Carbon tax and the News Limited parallel universe

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We live in a parallel universe.

On one side, we have the Government, the Greens, the Independents (except Bob Katter), most of the business lobby, the renewables sector and pro-environment groups claiming the carbon tax will be a long term benefit for Australia and its economy and that, with the Government rebates, it will be a largely painless change. On the other side, we have the Opposition, the big polluters and the Murdoch press declaring “we’ll all be rooned!”

Drifting around in the void in between is a baffled and confused Australian public.

Most troubling for our democracy is the Murdoch press.

Former Australian – now American – tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns News Limited, which owns over three quarters of Australia’s print media, Sky News, much of Foxtel and numerous other media interests in this country. Murdoch is also bidding for control of the $226m overseas Australia Network, currently run by the ABC.

Murdoch also owns News International, the UK based subsidiary of parent company News Corporation, which is currently embroiled in a sinister phone hacking scandal that forced the closure of Murdoch’s first foreign masthead The News of the World and led last night to the British Government referring his bid for cable network BSkyB to the UK’s Competition Commission.

News Limited has unprecedented sway over the minds over Australia’s voters. If Murdoch says to bring down a prime minister or a policy, he normally gets his way. He is naturally conservative leaning, but he hates to back losers.

For instance, in the mid-1990s, British Labour Party leader Tony Blair famously flew to the News Corporation AGM in Adelaide to negotiate the support of Murdoch’s stable of UK newspapers for the 1997 general election. Murdoch swung his support behind Blair and Blair won. Blair was given a soft-ride by Murdoch’s media interests from then on and Murdoch was well looked after by the UK media regulators — that's the way 'Murdemocracy' works.

Closer to home, the Murdoch media’s campaign against Kevin Rudd over the mining tax, with the support of the Minerals Council and mining billionaires such as Twiggy Forrest and Gina Rinehart (Australia’s richest person), spelled the end of Rudd's prime ministership.

Murdoch has similarly set his sights on toppling Julia Gillard and seeing the end to Australian action on climate change. The tenor of his attack dogs’ relentless campaign has been utterly unbalanced, totally biased and incredibly fierce.

It has also been palpably untrue. Last week, Tony Abbott, in an orgy of denial, decried the quality of Australian economists because they disagreed with him and almost universally supported a carbon tax:

“It may well be…that most Australian economists think that a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme is the way to go. Maybe that's a commentary on the quality of our economists rather than the merits of the argument."

Indeed, it seems that just about the only “economists” who don’t support the Gillard Government’s actions on climate change are in the paid employ of the Murdoch media or vested interests.

Now, the Murdoch media is not entirely monolithic and not all of its business commentators produce unbalanced commentary. Paul Syvret from the Courier Mail and George Megalogenis from The Australian have, for instance, been noticeably fair. But they have been drowned out, rather, by the hysterical tenor of their publications' "news" reporting focussing on the unsubstantiated future losses of heavily polluting industries such as coal mining and the steel industry, with little mention of the renewable energy and low-income winners from the scheme.

Herald Sun "economics" correspondent Terry McCrann

Most of News Limited’s expert “economists”, indeed, have been strident in their criticism of the carbon tax. Judith Sloan (The Australian columnist), Michael Stuchbury (The Australian Economics editor), Carson Scott (Sky Business Editor), Peter Switzer (The Australian columnist, Sky Business Switzer programme) and Terry McCrann (Herald Sun columnist) are at the vanguard of the Murdoch media campaign against the carbon tax. Whether Stuchbury, Scott or McCrann could properly be called “economists” is debatable, although McCrann does claim an “honours degree” in Economics from Monash University.

Switzer, who is a Professor in Economics, joined Scott and McCrann in a special carbon tax panel run by the Sky Business channel on Sunday night, which was repeated several times over the course of that evening. Also on the panel was Shane Wright, economics editor for the strongly conservative West Australian newspaper, a token figure who rather self-consciously found himself in the uncomfortable position of trying to provide balance and facts as the other reactionary panellists frothingly denounced pricing carbon and anything to do with it.

Carson Scott, who hosted the panel in the style of a Bill O’Reilly style Fox News shock jock, spent the hour hyperactively interjecting over Wright as he made his points in support of the measure and hummed and approbated as Switzer and McCrann scornfully derided the plan. Switzer was openly contemptuous, dismissing the proposal as simply “ridiculous”, but it was McCrann who was most noticeable in his ill-informed, unbalanced and scathing critique.

Terry McCrann claims in his bio to reach

“…a bigger audience than any columnist in Australia through papers that include The Herald Sun in Melbourne, The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and Brisbane’s Courier Mail, The Weekend Australian, and the Sunday papers.”

A darling of the Coalition, his columns were routinely trotted out by John Howard and Peter Costello to support their WorkChoices legislation. Now, he is especially at the vanguard of the Murdoch media’s attack on the carbon tax. Therefore, it was rather a shock to find that this highly influential figure appeared to know almost nothing about the legislation and had his facts corrected by Wright on just about every point. As an example, at one stage during the broadcast, McCrann said marginal tax rates would be increased from 33 per cent to 37 per cent. When Wright corrected him that in fact the 30 per cent rate will be going up to 33 (eventually), McCrann admitted he was confused about what the marginal tax rates are now, or where they are going to be under the changes announced on Sunday.

Now, it is one thing to be unbalanced or biased, but for an economics commentator to be uniformed or to deliberately misinform on these fundamental issues to justify an ideological standpoint is nothing short of dangerous. To give you a taste of McCrann’s partisan barracking, here was an earlier performance by McCrann on Sunday, on fellow Herald Sun columnist and global warming sceptic Andrew Bolt’s show the Bolt Report on Channel 10:

McCrann’s main argument, which he repeated on the Sky broadcast, was made in a column in Murdoch’s The Australian on Sunday (next to another column by Switzer) and goes as follows:

“No rational argument can be presented on the carbon tax’s behalf, and no such argument has been. To stress, not excluding Ross Garnaut’s increasingly bizarre efforts.”

Like Abbott, McCrann dismisses the approximately 95 per cent of Australian economists in exactly the same fashion climate change denialists dismiss the 95 per cent of climate scientists. There’s no evidence, he says — ignoring the palpable fact that there is evidence galore. He gives no reason for this dismissal, though he does point out that there are alternative views such as Garnaut’s. But, of course, they can be ignored because they’re crazy.

For the record, there is an eminently reasonable and rational argument for a carbon tax. You can read about it right here.

Moreover, many other economies have implemented carbon taxes or prices without ruining their economies.

Finland was the first in 1990 and then came Sweden in 1991 and then many other parts of the world. In Sweden, starting from a low base, the carbon price is now US $150 a tonne. By making polluting more expensive there, the industries in Sweden focussed on finding energy-efficient solutions. Bioenergy was a big factor in Sweden’s success. This energy was produced from waste from the forest industries, but can come from other plant waste. It has reduced the Swedish carbon footprint by 7 per cent from 1990 levels, whilst simultaneously increasing Swedish GDP by more than 40 per cent. Sweden is now one of the richest and most innovative countries in the world.

In 2015 or thereabouts, Australia will move from a fixed price on carbon to an ETS — an emissions trading scheme. This is similar to what has been in place in the European Union for six years. According to the EU climate change expert Jill Duggan, although there were widespread fears prior to its implementation, they proved to be unfounded. She said the ETS has produced positive benefits for the environment without at all hurting households. In fact, they hardly even notice it:

“There was certainly a lot of concern from industry in Europe back in the early 2000s before the introduction of the European emissions trading system. I have to say, in Europe, the fact that there is an emissions trading system has no public profile at all. I keep saying that actually in the UK, apart from industry and traders, my dad knows there's an emission trading system — just about. But it doesn't have a public profile at all and I think that's actually a success.

“For me that's something - it's there, it's working, it's having an effect, but not to the extent that there's a big public reaction against it. It's not hurting households in that way.”

Of course, none of the inconvenient facts will be shown by the Murdoch media as it continues its deliberate misinformation campaign to permeate fear and loathing in every part of Australia. Gillard will have a fight on her hands battling such an enemy. In the end, if the carbon tax fails, there is little doubt that no future Government will ever be prepared to implement such a scheme in this country again—except, perhaps, until it’s too late.

All of us living on planet earth, and not one of the parallel universes, need to battle against threats to our democracy from those media enterprises that are willing, because of naked self-interest, to use their power to try to subordinate our democracy and potentially damage our childrens' futures.

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