Australia: Climate Revolt Topples Turnbull

  • Date: 01/12/09

The Wall Street Journal: The Australian government’s closely watched plan to reduce carbon emissions is likely to be stalled until February, and possibly beyond, after the opposition’s newly elected leader vowed to block the scheme in the Australian Senate this week. The almost certain defeat or delay of the plan in Australia’s upper house means Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be without a long-coveted domestic emissions-trading plan ahead of global climate talks in Copenhagen this month. The failure would also provide further evidence of the difficulty in achieving consensus on addressing climate change, even in countries like Australia where steps to reduce emissions have broad popular support.

Mr. Rudd appeared to have the votes locked up to secure his program’s approval, after reaching a deal with former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull a week ago that provided billions of dollars of compensation to affected industries in return for conservatives’ support.

But the deal fell apart on Tuesday when the opposition Liberal party narrowly voted to oust Mr. Turnbull in favor of conservative faction leader Tony Abbott, by a margin of 42 votes to 41.

Mr. Abbott said he believes climate change “is real” and that humans do make a contribution. But he described Mr. Rudd’s carbon plan, which aims to reduce Australia’s emissions by at least 5% from turn-of-the-century levels by 2020, as a “great big tax,” especially on industries such as Australia’s power sector, which relies heavily on coal.

Mr. Abbott has said he will seek to refer the climate package to a Senate committee, delaying its passage until at least February, when Parliament resumes after a long summer recess, and possibly much later. If that motion is unsuccessful, he would push the party to vote down the proposal this week, forcing the government to start over again next year.

Mr. Rudd still has several options, and it’s still possible Australia will approve a climate change plan eventually.

If a vote is held this week and the climate package fails, Australian law would allow Mr. Rudd to call an early election, which analysts believe he would easily win. That might give him a bigger mandate to pass a carbon plan later.

Another option would be to simply wait out the rest of his term, which would mean an election would be held any time between August next year and early 2011. In that scenario, Mr. Rudd could keep pushing for some form of climate change compromise with the current opposition, though Mr. Abbott appears likely to keep fighting a deal.

It’s also technically possible Mr. Rudd could muster enough support to pass the climate change package this week, though analysts now view that as unlikely given the change in Liberal party leadership.

Either way, Mr. Rudd hasn’t indicated any plans to call an early election yet.

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