A paper delivered to the Lavoisier Group Conference,
Melbourne, 11 September 2001
Australia in the Cross-Hairs
On Monday July 21 last, Environment Minister Robert Hill gave
an undertaking in Bonn, at the adjourned COP VI meeting of the
UN FCCC membership, that Australia would pursue greenhouse policies
with the objective of meeting its Kyoto target, that is, 108 per
cent of 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Whether he did this with Cabinet approval we don't know.
On the Lavoisier Website is a letter
dated 31 July last from Harold Clough, our Lavoisier Group Treasurer,
to Tony Nutt, who is Principal Private Secretary to the Prime
In this letter Harold Clough points out that if we extrapolate
from 1999 to 2010, what has happened from 1990 to 1999, Australia
will be producing 151.3 MtCO2e above our
Kyoto target of 415.7 MtCO2e. This is 36.4
per cent above target.
If we are to accept Minister Hill's policy ambition, we will
either have to ration carbon consumption through allocation of
coupons of some kind, or we will have to impose a tax on CO2 emissions.
Rationing is out of favour with economists, and for good reason.
But the critical question now becomes what sort of tax will be
required to make carbon-produced energy so expensive that people
will do without, simply because they cannot afford the electricity,
or the petrol, which they used to consume as a matter of normal
daily life. Typical estimates of the increases in electricity
prices required to reduce CO2 emissions
from power stations to Kyoto target levels are between 30 per
cent and 60 per cent. These estimates, in my view, are conservative.
The increase in petrol prices required to suppress consumption
of petrol to meet the Kyoto targets will be much greater, the
reason being that consumption of petrol, at least in the short
term, is highly inelastic.
Ten years ago, the then Industry Commission produced a report
on the Costs and Benefits of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions,
which concluded that the benefits would be undetectable and the
costs very large and predictable. That report, although ten years
old, and now generally forgotten, is still valuable for its insights
On the other side of the fence, there have been a large number
of papers written telling us how to minimise the pain of carbon
withdrawal. Some would have us believe that there will be no pain
at all. An early estimate, from the AGO, of the revenue which
would flow to the government from a carbon tax of $30 per tonne
of CO2 was $12 billions, and this revenue,
it was suggested, could be 'recycled' in order to protect the
poorer sections of the community from the depredations of the
carbon tax. Presumably so they could afford to buy more electricity
Of the various analgesics that are being prescribed to assuage
the pain of a carbon tax, the painkiller which is allegedly most
effective is international trade in carbon credits. Effectively,
this means that we pay real dollars to governments in other countries
for pieces of paper which state that less carbon is being consumed
in those countries than some internationally prescribed quota
I find it impossible to believe that the Australian electorate
will tolerate tax imposts of the size required to meet the Kyoto
targets on energy consumption. Nor will it, I believe, tolerate
transfers of large sums of money to other countries, to buy 'credits'
in order to keep Australian power stations generating, and cars
and trucks on Australian roads. Any government which sought to
impose such taxes, and give effect to such transfers, would create
a political crisis for itself.
Even under conditions of strong bipartisan support for Kyoto,
opportunities for new contestants in the political marketplace
would be without precedent in the history of Australian politics.
In recent weeks, Prime Minister John Howard has made Australian
sovereignty with respect to control of our borders, and who comes
to Australia and under what circumstances, a major political issue.
He has, if the polls are to be believed, received an unusual degree
of public support for his position.
From the international press reaction to John Howard's handling
of the Tampa issue, a reaction which has been one of almost
unredeemed hostility, I think the following conclusion has to
be reached. And that is that Australia's sovereignty will be increasingly
challenged from abroad in the years ahead, on this issue of immigration
and refugee placement.
I want to go back more than a decade to a conversation I had
with a taxi driver in New York City. At that time the Berlin Wall
had just been broken down and there was speculation that, in the
social upheaval that was expected to follow, there would be serious
food shortages in Eastern Europe and the then USSR.
The taxi driver was well aware of these concerns. 'How many
people live in Australia?', he asked. I told him, 'about 17 millions'.
He whistled speculatively. 'You've got a lot of land', he said,
'and a lot of food. Seventeen million people is peanuts. If you
don't do something about it, someone else will.'
There can be no doubt that I was hearing, in this taxi driver,
the voice of the ordinary American citizen. Similar sentiments
were expressed also at that time by a person of some eminence,
perhaps notoriety, in international Roman Catholic circles in
a radio interview on the ABC.
This person was a Sri Lankan Catholic theologian, Father Thissa
Balasuriya, from Sri Lanka.
The interview took place on the 3AR program, 'Insight', on
6 August 1989. Since that time, Fr Balasuriya has had some difficulties
with the Vatican authorities. My understanding is that he faced
excommunication for holding and proclaiming heterodox doctrine,
but that in the end an accommodation was reached. Putting his
orthodoxy to one side, Fr Balasuriya is well qualified. He holds
degrees in agricultural economics from Oxford, and has studied
theology in Rome and at the Sorbonne.
Father Balasuriya, came to Australia in 1989 at the invitation
of the Australian Conference of Major Superiors of Catholic Religious
Orders. These people are equivalent to bishops in ecclesiastical
rank. There is no escape from the fact that this priest may be
turbulent, but he is influential. I am going to quote extensively
from the radio transcript of 6 August 1989.
The radio compere concluded his introduction as follows:
When he [Father Balasuriya] looks at Australia, he is particularly
critical of what he calls our original sin, that of failing to
share the vastness of Australia with more people from Asia.
Father Balasuriya responded with these words:
If you take Australia I would think that it is for the good
of the Australians to recognise that they are a very large part
of the earth's surface, they are about one twentieth or more,
and therefore they have to contribute at least that amount to
the earth's and to the peoples', humanity's good....
In other words, that you care for the Australian resources
that you have and share them also with the rest of humanity,
then that is good. Whereas what is happening now is you're not
caring and not sharing.
It didn't take long before the compere pleaded environmental
concerns in mitigation of this original sin.
A lot of people would argue, in a country like Australia,
that a massive migration bringing large numbers of people in
would, in fact, lead to a total degrading of the environment,
and that we, in fact, have a responsibility to God to maintain
I think the responsibility to God is partly with reference
to the environment and to the rest of the world population. So
there must be a planning if, I think, you are spending about
$1 billion on space travel or something like that.
If $1.5 billion were spent on irrigation and better use of
the land resources and settling people, there'd be a much better
Australia, much better human beings, and you would also get rid
of this problem of fear, of insecurity and of running down the
resources of the earth....
The question here is that here is one twentieth of the earth's
surface where a few people have taken it over and they are selfishly
looking after that....
There is no relation at all between the population of Australia
and its land surface, and say the population of Bangladesh, India,
China, and the land surface. I think that these have to be rationally
looked into by a world authority....
So my question would be, Australia would have to show why
it cannot have 200 million people here, instead of being selfish.
I have selected the highlights, rather than quoting verbatim
at length from the priest's text, but there is no distortion in
my selection. What I find deeply disturbing is not so much Father
Balasuriya's prescriptions for our future happiness, but the compere's
response, which I now quote in full:
Certainly the size of Australia's population is an ethical
question, but many argue that massive immigration from Asia or
anywhere else is just as serious an ethical question.
For instance, philosopher Richard Routley, of the ANU, concedes
that if only human beings matter, then our population certainly
can be much larger.
But if the land and its flora and fauna are also valued, then
limits must be placed on population growth.
In 'Populate and Perish, the Stresses of Population Growth
in Australia' published by the Australian Conservation Foundation,
Routley argues that a balance must be maintained between humans
needs and the needs of the other species with which we share
The book makes out an ethical case for a stabilisation of
the population at not much more above its present size.
So the reason why we should not accept 200 million immigrants
from Bangladesh, India, China, (to quote the countries cited by
Father Balasuriya) is not that the Australian people, as a nation,
and acting politically in their national interest, may not want
such an immigration, and will resist it, but that the land, the
flora and fauna, would be at risk.
There are two vital matters arising from that compere's artless
response. The first is the obvious point that he is setting the
alleged welfare of the plants and the animals as the determining
factor in migration to Australia. The second point is less obvious,
but much more significant. It did not occur to our innocent ABC
compere that the situation might arise when Australians, as we
now understand that term, would have no decision-making capacity
in this matter. In other words, he assumed our Australian sovereignty
to be immutable, beyond challenge, to be taken for granted, as
far ahead as we can see.
Those seemingly reasonable but most ominous words of Father
passed over our ABC compere's head without him understanding,
at all, their profound significance.
Let us jump from 1989 to 2001. Kep Enderby, former Federal
Attorney-General and Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, concluded
an article on the Tampa affair with these words:
It will be a long way off, and no doubt is very much a minority
view, but so long as great differences in well-being exist between
the people of the world, some day, taking all relevant factors
into account, immigration rights to the so-called rich countries
will have to be decided by some kind of international body, not
by the partiality of the state concerned. (The Australian,
30 August 2001)
What has this to do with Kyoto and the greenhouse effect?
I think it is beyond argument that Australia's population is
going to increase over the next 50 years at least as much as it
has in the last 50, perhaps more. That means 50 millions by 2050.
The political question to which we have to respond is this: Who
is going to choose these immigrants? (Most of these people will
come through immigration since Australian fertility levels are
barely enough to sustain us at 20 millions.) If we are going to
choose them, we are going to have to do so with much greater vigour
than we are doing now. And, of course, because the Kyoto targets
have nothing to do with population growth, or population decline,
if we combine an aggressive immigration programme with development
of our resource base, which is where we are internationally very
competitive, then we are not looking at the 145 per cent-or-so
increase in CO2 emissions that Harold Clough
wrote to Tony Nutt about, but something more substantial.
The basic conclusion of any consideration of Australia and
Kyoto is that acceptance of Kyoto means the end of population
growth in Australia. That must be true if an Australian government
takes the Kyoto obligations seriously and continues, in office,
to enforce those obligations.
Behind the arguments I have just raised about Australia, its
sovereignty, and its capacity to maintain that sovereignty, is
an assumption about the world political order as we move into
the twenty-first century. And that assumption is that we will
continue as a world of independent nation-states, practising self-government
according to our political traditions and, in Australia, according
to our constitution, which is the foundation of our political
and legal life.
That assumption may not be well founded.
In his recent book Does America need a foreign policy?,
Henry Kissinger writes (page 21):
Today the Westphalian order is in systemic crisis. Its principles
are being challenged though an agreed alternative has yet to
emerge. Non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states
has been abandoned in favour of a concept of universal humanitarian
intervention or universal jurisdiction, not only by the United
States, but by many West European countries. At the United Nations
Millennium summit in New York in September 2000, it was endorsed
as well by a large number of other states.
In using the word 'Westphalian', Henry Kissinger is referring
to the Treaty of Westphalia, which in 1648 re-established peace
in northern and central Europe after the Thirty Years War. During
that war, approximately a third of the peoples of that part of
Europe perished. The Treaty of Westphalia laid the foundations
for the present global polity of independent and sovereign nation-states.
Kissinger goes on to describe the various contemporary manifestations
of the breaking down of the Westphalian order and then remarks
Meanwhile, the nation-state, which remains the unit of political
accountability, is being reconstituted in many regions of the
world on the basis of two seemingly contradictory trends: either
by breaking down into ethnic components or by dissolving itself
into larger regional groupings.
Although Kissinger does not discuss Kyoto in the context of
the attack on the Westphalian order, it is clear from comments
made by the French President Jacques Chirac that, at least in
Europe, they are very clear about where Kyoto can take us, and
who is going to be showing the way. The occasion was the UN FCCC
COP meeting at The Hague last November, where the parties failed
to reach agreement on how to proceed with Kyoto.
The French President said this:
An equitable agreement is one that provides for an independent
and impartial compliance mechanism, possessing irrefutable data
and able to decide remedial political and financial penalties
in case of non-compliance. That would avoid the 'free-rider'
problem, in which a handful of nations makes the initial and
most difficult efforts, only to find themselves exposed to unacceptable
By acting together, by building this unprecedented instrument,
the first component of an authentic global governance, we are
working for dialogue and peace. We are demonstrating our capacity
to assert control over our fate in a spirit of solidarity, to
organise our collective sovereignly over this planet, our common
From an Australian geo-political perspective, it strains all
credulity to imagine that China, for example, could ever see itself
being part of the oxymoronic 'collective sovereignty' to which
the French President referred, or being subservient to 'an authentic
global governance'. And what can be said about China, can be said
with equal force about India, and about many other Asian nations.
The United States Senate is another important political institution
which will have a different view to that of the French President.
But the point to be made here is that the Australian Government,
through the words of the Environment Minister, and through the
expenditure of many hundreds of millions of dollars on the Australian
Greenhouse Office, is endorsing, implicitly or explicitly, the
position of the French President.
The Kyoto Protocol, and the Australian Greenhouse Office, are
a far, far greater threat to Australia's future as a sovereign
nation than the asylum seekers on the Tampa. It is time
the Prime Minister, and the Government, were challenged on this