Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tony Abbott’s Great Gamble

So, what now? After all of the huffing and puffing, it’s all over for the government’s hope to have legislation for its emissions trading scheme in place before the end of the parliamentary year, and more importantly, before the Copenhagen summit starting on Monday. It has been an extraordinary period of unprecedented political upheaval, not for the government, but for the opposition, culminating in this week’s dramatic change of leadership. But now that the vote has finally been taken and the dust will slowly begin to settle the question will inevitably arise: what now?

Despite the noise made by the rowdy band of climate change skeptics, the fact remains that mainstream opinion continues to recognize the need to take action to reduce emissions. That recognition exists on both sides of politics, with Tony Abbott explicitly saying that the coalition remains committed to emissions reduction targets, and will present what he calls an effective policy on climate change. That means that far from being dead, the emissions trading scheme is still the most likely means by which climate change will be addressed.

While Tony Abbott has reached the leadership of his party with the support of those who believe that there is no need to do anything about climate change, he cannot afford to deliver a do nothing policy. Instead, he must devise a policy which meets the emission reduction targets that he has already agreed to, provides industry with certainty for their investment decisions going forward, and is somehow different from the scheme that he has just torpedoed, which was after all negotiated by the coalition just days ago.

The magnitude of the challenge is illustrated by the real risk that he may have already shot down the best deal that he is ever going to get. Weeks of negotiation by Ian McFarlane achieved billions of dollars worth of concessions from the government to the point where a significant number of Liberal members were prepared to support it. More importantly, support from the business community was also strong because of the concessions made and the certainty of having a plan locked in. All that is gone now, and it remains to be seen if Tony Abbott can come up with a better deal that will satisfy business, environmentalists, and the public.

The chances are that the government will deliver an emissions trading scheme with or without the opposition. That could happen either through a double dissolution election, a deal with the Greens, an increased majority at a general election, or even through another leadership change in the Liberal Party. Tony Abbott is gambling instead that he can take climate change as an issue to an election and win. If he is going to have any hope of achieving that he is going to have to come up with an amazing policy.

No comments: