THE BLOG
09/16/2013 09:25 am ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

What the Australian Elections Mean (and Don't Mean) for Climate Policy and the Left

As a right-wing Republican, I consider newly elected Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott a man after my own heart. He wants to deregulate his country's economy, protect the unborn, and cut taxes. As someone concerned about climate change, however, I'm disturbed by the way that those who seek to do nothing about the issue have tried to paint the Australian elections as a referendum on it. This wasn't the case: the Australian people do not consider climate change the top issue, the policy that Abbott dislikes is one that right-of-center people ought to reject anyway, and the best ways of dealing with climate change involve doing things that free marketers (including Abbott) ought to embrace.
Let's start with way Australians voted. Most " target="_hplink">pre-election polls show that immigration was the top issue for voters, jobs and the economy in general second, and taxes (which did include the climate scheme the government imposed), third. No poll that I could find put climate change itself among the three top issues. The ruling Labor Party badly mismanaged all of the major issues before it and also pledged to spend billions on an impractical scheme to roll out subsidized broadband Internet for the vast, lightly populated continent. Were I Australian, I would certainly have voted for an MP in Abbott's Liberal-National Coalition.

In any case, the so-called "carbon tax" that Abbott wants to dismantle is actually a big government power grab that should offend any free marketer. Like the Waxman-Markey proposal that passed the United States House of Representatives during President Obama's first term in office, Australia's "carbon tax" is a cap-and-trade scheme that serves as an excuse for left-of-center politicians to raise taxes and hand out the money they seize to their own favored interest groups. Given the ridiculous alarmism about climate change -- claims of "category six" hurricanes (there's no such thing) and millions of deaths in developed countries -- coming from much of the Left on both sides of the globe, indeed, Abbott was perfectly right to dismiss the political discourse around it as "absolute crap." I don't know exactly what Abbott feels about climate change itself but I do believe that climate change is a real and serious problem that public policy ought to address. But many of the political Left's schemes to deal with it are more damaging than the problem itself.

Indeed, the best ways to deal with climate change are perfectly sound free market, limited-government ideas. Abbott has a few decent proposals of his own -- a so-called "direct action" program -- and plenty of other ways of confronting climate change can also make sense from a free market perspective. Among other things, leaders like Abbott can keep their free market bona fides while working to reduce subsidies that encourage development in areas likely to be impacted by sea-level rise, support a limited but important government role in scientific research on energy technology, and work replace taxes on productive activity with fees on pollution.

Australia's recent elections were a triumph for free-market, right-of-center ideas. Tony Abbott is right to want to do away with his predecessor's policies including those related to climate change. But the recent elections in Australia weren't a referendum on climate change itself. And, for both Australia and the world, that's a good thing.