Election 2013: what does it mean for Environmental Economics

We are exactly a week away from Federal Elections in Australia. The campaign goes as usual: people hear a lot of debates on the economy, the budget and costings, on illegal immigration, education, disability, parental leave… There doesn’t seem to be much heated discussions on the Environment, perhaps not surprisingly given the questionable salience that the environment carries in elections. There are few environmental issues that are discussed, and few more that surprisingly aren’t. Below is a list that summarises both talked-about issues, and the ones on which we haven’t heard much. Posts on this blog have dealt with many of these in the past.
The list of talked-about issues is dominated by Carbon pricing. There is a stark distinction on this highly sensitive and politicized issue. Labor Party (in government) has recently made a purely politically motivated switch (they desperately needed to get rid of the word: ‘tax’) to speed up a process of transition from a Carbon tax to a tradable permit scheme. The Coalition (in opposition, but leading the polls quite clearly) has been intensively using the Carbon tax against the government, and is itself proposing some sort of subsidy/standard based program towards GHG emissions reduction. This program doesn’t make much sense, and it has been criticised widely by anyone who knows anything about policies towards climate change, but the Coalition has to stick with it to avoid any type of attachment to the notion of ‘pricing’ or ‘Carbon tax’. The third most important political party, The Greens, have quite clearly a typical environmentalist position on GHG emissions, and would like to impose ambitious and very expensive reduction targets.
The next issue on which we hear from time to time is the Coal Seam Gas (CSG), This is particularly salient in rural electorates, where there seems to be an unlikely partnership between farmers and The Greens – who are vehemently opposed to any CSG development. This may hurt The Nationals (a junior partner in the coalition) who are playing along with The Liberals (the senior partner) in courting corporate interests around CSG.
The least divisive rhetoric is probably around the Great Barrier Reef, on which all major parties seem to agree that something needs to be done.
The list of notably absent issues includes the Murray Darling Basin (MDB), Native vegetation and forests, and the fisheries. It is surprising that the government is not making greater noise about the MDB, as they have been successful in striking a deal with all states involved, and creating arrangements where the MDB is federally managed, to the benefit of the environment, and economic efficiency. Native vegetation and forests, and the fisheries, have been in the public focus on few occasions in the past three years since the last elections but it seems that only The Greens are keeping them on their election agenda.
Key political players started this election campaign by saying it is going to be about the Economy. This has shaped the campaign, and on 7th September the environment will not be on the minds of too many people.

Author: Tiho Ancev

Tiho Ancev is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the School of Economics, University of Sydney. His main research areas are agricultural, environmental, natural resource and energy economics. Tiho’s main contributions have been in water economics and policy, economics of energy, economics of air pollution and climate change policies, and economics of precision agriculture and agricultural input use. He has published widely on these topics in top international peer reviewed journals. Tiho has led and contributed to national and international research projects in these research areas. He is currently the Managing Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.