Michael Pascoe: Robodebt culture lives on under Labor

Climate change causing food-price inflation is a euphemism, writes Michael Pascoe.

Climate change causing food-price inflation is a euphemism, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: AAP

Confession – I’m guilty of the journalistic crime of burying the lede last week. Instead of the RBA flogging a dead horse, I should have led with:

A 1°C rise in temperature during El Nino lifts global food prices by more than 6 per cent after one year, according to European Central Bank (ECB) research. We’re entering an El Nino event and climate change is making our El Ninos hotter.

What’s more, other ECB analysis finds just your standard-or-disastrous level of expected climate change will cause food inflation of about 1-3 per cent every year out to 2035.

That’s without the feared “tipping points” that would trigger a whole other level of crisis. It doesn’t stop after 2035 – that’s just as far as they went with the forecasts.

Climate denialists/sceptics/chain draggers love to headline the costs of cutting carbon emissions. They don’t give the costs of not cutting carbon emissions nearly as much attention.

But I’ve buried the lede again. I should have started this with:

The Robodebt culture continues to thrive under the Albanese government – our politicians lying for the sake of politics and budget numbers, public servants and consultants playing along with the lie because that’s what they get paid for, doing what the politicians want.

An ongoing lie

Unlike Robodebt, the particular lie I’m focussing on here isn’t resulting in hundreds of thousands of individuals being tortured by debt collectors for debts they don’t owe, but it will cause plenty of individual suffering down the track.

The ongoing lie with all the hallmarks of Robodebt-style denial and obfuscation is that the Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU) scheme run by the Clean Energy Regulator is doing a good job, is not wasting many hundreds of millions of dollars on dud “carbon farming” projects, is not simple greenwashing.

Why would the government lie about such things? Because the ACCU scheme is at the core of its “safeguard mechanism”, the sad shadow of a carbon price started by the previous government and now the core of the Albanese government’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Admit the scheme is nonsense and Labor is exposed as not being serious about climate change – one of the things that the Greens are using to nibble away at the Labor base.

If you are a politician incapable of actually pricing carbon, you can’t admit that. It’s embarrassing.

And if you are a public servant delivering the policy the politicians want delivered, you can’t admit that either – if you want to keep your job.

Does that behaviour sound familiar? It was what happened with Robodebt – politicians misleading the public and covering up bad policy because they had publicly committed to a course of action; public servants facilitating the ministers’ desires and going along with the lie.

The main difference is that Robodebt was illegal.

Wasting vast amounts of taxpayers’ money on a greenwashing is not.

In my opinion, it is unethical and immoral behaviour – but not illegal.

In his Monday column, colleague Kohler ran through the nonsense that the ACCU carbon farming mostly is – farmers (after various brokers and advisers take their clip) paid fortunes to increase tree cover but not doing it and often decreasing tree cover.

This is not actually news. Alan wrote about the dodgy schemes last year when the scandal belonged to Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor instead of Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen.

The Australia Institute and Australian Conservation Foundation blew the thing apart two years ago.

A memorable ABC Background Briefing report by Geoff Thompson in 2021 included the Monty Pythonesque story of a farmer who was being paid $1 million a year to not clear scrub he did not intend to clear. He used the money to buy the property next door and clear it.


In March last year, Professor Andrew Macintosh, the former head of the government’s Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, really blew the whistle, saying the carbon market overseen by the government and the Clean Energy Regulator was “largely a sham”.

That was a dagger to the heart of the Coalition’s always-dubious $4.5 billion “direct action” alternative to climate change policy, but Labor’s “safeguard mechanism” basically incorporates it.

Unsurprisingly, the government, key farm groups and the consultants and brokers making a fortune from greenwashing didn’t like Professor Macintosh’s whistleblowing. What government ever likes whistleblowers?

Now that the ACCU greenwashing was Labor’s embarrassment instead of the Coalition’s, the government did what governments do – set up an inquiry, the results of which were spun as finding the carbon offset scheme was “fundamentally well-designed” when introduced and was not broken.

It’s beyond me how anything could be considered “fundamentally well-designed” when it paid people money for not doing something they weren’t going to do, but the inquiry did recommend scrapping that particular aspect of the racket.

The inquiry also wanted changes to “maximise transparency, data access and data sharing”. I’d bet if that was achieved, it would reinforce Professor Macintosh’s findings.

Unsurprisingly, the professor and his team at Australian National University remain unconvinced by the inquiry. Alan used their Carbon Integrity Explorer tool to demonstrate on Monday how dodgy the ACCU scheme remains.

Sticking with a failed policy

There are other criticisms of the scheme and the government’s inquiry, but you get the drift.

The point is that common sense and obvious evidence say the scheme is a failure yet the government is sticking with it because, well, that’s its policy – otherwise it would be embarrassed.

The bigger point is where this column started.

Climate change causing food-price inflation is a euphemism. What it really means is that less food is produced, making it harder for poor people to afford to eat and tipping more people into poverty when they have to spend more of their meagre funds on food.

Food also has the second-biggest weighting in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Central banks are bashing people over the head with higher interest rates to reduce inflation despite higher interest rates not producing more food, not reducing food price inflation.

But compared with what less food means in developing countries, our interest rate pain is a very first-world problem.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.