Following five weeks of intense negotiations between the Rudd government and the Opposition, the Australian Senate voted once more, by 41 to 33, against bills that would have established the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The Greens, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, and Family First Senator Steve Fielding joined the Opposition (Liberals + Nationals) in voting down the scheme (SMH 02/12/09).
The Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the rejection, while WWF and the Climate Institute, called for a double dissolution and joint sitting of Parliament to get the original bills through (SMH 04/12/09).
Under Australia’s bicameral parliamentary system, both houses must reach majority agreement on proposed legislation before it can go forward into law. Following a vote against a bill it may, however, subsequently be revived or presented again. That is what happened this autumn following a first rejection of the CPRS by the Australian Senate in August (see my previous post). The legislation had been put on the table again by the government in November, passing without surprise the House of Representative on the 17th.
The Senate no vote came after an extraordinary few weeks of drama, in which the Opposition reached a deal to support the legislation with big changes, and then reneged after its change of leadership. Indeed, on Monday, former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull (who was backing the passage of the Australian ETS) was challenged within its own party, and was ousted as Liberal party leader by right-wing climate skeptic Tony Abbott. The new Liberal leader, who has been portraying the scheme as Kevin Rudd’s “big new tax”, managed to convince most Liberal Senators who would have supported the CPRS to vote down the scheme (except for two who crossed to floor).
Mr Abbott insists that he will have a credible climate change policy but is making it clear that his policy will not include an emissions trading scheme any time soon. In particular, he said it would be “folly” for Australia to establish an emissions trading scheme before the United States had settled on its model: “The right time for an emissions trading scheme is when the rest of the world is signed up for one.” (ABC 02/10/09). Abbott plans to fight a climate change election using land management and energy efficiency measures instead of an ETS, and would welcome a debate on nuclear power as an option.
Despite the fact that Prime minister Rudd now has the option to call for a double dissolution election, which he would without a doubt win, he has played down prospects of pulling this trigger. The government has said that in the next Parliamentary sitting period commencing on 2 February 2010, it will introduce bills to establish the CPRS, inclusive of amendments incorporated following negotiations with the Opposition announced on 24 November 2009, to give Parliament a further opportunity to consider and pass legislation. Hopes to portray Australia as a world leader on the issue have now vanished, putting Kevin Rudd in an incomfortable position as a friend of the chair in Copenhagen next week.