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Where Next For Climate Policy In Australia?

Date: 09-Jul-10
Country: AUSTRALIA
Author: David Fogarty

Where Next For Climate Policy In Australia? Photo: Mick Tsikas
Seagulls are seen silhouetted against the sunset at the seaside suburb of Altona in Melbourne June 23, 2010.
Photo: Mick Tsikas

Australia faces an election within months and new Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she will announce additional steps on fighting climate change before the poll.

Climate change will be an election issue and analysts say Gillard must do something to win back voters angry over the government's shelving of an emissions trading scheme in April.

Gillard has said Australia needs to place a cost on planet-warming carbon emissions from industry, transport and households. A national consensus on how to do this is crucial.

Here is a look at what might come next in the government's fight to preserve its voter base and recapture disgruntled green voters ahead of elections.

A COMPROMISE EMISSIONS TRADING SCHEME OR CARBON TAX?

Very unlikely.

The political debate on emissions trading has become so polarized that Gillard will want to avoid anything that gives the opposition or powerful industry lobbies reason to attack her, particularly after a bruising debate on a planned mining tax.

"A carbon price is completely off the agenda. I can't see the government going anywhere near that in the lead up to the election. They don't want to fight a great big new tax," said Andrew Macintosh, Associate Director of the Center for Climate Law and Policy at the Australian National University.

Gillard will want to shore up the existing voter base by trying to resolve other outstanding issues, such as the mining tax deal and changes to immigration and refugee policies.

But she needs to restore public trust in the fight against climate change, so she might announce some form of public consultation on carbon pricing prior to the election with a view to having legislation come back to the parliament next year.

MORE STEPS TO BOOST RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY?

Likely.

Gillard has said she will announce steps in these areas. She might announce additional funding of big-ticket renewable energy projects, such as offering tax relief or other incentives. She might also opt for energy efficiency measures for households and small-to-medium enterprises to help them cut power costs.

Analysts say much more can be done to boost energy efficiency in Australia to curb the growth in demand for electricity.

Plans for households and businesses could include subsidies, revolving funds or marginal tax rate benefits. But the key is to avoid a repeat of a botched government-backed home insulation scheme that led to fires and the deaths of four people.

Analysts say Gillard also needs to find a way to reach to out to farmers, even if it is simply discussing ideas on helping on climate change, land productivity and drought tolerance.

DO NOTHING?

Possible but risky.

"My feeling at the moment is that she will continue the rhetoric on concern about climate change, but we won't hear much in terms of substance," Macintosh said.

Gillard faces a delicate dance in being seen to be doing something while not angering blue-collar workers who fear higher costs from climate policies.

"My take-home message is the government has a major credibility gap in this policy space," said Peter Christoff, lecturer in climate policy at the University of Melbourne, adding the government needed to revisit the carbon pricing debate to regain that credibility.

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