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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Gillard’s new climate challenge

With Gillard taking over as Prime Minister, what can we expect for the emissions trading scheme and government policy on climate change?

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By Leon Gettler

In the last three years, we have seen the politics of climate change resulting in the demise of two Prime Ministers, John Howard and now Kevin Rudd, not to mention Liberal leaders Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. The question now is whether Julia Gillard is up to the task.

With Gillard taking over as Prime Minister, what can we expect for the emissions trading scheme and government policy on climate change?

It’s a critical question because when all is said and done, Kevin Rudd’s decision to put off his plan to tackle climate change until at least 2013 (in other words, until after the next election), knocked him flat and cost him massive support in the opinion polls. When he made that announcement, it was the beginning of the end and he was signing his death warrant. As New Zealand Greens leader Russel Norman says, the emissions trading scheme killed Rudd. “Kevin Rudd made a big deal that climate change was important and then he failed to get a deal signed up to actually introduce an ETS … Had Kevin Rudd actually come to a strong agreement on protecting the environment he would still be Prime Minister of Australia."

So far, Gillard has taken a cautious approach to the issue, telling reporters that there is a need to build consensus first. “"First, we will need to establish a community consensus for action," Ms Gillard said. “If elected as prime minister [at the next election], I will re-prosecute the case for a carbon price at home and abroad.”

In other words, don’t expect anything until after the election, and that’s only if she wins.

Writing in the Business Spectator, Giles Parkinson says Gillard is on a delicate tightrope because the same factional leaders who backed her for Prime Minister are those who pushed Rudd into abandoning the emissions trading scheme.

If she does adopt the line on climate change, the Labor Government will have to sell it hard. That’s the problem. It was not that good selling the ETS last time and indeed, it put more energy into selling the mining super profits tax.

Parkinson says: “Which may mean that Labor also needs a new Climate Change Minister. Senator Penny Wong, despite the respect she holds in climate change sector, has not proved a successful seller of the policy. That challenge may now fall to Greg Combet or even Agriculture Minister Tony Burke.

“It will be a crucial choice for Gillard. Otherwise she may – after Howard, Nelson, Turnbull and Rudd – become the fifth leader in three years to fall victim to climate change politics.”

How should Gillard approach the emissions trading issue? Are you expecting any changes?