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ROSS Garnaut will play to capacity audiences in the town halls of Australia's mainland capital cities this week, starting his roadshow in Perth today and performing in Melbourne on Wednesday. Bookings are strong — climate change is a popular issue.
Meanwhile, the interest groups are limbering up for the battles ahead. A new alliance called the Southern Cross Climate Coalition, launched yesterday, is in part a push against the demands that business will make on the pool of compensation.
It brings together the Australian Conservation Foundation, the ACTU, the Australian Council of Social Service and the Climate Institute. Last week the Business Council of Australia bluntly warned that business had no intention of bearing the costs of what will be a huge structural reform.
The detail of how we meet the climate change challenge will be the great debate of the decade, and the Rudd Government has its neck on the line.
The fight is getting willing. Professor Garnaut finds himself in the Opposition's line of fire, with deputy leader Julie Bishop suggesting he should stick to economics.
The Opposition doesn't like him saying the obvious, including that it would be desirable to have bipartisanship for the hard task ahead.
Garnaut points out that this Government starts with an advantage compared with Labor in the 1980s, when it set out to reform Australia's high protection regime.
Then, polling had people opposing a reduction in tariffs. Now, the polls show people want Australia to tackle climate change. But the negative effects of trade liberalisation were more limited than those of putting a price on carbon. Also, dismantling protection had tangible pluses for individual households: cheaper imported goods.
Mitigating climate change increases the price of basics for the more intangible (but vital) benefit of combating global warming.
While Garnaut is on the road, work goes on for his supplementary draft report, coming late next month.
This will contain his view on what medium-term target Australia should adopt for reducing greenhouse emissions. The Government already has a long-term target — a cut of 60% on 2000 levels by 2050 — but has yet to set a 2020 target.
The medium-term target is crucial for two reasons. It is a determining factor in setting the price for market-based emissions trading and it is central for Australia's negotiating position in the international climate change talks.
When the end of the Bali road map on climate change is reached in Copenhagen next year, Australia will need to sign up to a target for how much it will commit to cutting emissions by 2020.
Garnaut suggests it should put two positions: what it will do regardless of other countries, and what extra it will agree to if a satisfactory international deal can be brokered.
The supplementary Garnaut report may produce some sharp intakes of breath around the Government.
Garnaut is likely to take a rigorous view when it comes to medium-term targets, just as he has on most issues in Friday's report.