Friday 24 Sep 2021 | 21:23 | SYDNEY
Friday 24 Sep 2021 | 21:23 | SYDNEY

Change begins at home


Andrew Carr


18 July 2011 14:05

It is regularly argued that Australia shouldn't get ahead of the world with a carbon tax. For example, here is former Prime Minister John Howard yesterday on Insiders:

I've just been in the United States and there's no chance in the world of the Americans embracing an emissions trading system. The Indians aren't, the Chinese aren't... In 2007, people were sort of almost dancing in the streets in favour of these measures. Since then we've had the global financial crisis, we've had the collapse in Copenhagen. And the whole atmospheric of the debate has altered.

But what if Australia could change that atmosphere through domestic reform? A useful historical comparison might be with the Hawke Government's strategy for seeking free trade in the Asia Pacific by undertaking unilateral trade liberalisation.

Hawke thought that bold domestic reform would provide Australia with the 'substantial negotiating coin' that it otherwise lacked as a middle power. And it worked. The tariff cuts in 1988 and 1991 boosted the government's authority in the Uruguay Trade Round and strengthened its leadership of the Cairns Group. Unilateral liberalisation also helped Australia propose and create APEC in 1989, and opened the door to several FTA and trade deals around the region.

Of course, free trade is not universally embraced, even in our region, but it seems clear Australia's domestic changes gave us a far stronger influence and authority than we had before, and generated momentum for the issue to our benefit.

If the Gillard Government wants to follow this model, then it will still need to invest significant resources in advocacy, with measures such as creating an Ambassador for Climate Change, and (informally) conjoining Foreign Affairs and Environment in the model of DFAT's merger. But critics of the carbon tax will be hard pressed to find a way to give Australia a stronger voice internationally on climate change than first undertaking unilateral reform at home.

Photo by Flickr user Banalities.