Australian Climate Change Legislation Could Cause an Early Election

2007-01-31t040239z_01_nootr_rtridsp_2_oukwd-uk-australia-climateAustralia’s inaugural cap-and-trade legislation is causing the nation’s political climate to heat up so much that it has now become the deciding factor between whether or not the country will see an early election this year.

The country’s opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, has made it clear that his coalition will vote against the nation’s first-ever climate change legislation next month, unless the bill is amended from its current form.  Known as the Carbon Reduction Pollution Scheme (CRPS), the bill was originally presented to the upper house Senate in June, 2009.  The bill is slated for a second vote on August 13th and according to Australia’s laws, if the bill does not pass on it’s second time through, the Australian Labor government will have reason to call for a snap election.

Originally proposed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor government, the bill requires an extra seven votes to pass through the upper house, which is controlled by opposition parties.  It was hoped that Rudd would be able to pass the legislation through the Senate before the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and before the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. Turnbull has offered the support of his opposition coalition if the bill is amended to provide more economic support to power generators who leverage coal as a fuel source to generate roughly 80% of the country’s electricity.  Additionally, Turnbull is seeking to exclude the agricultural sector from the trading scheme. Those who oppose the amendments proposed by Turnbull argue that if accepted, the bill will do little to affect the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation contains 11 bills that have become highly controversial in the country’s political arena as politicians and industry leaders debate the impacts that the laws may have on the economic health of the nation.  As it now stands, the bill will regulate 1,000 of Australia’s largest companies and will price carbon initially at $5 (USD) per ton, giving businesses a financial incentive to reduce their emissions over time.  Opponents of the bill claim that the economic impacts will be too great and that the nation’s industries won’t be able to compete with foreign nations who have either have less stringent climate change laws or, none at all.

Although the opposition is largely against the proposed cap and trade scheme, they have a vested interest in passing the bill because if they don’t, they are fairly certain that Rudd will call for the early election which polls project he can easily win.  Instead, many opposition leaders are interested in passing the bill now and holding out for the previously scheduled election in late 2010, when they will have a better shot at winning.

Despite Turnbull’s admonitions that he controls the votes of the opposition, the Labor party only needs seven more votes to pass the bill.  Unfortunately, what it might come down to is that Australia’s political leaders may vote on their nation’s first ever carbon trading scheme not based on the scientific and economic merits of the legislation but more so, out of their personal interests in political survival.

David received his undergraduate degree in Geographic Information Sciences from James Madison University and completed an M.A. in International Development at Clark University. With over 10 years of experience in the field of environmental sustainability, David has worked for organizations such as Environmental Defense Fund, USDA, USGS and the Smithsonian Institute.Currently, David is a NetImpact member and an MBA candidate at the Presidio School of Management where his research focus is on developing market incentives for investment in environmental sustainability.

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