Friday, February 22, 2008

Garnaut: 'It's like reducing protection'

No-one is better qualified than Professor Ross Garnaut to drive the changes that will be needed to help Australia withstand the worst of the ravages of climate change.

Not because the ANU economist knows anything much about the topic.

He is the first to admit that until Kevin Rudd and Australia's eight Labor leaders asked him to examine climate change last April he knew little about it.

But he is perhaps Australia's ultimate economic rationalist.

The Green's leader Bob Brown who was singing his praises yesterday probably hates a lot of the other things Ross Garnaut has to say.

As an advisor to prime Minister Bob Hawke in the 1980's Garnaut recommend and then drove the deep cuts in tariffs that have by now almost completely opened Australia's economy up to the rest of the world.

As he points out in his interim Garnaut Report, industry screamed at the time, but it wasn't compensated.

The change required Bob Hawke and Ross Garnaut to look beyond what seemed to be politically possible to what would ultimately be necessary...

Ross Garnaut said much the same sort of thing about climate change yesterday.

He said that getting things right was “always a challenge in a democracy”.

The current government might adopt the sort of emissions targets that were needed, only to have a future government bankrolled by those who would lose out sweep into office and undo them.

“You might remember the trade policy reforms of the 1980s did not have universal support and one might have feared that they would turn out to be temporary,” he told me yesterday.

“But they were based on a lot of good public discussion and they were well-designed so that after a number of years they demonstrated their value to the Australian community. I hope that this will be the same,” he said.

That's why he is preceding carefully. The current interim report will be followed by an outline of his preferred emissions trading system in March, by a draft final report in June and by the absolute final report in September.

He wants a lot of discussion and hopefully genuine bipartisan agreement by the time the government makes its decision in December.

If he pulls it off he will have helped transform the Australian economy twice in three decades.