By Emma Griffiths in Canberra for AM
ABC News Online, Posted 15 April 2009
An unlikely pairing of the Coalition and the Greens is set to begin hearings at an inquiry into the Federal Government's plan to tackle climate change.
The inquiry is examining the design and effectiveness of the emissions trading scheme (ETS), which the Government wants passed through Parliament by mid-year.
With 8,000 submissions, the inquiry is set to hear the gamut of opinions, but threatening to overshadow them all is the issue of jobs.
One group determined to have its issues squarely at the centre of the climate change canvas is the Australian Coal Association.
The Association's head, Ralph Hillman, says the Government's emissions trading scheme as it stands is unfair and will cost jobs.
"Coal means regional jobs in the Illawarra, the Hunter, and the Bowen Basin in Queensland, and, of course, regional jobs are important to both state and Commonwealth governments," he said.
Mr Hillman has been putting the case for more taxpayer-funded compensation directly to Senators from the Government, Opposition, and the crossbenchers.
"We are getting an interested and sympathetic hearing," he said.
"It's been a big education job; many politicians don't understand the coal industry - how it works, how big it is, how important it is for jobs. I think that understanding is improving quite quickly now as we talk to people.
"I think more and more politicians really do appreciate that coal has a serious issue."
The argument is not likely to win over the committee's deputy chair, Green Senator Christine Milne.
"If you're interested in jobs, then the best way of securing them in the long term is not just to go back to business as usual and propping up the old fossil fuel sectors, but rather moving rapidly on the innovation, education, new manufacturing front that delivers better energy options, more efficient options, more longer-term jobs," she said.
'The costs of climate change'
The global recession has changed the nature of the climate change debate, as it has with just about every other issue.
Now, eminent scientists like Professor David Karoly are battling to get the message out that climate change has to be part of the economic solution.
"I am finding that climate change is not as high on the list of priorities of the general public," he said.
"However, it is clear that climate change will have dramatic impacts on Australia's economy, and on jobs - both now and in the foreseeable future.
"And all sorts of economic analysis undertaken in Australia indicates that the costs of climate change are dramatically higher in the future, than the costs of acting now to reduce emissions."
Such arguments will become very familiar over the coming months. This Senate inquiry is but one field at play in the climate change tussle; another Labor-led committee is due to report tomorrow.
Both are precursors to the main event, when the Senate votes on the Government's legislation this winter.