A carbon tax is meant to hurt a little, but we have a choice: we can change.

The media’s war over the carbon tax continues to wage, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun leading the charge with the headline “Carbonated!”

The paper breathlessly warns of how the tax will raise a price on everything.:

CONSUMERS face price rises on well-known brands – including Coke, Cadbury, Mars and McDonald’s – as the carbon tax puts the squeeze on retailers and producers.

While the Gillard Government is preparing to deliver significant compensation to households – especially pensioners and low-income families – supermarket managers are predicting across-the-board price rises for everyday food items.

Exporters, already feeling the squeeze from Australia’s soaring dollar, have warned they will be vulnerable and will find it hard to pass on higher energy costs to their international customers.

Herald Sun calculations show that based on the Federal Government’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting paper – which details companies’ direct emissions and the pollution produced in supplying the energy they consume – companies would face significant carbon tax costs before any industry compensation that might filter down.

Cue a litany of complaints and fear mongering by coal miners and junk food manufacturers.

Fortunately, a little bit of sanity is provided by Tim Colebatch over at The Age:

The point of a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme is to maximise our long-term welfare – the welfare of future generations, particularly those at risk from rising seawaters (think Bangladesh, or the Pacific islands) or from hotter temperatures and rising evaporation (think farmers in Australia’s food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin).

They work by raising prices.

But remember: when the price of emissions rises, it creates the incentive for producers and consumers to change the way they operate, to shift to technologies or ways of life that produce fewer emissions. You face the full impact of the price rise only if you stand still and change nothing. And the purpose of charging for carbon is to drive change.

John Quiggin does even further analysis and destroys the Herald Sun’s poor arithmetic:

But those of us capable of primary school arithmetic can take things a little bit further. There are 20 million or so people in Australia, so the cost amounts to around $3.50 a year, or 7 cents a week for us. For the archetypal (if unrepresentative family of four) that’s around 30 cents a week or 60 cents a fortnight (an increase of 0.4 per cent for the mother in the example). Looking at the illustrative photo, that’s rather less than the difference between the Kleenex tissues in the shopping trolley and the home brand alternative.

That the Herald Sun get’s it so wrong is really no surprise.

In many respects, this is the debate we that needs to happen, however Quiggin’s post is a salient reminder of just how dishonest and misleading the campaign against the carbon tax is. It is also why I’m disdainful of the “deniers” and media outlest such as the “HUN”.

They preach a mantra of doing nothing, of not changing.

Still, one simply can’t impose a new tax on the electorate without a debate. More telling is that the Herald Sun and The Age continue to fight the same “culture war”.

Gillard & Co’s failure

The real failure lies with the Labor government under Gillard.

They’ve tried to soft peddle this change calling it a “reform” and promising all kinds of hand outs, without spelling out the simple message that the tax is designed to raise prices on certain goods and services.

The message needs to be simple, clear and honest: 

  • Yes, producers will pass on costs. 
  • Yes, consumers will have to bear some of those costs

But, if the “market” works as it’s supposed to then producers and suppliers will work out ways to reduce the consumers expose to the tax by offering new “low carbob” goods and services. The tax is intended to stimulate innovation.

But more importantly the messages need to stress how much choice the individual has:

“You can change”

But rather speak plainly, and explain basic economics Gillard and her government continues to flounder by speaking in a that flat, nasally tone tone about “reform”.

Instead, the messages should be crafted around the individual’s ability to change, to take responsibility and make choices.

One of the most important characteristics of most Australian’s self identify is resilience, pragmatism and toughness. There is no shame tapping into these cultural “myths” and stereotypes”.

Instead Gillard & Co. continue to chant the mantra’s of neo-liberalism. That’s why I distaste this “reform” mantra. It does not speak to the individual. It assumes that we’re all good neo-liberals who believe in the value of the market, and make decisions based on rational basis.

We don’t.

We’re emotional creatures, whose decision making and beliefs are driven more by emotion and values.

So why not say:

“We know it’s going to hurt a little but Australians have always been resourceful and prepared to make sacrifices. That’s what makes us a great nation.

We have a choice to make today: to leave Australia a better place for our children, or to shirk our individual responsibilities. What has made Australia great is the pragmatism of its people.

We know climate change is a challenge. But it is better to face that challenge today, when we can do something about it than wish it away or leave it to our children to try and solve.

What matters is the choices we make today, in the interests of our nation, our families and our future.”

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