Tinkering with the petrol price ignores the real issue

Tinkering with the petrol price ignores the real issue

03 Jun 2008

Venkat Narayanan
Email: vnarayanan@latrobe.edu.au

Recently politicians have been playing their usual popularity games in trying to gain ground with the electorate by proposing various strategies for reducing the fuel price. The problem is that all the options being put on the table by the opposition and government are targeting the symptoms of the problem not the cause. The symptom i.e. rising cost of fuel for households (now called "working families") is because of our reliance as a species on a limited resource- oil. Neither the government nor the opposition seems to have any real, long term solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, technology has not yet developed to the extent where we have economically viable options for fuel that can be adopted instantaneously across the board.

The blame for this lack of development of alternatives however can be squarely placed on two parties specifically, our government, present and past, and the automotive industry. The government for constantly supporting non-renewable sources of energy and (thus reducing the economic viability of emerging/alternative technologies) the automotive industry for not having the vision to see what a world without oil would look like. Some companies are beginning to show some leadership in this area by way of hybrid cars of various types, which while still reliant on oil are far less so that the 'average working family's' commodore. Nevertheless, we continue to see car companies acting in a very short-term minded way by continuing to roll out new car models that do nothing the ensure our future. By thinking about the future of motoring and transport the automotive industry is not going to do itself any harm, to the contrary it would guarantee its long-term viability.

Now to the government. Both the present government and previous one seem to differ little on their choices in relation to energy generation and investment in alternative energy and technology. The recent means testing on solar panel rebates and the ideology behind this move gives us an insight into the government's thinking. The head of the strategic review of the Australian government's climate change policies Roger Wilkins commented on the means testing of solar panel rebates on Saturday Extra on ABC Radio National (24th May 2008). His comments give us an insight in the government's logic. He argued that the government should not be subsidising those on higher incomes by providing rebates for solar panels given that they are the high end users of energy resources. The problem with that argument is it shows a hypocritical approach on the government's part. That is, how can the government justify means testing solar panel rebates (for people on incomes over $100,000) using the above argument when it invests hundreds of millions to aid development of carbon capture technologies and has supported the coal and mining industries to no end? Needless to say that these millions of dollars are being thrown the way of large companies who if means tested would not get a cent from the government!

Back to the central point about cause and symptoms. This government is showing us no signs of building for the future as promised during the election campaign. It is business as usual. Something needs to be done in the short term to ease the pressure on those struggling due to the oil price increase, but unless this is coupled with a long-term view of what we are to do to continue our standard and quality of life into the future, its just plain politics, scaremongering, vote winning, call it what you like.

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