Australian Vote on ETS to be delayed until May
February 23, 2010
The possible delay, the result of the Opposition blocking a procedural vote on timing in the Senate, has further frustrated the government’s attempts to establish a double dissolution election trigger on its amended climate legislation.
The government has already dropped the emissions trading scheme from the parliamentary schedule this week, to give priority to establishing a double dissolution trigger on its attempt to means test private health insurance.
The potential delay comes as the government has been holding talks with independent senator Nick Xenophon and two dissident Liberal senators about a proposal from the Greens for a compromise climate deal.
But the unlikely compromise — which would establish a two-year carbon tax — may be stillborn with Senator Xenophon last night ruling out his crucial vote.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Greens senator Christine Milne have met three times to discuss the Greens’ proposal. Senator Wong’s office is believed to have told the Greens the government was reluctant to budge on a higher carbon price, an earlier start date or giving up compensation for coal-fired electricity generators.
The Greens have proposed a two-year $23 carbon tax to start in July with compensation for heavy-polluting, trade-exposed industries — but not coal. The first year of the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme has set a carbon price of $10. The scheme starts in July 2011 and has extensive compensation for heavy industry and coal-fired electricity.
Senator Wong is believed to have suggested instead that the Greens develop a package that met the government’s conditions, including complementary measures.
Compromise talks have widened in recent weeks. Senator Wong and Senator Milne have contacted Liberal senators Sue Boyce and Judith Troeth, who crossed the floor last year to support an amended emissions trading scheme. Senator Troeth said yesterday she would consider a proposal once it had been finalised and was before the Senate.
Senator Xenophon also met Senator Wong yesterday, floating a short-term carbon price of $3-$5 to drive some investment in renewable energy. But last night he was stepping back, saying: ‘‘The extra advice I’ve been given suggests it would just be a nuisance tax, and something more substantial is needed.’’
Senator Xenophon repeated his preference for an intensity-based emissions trading scheme, as opposed to the government’s cap-and-trade system.
Climate Institute chief executive John Connor also went to Senator Wong’s office and Senator Milne’s office last week to discuss the Greens proposal. He told The Age yesterday he had told Senator Wong’s office that while he supported passage of the government’s emissions trading scheme, the Greens’ proposal would be the next best option.
The government was last night seeking legal opinion about whether it could force an earlier vote on the legislation if it is delayed to May. Both side blamed one another for the delay, the result of the Senate blocking a motion yesterday to fast-track the debate.