Scaremongering for Stasis: How the ‘Carbon tax’ Became a Carbon Taboo

On 1 July 2012, the Australian Labor government introduced a carbon pricing scheme as part of a broad energy reform initiative to move the nation towards a cleaner energy future. Entities that emitted over 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases per year (excluding the transport or agricultural sectors) were required to obtain emissions permits, or “carbon units”, for AU$23 per tonne. The government intended this scheme to facilitate the move to an emissions trading scheme in 2014-15, where permits would be limited by a pollution cap.

However, this endeavour was short-lived. The then-Opposition branded the scheme a “carbon tax” and immediately set about undermining its potential benefits and centrality to long-term environmental protection. After the Labor party lost the 2013 federal election, its energy reform project was scrapped and the carbon pricing scheme repealed on 17 July 2014.

The narrative of Australia’s failed “carbon tax” is not an isolated incident, but is merely one in a concerning trend of partisan politics threatening long-term energy security prospects. Indeed, the United States is at a similar crossroads today with the “Green New Deal” – where an admittedly ambitious set of programs to tackle economic and environmental concerns is being attacked most vehemently for its political origins, rather than its actual impact. Such resistance exposes politicians’ flagrant prioritisation of short-term political gain over cooperation to adopt more responsible energy practices, and has stalled global progress towards climate change mitigation.

Returning to the example of Australia, the absence of any meaningful energy reform to replace the 2012 scheme sees the nation remain one of the world’s highest per capita carbon emitters. Although the Labor Party has renewed its commitment towards sourcing 50% of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, this has not been met with practical action to support this target. Moreover, in a predictable scaremongering move, the Liberal-National coalition government immediately labelled this as the “carbon tax 2.0”. In light of the upcoming federal election in May, fear of political backlash may result in more conservative energy policy from both sides, putting the nation even further behind in its path to meeting its promise under the Paris Agreement.

Regrettably, it appears that not even climate change has convinced decision-makers to put aside political differences and develop sustainable energy practices. Despite 2018 ushering in a prolonged drought across eastern Australia and the third-warmest year on record, partisan interests continue to supersede energy best practice. With Mother Nature herself unable to establish her primacy as a policy concern, it is doubtful that we will see a radical departure from energy policy stasis in the year to come.

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