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Rudd’s three-card trick

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This week’s Australian federal budget was nearly as short-sighted as ever. What we saw on Tuesday was mostly greenwash. Bob Brown was right: this was not a green budget.

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan

The government pandered to narrow dirty business interests and dressed its actions up with a poorly-disguised sop to the environmental movement.

It is true that we’ve committed serious money to a national broadband infrastructure. But that should have been done years ago. The info tech boom is now a fact of life. And now we’re left lagging in the next crucial tech boom: clean tech.

A welcome initiative is the government’s $1.5 billion over 4 years that will go into building serious centralised solar generation infrastructure.

But this is a mere sideshow – it’s the sop to the greens. It is a smokescreen for the government’s real agenda: protecting carbon-intensive industries.

Out of total budget expenditures of roughly $340 billion, $4.5 billion is going into “clean energy”. That’s just over 1% of the budget. The lion’s share of this money is going into that oxymoron, “clean coal”.

“Clean coal”, or carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a largely unproven technology. Certainly more unproven than established renewable alternatives like wind and solar. It’s 10 years away from industrial-scale deployment. And it’s not “clean”.

But since coal-fired power and coal exports are entrenched Australian industries, it is easy for the government to fund relatively unproven CCS technology and get away with greenwashing it by calling it “clean” technology.

This, after last week’s delay in the emissions trading scheme, casts serious doubt on the government’s commitment to the environment and to green business.

What happened? The government should be investing many billions into true, proven clean technology. Where is the serious funding for wind, solar, smart grids, electric vehicles, and other clean technology infrastructure and R&D?

Our government doesn’t get it. While our most promising future jobs engine – clean energy and clean tech – is left to fend for itself, the government’s priorities are clearly reflected in, for instance, its increases in defence expenditures, its clear commitment to subsidising the fossil fuel industries (partly by greenwashed stealth), and its refusal to include petrol-induced emissions in the ETS.

Serious money needs to be pumped into this sector. Instead, the government has doled out $20 billion in frivolous cash giveaways (a vote-buying ploy spun as “fiscal stimulus”) and delivered an unnecessarily reckless and short-sighted budget.

Will we ever learn?

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Written by Gabriel Sassoon

May 15, 2009 at 7:50 am