Malcolm Turnbull has said his climate change plan, which could be discussed by shadow cabinet on Monday, will advocate targets at least as ambitious as those proposed by the Government.
The Government had assumed it could force the Coalition to vote on the legislation in June, but now the Greens, Family First senator Steve Fielding and independent senator Nick Xenophon are saying they would consider a delay.
The Government, which has 32 senators in the 76-seat upper house, requires the support of all seven minor-party or independent senators to pass legislation when the Coalition is opposed.
Senator Fielding said: “I would prefer the Government wait until Copenhagen … before locking Australia into a commitment that will leave us out on a limb.
Senator Xenophon said: “I would prefer to deal with the legislation now but I would be open to arguments from the Coalition about delaying it.”
Even the Greens, who have said they will vote against the legislation because its targets are not ambitious enough, said a cross-party agreement on the Government’s negotiating mandate for the UN talks in Copenhagen could be the best option.
Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said “passing the carbon pollution reduction scheme as it stands is no way to convince the global community that Australia is serious about climate change”.
“In fact, it would be better to go to Copenhagen with it still being negotiated than with a legislatively locked-in upper limit on our negotiating range.”
Agreeing to a negotiating mandate would lessen the political downside of delaying the legislation for the Opposition Leader, who advocated a scheme similar to the present Government’s when he was John Howard’s environment minister.
But Mr Turnbull has yet to convince his partyroom that he could achieve such a target without costing jobs. Given the strong position taken by Nationals senators, the plan could also split the Coalition.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong told The Weekend Australian yesterday: “Business needs certainty. It needs to know both the targets and the nature of the scheme in order to make investment decisions.”
The Government’s climate change adviser Ross Garnaut said that, by leaving open the option of a 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020, the Government had “put itself back in the game of working towards a strong outcome”.