POLITICS

It Took Just 35 Hours For A Massive Backflip On Emissions Policy

Josh Frydenberg says he didn't talk about a carbon price. He actually did.

07/12/2016 8:46 AM AEDT | Updated 07/12/2016 10:11 AM AEDT
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Josh Frydenberg has been caught out

It took just 35 hours for new environment minister Josh Frydenberg to be forced into an embarrassing backdown on energy and climate policy, vigorously denying that he had ever brought up the idea of a carbon price as part of a new climate change review.

The only problem is, well, he did.

On Monday, Frydenberg announced the release of the terms of reference for a review of the government's climate change policies. In a statement, Frydenberg listed options to be reviewed, with the top of the list being a look at "the opportunities and challenges of reducing emissions on a sector-by-sector basis".

While the government has long dismissed the idea of a national emissions trading scheme or carbon tax -- Tony Abbott made it a centrepiece of his 2013 election win -- talk of a "sector-by-sector basis" led to questions about an emissions intensity scheme. Such a scheme is similar to a regular ETS, but charges polluters based on the intensity of their outputs. Less efficient or more 'intense' polluters would be charged more. For more on intensity schemes, check out this explainer from Fairfax.

Frydenberg went on the ABC's AM program on Monday to talk about the review, and while he explicitly said the government "absolutely rejected the Labor Party's economy-wide approach" to carbon pricing, he left the door open on the intensity scheme.

"We know that there's been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We'll look at that," he said (read the full transcript of the interview here).

This is where the trouble started.

While media led with headlines that the government was considering a price on carbon, the backlash from Frydenberg's own team mates came quick. PM Malcolm Turnbull distanced himself from the comments, frontbencher Christopher Pyne was dismissive, while Cory Bernardi also voiced his criticism; he didn't spare his colleague, saying it was "one of the dumbest things I've heard in politics in recent times".

Then on Tuesday afternoon, Frydenberg -- having been left on an island by his colleagues -- had to try and walk it back. In an interview on 3AW radio, he said that he "didn't mention an emissions intensity scheme". Even though he did.

"It's always been our policy to have a review. I didn't mention an emissions intensity scheme. It's not in any document to the Coalition has put out in relation to this review," Frydenberg said on 3AW.

"I'm not contemplating that scheme because what I'm focused on is how to keep down electricity prices."

The ABC AM interview came around 7am on Monday. By 6pm on Tuesday, just 35 hours later, the emissions intensity scheme had been buried by Frydenberg.

The turnaround has been savaged; Fairfax called it a "humiliating" backflip, the Guardian said it was a "extraordinary, gutless capitulation" and Labor is sure to make hay of it as well. On Wednesday, both Frydenberg and Turnbull fronted media conferences to downplay the talk, both saying that such a carbon price was not their policy.

"We will not be imposing a carbon tax and we will not be imposing an emissions trading scheme, however it is called. An emissions intensity scheme is an emissions trading scheme. That is just another name for it," Turnbull said.

"Our position has been clear all along. We won't have a carbon tax and an ETS. I have never advocated for a carbon tax and an ETS," Frydenberg added.

But, again, well... he said it.

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