on a carbon price is well overdue; given the overwhelming recognition that a carbon price is central to effective emissions reductions.
This has been the case since Sir Nicholas Stern's landmark report in 2006, which identified a carbon price as a key element to cutting emissions. And despite independent MP Bob Katter's poor opinion of Sir Nicholas (describing him as ''a lightweight''), Stern remains a pre-eminent expert on the economics of climate change.
Nothing has changed since his report in terms of the need for a carbon price; only the urgency of its application has increased.
Achieving this in Australia, however, has been difficult to date – the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) was a miserable attempt at pricing carbon, and its flawed approach (rejected quite rightly by the Greens and others) with inadequate targets, excessive use of offsetting and unnecessary compensation to polluters, has contributed to the discrediting of emissions trading as the preferred option for pricing carbon internationally.
While Opposition Leader Tony Abbott remains vehement in his opposition to new taxes, he doesn't (yet) appear to understand that his policy of direct investment is just another way of putting a price on carbon. And while Abbott may be opposed to the idea of a specific carbon tax, the allocation of funds to reduce carbon emissions is using revenue collected through taxation.
To argue that we shouldn't have a carbon price because it will drive up electricity prices is nonsense – electricity prices are already going up and will go up even further without a carbon price, because there is no incentive to invest in energy generation infrastructure while there is uncertainty around a price on carbon. Capital expenditure on power generation in Australia is expected to decline $10 billion over the next five years unless there is a price on carbon.
It is to be hoped the discussion will soon turn from the rather nebulous concept of a carbon price to actual mechanisms – and for that the most appropriate tool is a carbon tax. Supported by most environmental economists (and others such as Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Jeremy Sachs), a carbon tax is already in place in many European jurisdictions where it has reduced emissions while maintaining, even improving in some instances, economic productivity.
Most arguments against a carbon tax incorrectly identify the misplaced allocation of funds as a flaw of the mechanism itself, rather than its faulty implementation. A carbon tax is a way of obtaining revenue (appropriately, by taxing polluters). What is done with that revenue determines what its impact will be on the community, whether it is supporting low income or vulnerable households or supporting the expansion of renewables — not the tax itself. Its popular appeal could also be enhanced by reducing other taxes, such as income taxes, while maintaining the pressure on polluters to find ways to cut emissions.