Friday, December 19, 2008

Garnaut turns heat on Rudd climate plan

The Federal Government's own climate adviser has savaged parts of its climate change plan, describing the assistance to big business as "over the top".

Professor Ross Garnaut says a massive lobbying exercise by vested interests, unprecedented in the history of Australian public policy, has secured an overly generous deal for business.

He also thinks the Government should not have ruled out a deep, 25-per cent cut in emissions by 2020.

The Government went for a 5-to-15-per cent cut in its plan for climate change and emissions trading released this week.

Professor Garnaut, who was hired by the federal and state governments to advise on climate change, said the scheme gave too much assistance to industry.

"I think it's over the top," he said.

There had been "unprecedented lobbying from vested interests ... unprecedented in Australian policy-making, the extent of it".

"There's no doubt that the rate of return in lobbying has been very high," Professor Garnaut said.

The final result - in which there are more free permits for more businesses, plus generous compensation - concerned him "because it's not based on clear principle".

"I think that everyone will start to wonder about the wisdom of how far it's gone. I think there are some budget problems ahead."

Professor Garnaut said that, in general, the white paper was a positive step forward because Australia would now start to cut its emissions.

But in some key areas the paper did not follow the advice he set out in his report on climate change, released in September.

Professor Garnaut stood by his findings.

"Naturally I think it would have been better from an environmental and an economic point of view if we'd ended up closer to my recommendations."

One issue is the Government's target of reducing emissions by 5 to 15 per cent by 2020. The target has been slammed by environmentalists.

Professor Garnaut stood by his recommendation of a maximum 25-per cent cut.

"I think it would have been better for Australia's environmental interest and long-term economic interest to have kept it on the table," he said.

"I wouldn't have recommended it unless I thought it was best for Australia.

"Mr Rudd's formed a different view.

"I find it a little bit difficult to understand the advantage to Australia of cutting off the ambitious outcome."

Professor Garnaut also criticised the government's decision to give $3.9 billion in free permits to coal-fired power stations.

"I don't think there is any public policy justification at all for this."

He took aim at Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision to effectively exempt petrol from the scheme until 2013, saying with oil at $US40 a barrel there was not an overwhelming case for exemption.

And Professor Garnaut stood by his recommendation that a substantial part of the revenue earned in emissions trading go towards energy efficiency programs. The Government did not take this advice.

Professor Garnaut said the financial crisis was no excuse to go soft on climate change.

"I say (in my report) that the financial crisis shouldn't make any difference. I stand by that on policy."

While Professor Garnaut spoke freely on how the scheme could be improved, he said he accepted the Government did not have to take all his advice.

The Government had accepted his advice on some issues, and rejected it on others, he said. He did not feel personally disappointed at the end result.

"When you've been through as much in life as I have, you roll with the punches."


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