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Currently, the Australian Labor Party and PM Julia Gillard are developing a framework to implement a carbon tax. Actor Cate Blanchett is in a manufactured controversy over her appearance in a privately funded pro-carbon tax ad in Australia. Cate is getting support by the left and critisism on the right for being “out of touch”, with Terri Kelleher of The Australian Families Association claiming::

“It’s nice to have a multi-millionaire who won’t be impacted by it telling you how great it is.”

This article reminds readers that Cate Blanchett is a Hollywood actor worth $53M, while the opposition leader Tony Abbott told Parliament his thoughts on the matter::

“People who live in eco-mansions have a right to be heard [in reference to the Blanchett's $10 million Sydney home]…People who are worth $53 million have a right to be heard but their voice should not be heard ahead of the voice of the ordinary working people of this country.”

The opposition is focusing on the financial impact for the rank and file and how it will raise prices and hurt jobs. The Labor plan is to implement a carbon tax for 3-5 years before switching to a cap-and-trade system. The tax would be between US$21.4 and 32.1 per tonne [$CAN 20.8 to 31.3 per tonne].

The rhetoric is flying in both direction. The following video attempts to debunk the above ad, but while it looks like it’s identifying false claims, it’s merely citing opposing views.

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The problem with taxes is the public doesn’t want to pay them and that many are buying into the neoliberal myth of low taxes that encourage a race to the bottom. Raising taxes tends to be good fodder for the opposition, but it doesn’t always work. Carbon taxes are one of those things that aren’t easy for the public to understand. During the recent election in Canada, the Conservatives tried to nail the NDP {at the time 4th. and now the official opposition party} on its cap-and-trade proposal. Unfortunately, one of the pro-Conservative economists, Jack Mintz at the University of Calgary and a boardmember for Imperial Oil, flubbed it on Twitter earning himself a hashtag fail. He made an erroneous assumption that wasn’t a part of the NDP policy by considering fossil fuels that consumers use in his calculations. I have a sense that in Canada, the electorate is getting wise to the rhetoric and there’s an increasingly partisan divide, particularly on economic issues.

Attacking Cate Blanchett for being out of touch as part of a “regular joe can’t afford it” appeal is a dangerous tactic when the tax hasn’t even been finalized. Nevertheless, taxes are a boogeyman of politics. Australian Labor might want to look at the British Colombia experience with its carbon tax.

British Columbia is going on 3 years with a carbon tax, which was first met with resistance when implemented by the BC-Liberals {centre-left} under Premier Gordon Campbell. Carole James and the BC-NDP {centre-left} was making it a wedge issue in the May 2009 provincial elections. Robert Gifford, an environmental psychologist and a professor at the University of Victoria said::

“Initially, some people heard the ‘t’ word and went into a tizzy…Then the end of the world didn’t happen, and people just accepted the tax.”

Now, three years later, the public has accepted the tax in BC, the BC-NDP has softened on it and isn’t using it to attack the BC-Liberals, despite another election looming. I was skeptical of the efficacy of the tax {July of next year it goes up to $30 per tonne}, as I wasn’t seeing a clear path to behavioural changes with the particular implementation of policy by the BC-Liberals. After three years, others agree that the policy is flawed and some are advocating that the policy be fixed to address some of its perceived faults , in terms of environmemental outcomes and economic fairness. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has a report with recommendations on how to fix the carbon tax by fine-tuning the policy and closing loopholes.

The opposition in Australia, led by Tony Abbott, who is claiming the sky will fall with the carbon tax may be putting all his chips on this one issue. Attacking Cate Blanchett on an issue that the electorate is evenly divided on is risky. Attacking her with arguments that she’s rich and can afford the tax can appear to be offsides and can magnify the very celebrity status that she’s using to support her causes. Blanchett responded to her critics by stating her support on the carbon tax is conditional on “generous compensation for low and middle income households.”

I’m working on research on backlash effects, particularly as it pertains to social media. It appears that Tony Abbott is trying to attack the carbon tax, but in a way that can set up a backlash. In my model, components of trustworthiness of Blanchett might drive voter perceptions, particularly with respect to ability, integrity and benevolence. The stronger the perception of her on these dimensions, the greater the likelihood of Abbott fueling a backlash against attacks on her and the carbon tax.