Open a newspaper, watch a news broadcast or scroll through twitter and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the carbon tax repeal is going to impact significantly upon voting intentions. Left wing pundits insist that it will lessen Abbott’s stature, reinforce perceptions that he’s a flaky populist etc, right wing pundits think voters will flock back to Abbott in appreciation for his having removed this burden upon business and families. The problem with these kinds of reasoning are that they fail to recognize that the carbon tax would have already been built into people’s voting intentions. The voters who have deserted Abbott since the 2013 election didn’t do so because he hadn’t repealed the carbon tax yet, they knew he was always going to try and do it before too long, they deserted him for a range of other reasons. The claim that it will lose Abbott further votes is even more ludicrous, it seems to imply that those who answer “Liberal” when asked by Newspoll or Nielsen who they’re going to vote for had no idea that Tony Abbott wanted to repeal the carbon tax, still wish can be the father of some very stupid thoughts.
The repeal of the carbon tax changed very little, it reinforced pre-existing perceptions that the Liberal Party and the Palmer United Party opposes a price on carbon, it reinforced pre-existing perceptions that the Greens strongly support a price on carbon. The only party for whom the repeal clarified anything was the Labor Party. After the ambiguity of Kevin Rudd’s “The carbon tax has been terminated” statement and the conjecture about a policy overhaul after Labor lost the election, Bill Shorten had a forum in which he could clearly outline his parties position of supporting a floating price emissions trading scheme and disassociate the Labor Party from fixed prices once and for all. This is a slightly more palatable position than Julia Gillard’s carbon tax but will still have little influence on voters intentions. The outcome of the carbon price repeal is that voters now believe that Palmer and Abbott oppose carbon pricing while Shorten and Milne support it, which everybody already knew to be the case. The idea therefore that it will significantly enhance or undermine the credibility of either major party leader is fanciful.
None of this is to say that climate change is no longer a significant political issue, a Prime Minister abandoning economic arguments in favour of climate skepticism is probably going to pay for it down the track.