Does Abbott have mandate to repeal carbon tax?

Tony Abbott would have us believe the 2013 election was a referendum on the carbon tax and the Coalition’s win has given him a mandate to dismantle all of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions policies. However, a survey done at the time of the election found 83.5 per cent of Australians wanted the same or more action on climate change, not less. Even on the  carbon tax, only 35 per cent of Australians did not want a price on carbon.

These results indicate most Australians accept climate change is real and support action to prevent it.

There is no mandate to repeal the carbon tax. In fact, only 3 per cent of voters said they regarded it as the main issue in casting their vote.

What’s more, the Coalition government has gone much further, moving quickly to abolish the Climate Commission, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and abandoning a bipartisan commitment to move beyond 5 per cent emissions cuts depending on international developments. What’s more, Abbott has effectively abandoned even the commitment to 5 per cent emissions cuts, saying the Direct Action budget will not be increased even if it falls short of delivering 5 per cent.

These actions were scarcely canvassed during the election. There is certainly no mandate for them.

A more recent Neilson poll found 57 per cent of Australians want the carbon tax gone, but only 12 per cent support Abbott’s Direct Action, while at 29 per cent, an emissions trading scheme is the most popular policy climate policy. Only 11 per cent favoured doing nothing about climate change.

This points to Labor’s failure to sell it’s climate policies as the real problem, not the policies themselves. Gillard was stupid to both promise there would be “no carbon tax” then agree that her scheme was a carbon tax (when it wasn’t). During Labor’s six years in office (during which the science became stronger and more compelling) the Lowy Institute found the number of Australians who felt global warming was a serious problem fell from 68 per cent to 36 per cent. It’s an indictment of Labor’s six years in office, in which climate change went from being the “greatest moral challenge” to an embarrassment the government dared not mention, as Labor ran an advertising campaign for the carbon tax that didn’t mention climate change, and Climate Change minister Greg Combet became the government’s invisible man.

The conclusion to draw is the exact opposite of Tony Abbott’s mandate. Labor’s flip-flopping on climate change may have contributed to voters’ sense that Labor was incompetent, but far from voting on climate change, the real problem is voters didn’t vote on climate. Most Australians want climate action, but it’s not their top priority. That’s the real challenge.


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