A Well Hung Parliament for Climate Policy

A Well Hung Parliament for Climate Policy

It is starting to look like a hung parliament might just be better for climate policy than the majority governments we’ve had in the past, says young environmental of the year and climate observer Ellen Sandell, while the TheGuardian (United Kingdom) observes that the independent MPs might insist on climate change action as a condition of any king-making deal with Labor or the Liberal-led coalition as horse-trading begins in the wake of Saturday’s inconclusive Australian election.

Tom Young for Business Green in The Guardian (24 August 2010):

Independent MPs are meeting to discuss whether action on climate change should be a condition of any king-making deal with Labor or the Liberal-led coalition as horse-trading begins in the wake of Saturday’s inconclusive Australian election.

Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and Tony Windsor are aiming to decide what demands should be presented to the two parties in the likely event of a hung parliament. Climate change policy is reportedly a key part of their agenda.

At the latest count Labor was hopeful of holding 73 seats in the 150-seat parliament, while the coalition holds 70, both short of the 76 seats needed in the lower house to form a government.

Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent Andrew Wilkie are not taking part in the meeting, but are also said to be weighing up their options. Bandt is widely expected to align himself with the Labor party, but Wilkie has said that he could support either of the two main parties.

Oakeshott, who has emerged as a key negotiator in the group of three independents, yesterday called for action on climate change to form part of any deal. “That is one example of what we may be able to deliver for this country, which the last parliament couldn’t do,” he told ABC news.

Meanwhile, both parties are also looking to woo those Greens elected to the upper house, known as the senate, to ensure that legislation can be approved without opposition.

As a result, the Greens have some leverage with which to persuade a potential Labor or coalition administration to adopt more ambitious climate change policies, including a strong price on carbon and binding national emission and energy efficiency targets.

Prime minister Julia Gillard has signalled that she would like to introduce some form of carbon price if she forms the next government and is likely to set out ambitious proposals if she is required to call on support for her plans from the Greens.

However, Liberal leader Tony Abbott has consistently opposed any form of emissions trading or carbon tax legislation, instead setting out plans for an AU$2.5bn (US$2.2bn) emissions reduction fund.

Despite the fact that if elected as prime minister he may be forced to do a deal with the Greens in order to pass any legislation, Abbott today warned any continuing Labor government would effectively be a Labor-Green alliance. “I think that would be very bad for regional Australia,” he told the Australian newspaper, adding it would “almost certainly” result in a carbon tax

Source: www.guardian.co.uk

Ellen Sandell for The Age (25 August 2010):

Independents’ day: a nation waits

Independent MPs expected to hold initial meetings today with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

I was asked to write this article as an analysis of what the election results mean for climate policy in this country, depending on who won. The problem is, we still don’t know who won. However, it’s starting to look like a hung parliament might just be better for climate policy than the majority governments we’ve had in the past.

I spent most of Saturday night grappling with the odd situation we find ourselves in: a lower house controlled by three rural MPs and a Greens balance of power in the Senate. But it’s not just the outcome of the election that has implications for climate policy. The entire campaign and the context surrounding it are almost more important.

It’s not an accident that the Australian people have given power in both houses to minority parties and independents. In fact, it could be seen as a backfire on both major parties, who wrongly thought that appealing to minor issues and self-interest would work. Fortunately (or unfortunately for the major parties), Australians have more smarts and more integrity than that.

Both parties miscalculated which issues were most important to the electorate. At the end of the day, quibbles about the number of debates, negativity and small-issue politics simply didn’t resonate. What people wanted to hear about was integrity and vision, as well as larger issues such as gay marriage, climate change and mental health.

Should this come as a surprise? I don’t think so. 2007 was known globally as Australia’s “climate change election”. Most people predicted that in 2010, climate change would no longer be an issue. But with a strong swing to the Greens and no trust placed in either major party, it goes to show that people won’t drop important issues overnight. In fact, global and national issues are more important than ever before.

It’s been widely documented that young people are more interested in issues than ideology (see Don Tapscott’s bookGrowing Up Digital for a discussion on this matter). Young people might have low membership rates of political parties, but they are still engaged in politics, and this election was a perfect demonstration of that. For example, if you voted at Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday, you would have seen young volunteers from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) handing out “climate scorecards” – ranking the three major parties on their climate policies. At this particular booth, AYCC volunteers outnumbered all the political party volunteers combined.

AYCC, GetUp! and other non-partisan groups covered hundreds of voting booths across the country on election day. In failing to address the big issues that people are concerned about, political parties are losing grassroots organisers to organisations who are more focused on issues than blind party allegiance. They’re losing the kind of people that will get up at 5am, hand out how-to-vote cards all day, talk to their friends and family about politics and ultimately change votes. Without these passionate people to do the groundwork for them, political parties are left to rely on paid employees and stage-managed media appearances to get their message across, and as this election showed, that only goes so far.

As for what all this means for climate policy, there could still be a surprisingly good outcome this election.

We know that Rob Oakeshott was one of only two non-Labor MPs (along with Malcolm Turnbull) to vote with the then Rudd government in favour of its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We know that New England independent MP Tony Windsor has been a strident critic of the coal industry and in 2008 sponsored the “Climate Protection Bill” in the Parliament, calling for 30 per cent cuts by 2020. We know that all three independents support increased clean energy and will be looking beyond pork-barreling or partisanship to make their decision on who to support. We know that the Greens in the Senate want to make climate action their first priority when they take over balance of power next July.

All these factors serve to indicate that climate action might become one of the key negotiating points for Prime Minister Julia Gillard or Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in their dealings with the independents. A price tag on pollution and increased renewable energy investment is not out of the question in the short term. The independents have indicated that they will back the party most likely to uphold stability. With climate change threatening to derail our economy, the party that commits to strong, lasting action on climate change is the most stable and responsible option, and putting a price tag on pollution is widely acknowledged as the most efficient way to achieve that action.

On first glance, it seems like madness that just three people can determine the climate policy of this country, which in turn will have an impact on the climate response globally. But then again, traditional politics in Australia has proven unable to get good climate outcomes so far. Who knows: this unconventional situation, as confusing as it is, just might do a better job.

Ellen Sandell is general manager of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and joint 2009 Young Environmentalist of the Year.

Source: www.theage.com.au

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