New Australian PM affirms commitment to climate action

25 June 2010

Australia’s new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard used her first press conference in charge to affirm her belief that humans are causing climate change, and that Australia, like the rest of the world needs to take decisive action.

She also committed to pursuing a price on carbon in Australia stating that it was disappointing that there was still no such system in place. 

The attempt to put a price on carbon has been the political hot potato in Australia for the last two and a half years. It has been at the heart of three major changes in personnel at the top in Australian politics, contributing to the downfall of one Prime Minister and two opposition leaders.

Climate change was one of two key issues in the 2007 Federal election that saw Kevin Rudd and Labor end 11 years of conservative government. In November of last year, the issue caused the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as Leader of the Opposition and his replacement by the anti-ETS Tony Abbot. And there is no doubt that one of the major reasons behind the staggering fall in Kevin Rudd's popularity over the last three months was his decision to delay the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) until 2013. (Rudd’s public approval ratings slid by a 14 points the month after he postponed, a trend that continued into the year).

This was not surprising - a large proportion of the community still wants leadership on climate change:  a recent poll from the Lowy Institute showed that 86 per cent of Australians want action.

As well as the political consequences, the delay in pricing carbon has created huge uncertainty among business, effectively putting a three year handbrake on serious low carbon development in Australia unless anything changes. 

Prime Minister Gillard now has a chance to re-engage with all parties and the community to break the political stalemate that has emerged on this issue. 

Her election unfortunately doesn't change the numbers in the Senate where the Government lacks the majority it needs to pass the CPRS. Both the Opposition and the Greens have twice voted against it.

However, with a Federal election now only six months away at the outside, this deadlock could change before long. Should Gillard’s Labor Party win the next election, then her remarkable ability to 'seal a deal' will make a legislating for an emissions trading scheme more likely.

Australia desperately needs that to happen if we are to avoid locking in high-carbon growth and infrastructure that will become more expensive and less globally competitive over time. It would also give us an important boost in the race for the emerging clean tech and green markets that are growing so rapidly, providing job and investment growth.

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