In some respects, the Labor Party is as Australian as the Magic Pudding, both revel in fantasy. According to past Labor leaders, high public spending won’t raise taxes and, in any case, high taxes won’t damage economic growth. Now we have Labor’s greatest magic pudding yet, we can cut our carbon emissions to zero and no coal miner will lose their job.
The Labor Party refuses to produce numbers to explain this remarkable outcome, but fortunately others have. Last year, New Zealand passed into law a net zero emissions target and in doing so they commissioned actual economic modelling on its impact.
The analysis, by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, evaluates a number of different assumed scenarios. All of these incorporate optimistic assumptions on future technologies, including for example a methane vaccine (which stops sheep from “emitting”). And, in another leap of faith, 50 per cent of trucks go electric by 2050.
Even with these assumptions, the negative impact of net zero emissions on the New Zealand economy is massive. The policy would reduce the size of the New Zealand economy by 10 to 20 per cent. In Australian terms that would amount to a $200 billion to $400 billion annual impact. Employment would fall by 2 to 4 per cent. If that happened in Australia 200,000 to 400,000 people would lose their jobs.
New Zealand’s main industry of agriculture would be smashed. Its dairy industry would reduce by more than half and that leads to a much poorer nation. Depending on technological assumptions, wages reduce by 8 to 28 per cent. In Australian terms, that would mean a $7000 to $24,000 annual hit to an average worker.
Of course, the economic impact on Australia would be bigger given that we have large coal and gas industries, as well as agriculture.
As it turned out, the New Zealand Government ended up exempting agriculture from its net zero emissions target. Agriculture makes up half of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. New Zealand’s “brave” target that was welcomed by environmental activist groups is literally an example of doing things by half.
Here in Australia, however, the Labor party has not ruled out imposing a net zero target on our farmers. A net zero target is a double hit to the agricultural industry. They pay the direct cost of having to pay more for fuel, for feed and for vehicles. They also pay the cost of having productive farmland turned to trees (so we can sequester more carbon) and the loss of future growth opportunities because more land can not be developed.
This is where the “net” part of net zero kicks in. Under “net zero”, rich people can still fly to Davos to lecture others about carbon dioxide emissions. To do so, some pay an “indulgence” to have farming land locked up. Productive farm areas, in effect, would be turned into National Parks to house more weeds and fuel for bushfires.
Net zero emissions means net zero development, net zero jobs but far from net zero hypocrisy.
Labor has been keen to quote the CSIRO’s latest National Outlook report to conclude that net zero emissions is achievable but the CSIRO report does not do what Labor is saying it does. The CSIRO concludes that agricultural production levels “experience a substantial decline once the rising carbon price improves the relative profitability of other land uses such as forestry”. Up to 24 per cent of our agricultural land would be converted plantings on the CSIRO’s analysis.
Nor does the CSIRO measure the net impact of net zero emissions. It measures the economic outcomes of two scenarios, one dominated by a protectionist world with high barriers to trade and the other a world of free trade, global cooperation on climate and magically high productivity. Surprise, surprise, free trade and high productivity lead to higher economic growth. The unique and separate impact of net zero emissions remains unmeasured by the CSIRO’s analysis.
Also, to get to net zero, the CSIRO estimates that a global carbon price of $273 a tonne is required. Once again Labor shows their addiction to a carbon tax.
In The Magic Pudding, the possum and the wombat create a fire to distract Bunyip Bluegum while they steal the pudding. A similar distraction seems to have afflicted the modern Labor Party, where this summer’s fires have distracted them away from their founding mission of defending and protecting workers. Labor once again has not seemed to learn the lesson that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Matt Canavan is a Senator for Queensland.