Liberals lose faith in action on carbon

 

POLL: Do you understand how an ETS would help cut greenhouse gases?

They are now urging the Opposition Leader to take a harder line in negotiations and to reject Labor’s legislation unless the government accepts the Coalition’s proposed amendments in full.

And they believe their best chance in next year’s election is to attack Labor’s proposals as leading to higher costs for consumers.

The shift has been on for the past few weeks and has gained pace since Liberal MPs were briefed on Tuesday on party research indicating voters overwhelmingly want action on climate change but do not understand the detail of the ETS proposals.

Several sources said party director Brian Loughnane told the meeting that when interviewers explained the implications of an ETS to survey respondents, they were negative about the proposed scheme.

News of the shift emerged yesterday before today’s launch by Liberal ETS opponent Cory Bernardi of a highly critical assessment of the European Union’s emissions trading scheme which estimates it has cost consumers up to E116billion ($190bn) since 2005, with little environmental benefit.

The study, prepared by Britain’s Taxpayers’ Alliance, says climate change policies there form 14 per cent of household electricity prices and that electricity generators have made windfall profits at the expense of low-income earners and the elderly.

The Coalition has been negotiating with the government for more than a week on proposed amendments to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Kevin Rudd told parliament this week the bill would be introduced in the Senate on November 23, before the UN’s global climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

If it is rejected the Prime Minister can use the Senate vote as the basis to call a double-dissolution election for both houses of parliament next year.

Mr Turnbull, a strong supporter of the need for a properly designed ETS, wants the government to amend its scheme to provide greater support for industries affected by a shift to carbon trading to adjust to the change.

Yesterday, the government rejected a Coalition bid to force an early vote on the scheme in the House of Representatives.

While Mr Loughnane refused to comment on party research yesterday, accounts of his briefing to MPs were broadly similar from sources on all sides of the ETS debate, with their differences relating to conclusions about the meaning of the findings.

Some said the research made clear that the party should not back Labor’s legislation unless the government embraced all of its amendments — an unlikely prospect.

“There is a move afoot in our party, depending on what happens, to say we should actually dump an ETS as a policy and go with something better and more effective,” one source said.

But another shadow cabinet source said the research demonstrated that the party could not afford to accept the Nationals’ approach of an outright rejection of carbon trading, and therefore must press hard for its amendments.

“The message he was sending was that this is a dangerous zone but that because of the public acceptance that something must be done on climate change, doing nothing is simply not an option,” the MP said.

Whatever the interpretation, Liberal frontbenchers who previously supported the idea of passing an amended ETS and then holding the government accountable for the outcome have shifted their view, insisting that only a “wholesale capitulation” from the government to Coalition demands would stand any chance of winning Coalition backbench endorsement.

Senior Liberals are now saying the party polling, and public polls, show increasing concern about the costs of an ETS. They believe the best political option is to run a campaign against the government based on increased costs to households and industry.

Another MP said voters were starting to doubt the seriousness of climate change.

It is also understood backbench pressure is growing from marginal seat holders who fear they will lose their seats.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance says the EU’s ETS “has failed to perform and is imposing serious costs on ordinary families”.

According to the EU’s own figures there were only minor reductions in most European countries in greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2008.

Senator Bernardi, who is leading the Liberal revolt in the Senate and running a direct opposition campaign, said yesterday the British report showed an ETS was “a massive economic impost that has no real environmental benefits”.

“An ETS in any form is bad for business, bad for families and bad for our economy,” he said.

“With clear evidence of how ineffective and expensive it has been in the European Union, there is no way an ETS should be introduced in Australia.”

Last night the author of the report, Matthew Sinclair, said from London that the European ETS had failed to “produce a stable carbon price, leaving consumers with an unpredictable addition to their bills”.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said he was not surprised by the Liberals’ research, which reflected his long-standing position.

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