The Australian domestic climate surrounding the emission trading scheme issue contrasts with the confidence and dynamism demonstrated by Labour Prime minister Kevin Rudd in multilateral talks. Mr Rudd was in New York late September to advance international negotiations on strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the December Copenhagen summit. He met Bill Clinton to discuss climate change and positioned Australia as a middle-power honest broker that can help smooth the way between the two superpowers, the US and China, which hold the key to a successful agreement in Copenhagen. Discussing tactics with UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, the latter asked Mr Rudd to chair a meeting at the climate talks – a significant role which recognises the contribution Australia has made so far to the global effort to strike a deal (SMH 21/09/09).
Nevertheless, back home, the Opposition (the Coalition of Liberals and Nationals), is trying to delay as much as possible the adoption of ETS legislation. As previously explained on this blog here and here, Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) was defeated by the Senate in August. The legislation is due to be reintroduced in Parliament in November and the Opposition had been given until October 19th to present amendments.
But the Opposition leader, the Liberal Malcom Turnbull, is struggling to control the disunity among Coalition members. Increasing the pressure on their leader, many Coalition MPs are urging not to cut a deal with the government before the December meeting in Copenhagen. The Coalition argues that there might not be time to debate the legislation before the end of this parliamentary year. But in reality, it wants to wait and see what other countries will commit to. During a shadow cabinet meeting held last week, tactics were discussed and Turnbull desperately tried to unify his colleagues in favour of negotiations with the government. But opponents like Senator Mason have been arguing that to pass climate legislation before Copenhagen would “risk Australian jobs and Australia’s standard of living for negligible environmental benefit” (CourrierMail 06/10/09). Some Opposition members have charged that the rationale of the shadow cabinet for backing a pre-Copenhagen climate deal was to “avoid a double dissolution election” and the possibility of a flawed emissions trading scheme passing at a joint Parliamentary sitting (CourrierMail 06/10/09).
Mr Turnbull might actually be right to fear an election since his party has just taken another hit in the poll, the government leading by 16 points. Turnbull is now calling for a special meeting on October 18th, and hopes to get an agreement on proposed amendments to the CPRS legislation (ABC 06/10/09). Now that he has officially canvassed a split with the Nationals, who have said they will not agree to any deal with the Government over the scheme, Mr Turnbull must reduce chances of potential unrest among its own party when Parliament will resume on October 19th.