Monday, August 23, 2010

Negotiating climate action in a hung parliament

vote climateAustralians woke up on Sunday to find neither Labor or Opposition Liberal and National parties had achieved a majority of seats in the Federal House of Representatives. Indeed, the Greens were the main winners with over a 5 per cent national swing and 6 senators likely elected, achieving the balance of power position in the Senate; and an historic breakthrough win for Adam Bandt in Melbourne, the first Greens MHR elected in a Federal election.

This election was a referendum on climate action and both Labor and Liberal/Nationals received a thumbs down from the voting public. A minority Government now needs to negotiate an effective carbon price and action on climate change with the Greens and the Independents.

In a hung parliament the three independent MPs - Bob Katter from Kennedy (Queensland), Tony Windsor from New England (NSW) and Rob Oakeshott from Lyne (NSW), all formerly from the National Party, plus progressive greens independant Andrew Wilkie who is likely to be elected for Denison (Tas), and Greens member Adam Bandt for Melbourne (Vic), may determine who makes up the next minority Government.

While on the surface it may appear that Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott might side with the conservatives, they have often been the subject of ridicule and derision by Liberal and National Party MPs. They are all hard working independent MPs from rural areas who focus on often parochial issues and the need for greater funding of rural and regional infrastructure including communications (National Broadband Network) and health and education services. Indeed, the Independents may be more likely to support a Gillard Government that introduces open and transparent Government which adequately addresses major social and infrastructure inequalities in rural and regional areas.

Climate Issues

On climate issues, Rob Oakeshott told AAP on Sunday that ETS is my priority:

"That is one example of what we may be able to deliver for this country, which the last parliament couldn't do, and is one of the reasons why we saw leadership changes on both sides," he said, referring to the Labor government's failed bid to secure support for an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

"I would personally say, let's go back to the Garnaut report and try and get something through based on that. The template is there, stick to the script, keep it simple."

Tony Windsor has also been an advocate of climate action. In October 2008 he said that a do nothing option was not an option. "The easy option for the current generation of politicians is to do nothing and adopt a Clayton's strategy. As a Member of Parliament, I would rather err on the side of doing something meaningful than look back in 50 years and wonder why nothing was done domestically or globally to address the problem," Mr Windsor said in a media release.

Windsor introduced a private members bill in the House of Representatives - the Climate Protection Bill 2008 - which had drafting input from 65 environment groups. The Bill was designed to meet Australia's commitments under Kyoto "to ensure a substantial reduction in human derived greenhouse gas from Australia; to set mandatory targets for reducing human derived greenhouse gas emissions from Australia, with the first being a reduction by at least 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and the second being a reduction by at least 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050; and to ensure that Australia meets these targets."

By comparison, Bob Katter is a confirmed climate change sceptic telling the ABC in 2009 "Are you telling me seriously that the world is going to warm because there's 400 parts per million of CO2 up there?".

The last of the independents, Andrew Wilkie, was a surprise contender for winning the Hobart based seat of Denison. He was once a member of the Liberal Party and also formerly stood as a Greens candidate in 2004 and many of his current policies are socially progressive. On Climate change his election policy is "Humanity is undoubtedly influencing climate change. Not only does Australia have an environmental and social obligation to help do something about it, but to do so will also be in Australia's economic interest. A price must be put on carbon pollution, possibly as part of an enhanced Emissions Trading Scheme."

The Greens campaigned for climate action as one of their essential policies and received on a national basis a swing to them of around 3.6 per cent, taking their national primary vote to 11.43 per cent. Adam Bandt was successful in winning the seat of Melbourne from Labor with a 10 per cent two party preferred swing, at least partly attributed to the climate issue. Adam Bandt has pledged to work only with a minority Labor Government.

The Greens have a strong mandate to negotiate action on climate from any minority government and are likely to have 9 senators from July 1st 2011 who will hold the balance of power in the upper house. Any minority government will need to negotiate with the Greens to successfully pursue it's legislative program, including on action on climate change.

There has been a lot of commentators linking the swings against Labor in Queensland and New South Wales to voters wanting to punish state Labor Government. By reverse logic the swing to Labor in Victoria should take into account Victorian Premier John Brumby's announcement mid campaign of an emissions reduction target, generous renewables feed-in tariff and commitment to close part of Hazelwood, the dirtiest coal fired power station in Australia which thus made the Labor brand in Victoria more climate friendly. Labor won two seats from the Liberals in Victoria.

Similarly in Tasmania a Labor minority Government is successfully governing the state with the support of the Greens. In both states there were swings to Labor.

In the last parliament Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) offered too much compensation to polluters, as independently assessed by the Grattan Institute, and would not see emissions effectively reduced until 2035. It was plain to anyone who investigated this legislation that it was deeply flawed, which is why the Greens voted against it in the Senate.

Minority Government

In recent decades minority governments have successfully operated at the state level. It is up to those occupying the crossbenches - the independents and 10 Greens MPs to negotiate to better the processes of government to deliver stable, open and transparent Government that operates for the benefit of all Australians.

How much agreement on processes and issues will depend on meetings between all the independents and the Greens over the coming week or two and how flexible Julia Giillard and Tony Abbott are with their negotiations including on action on climate change.