Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Emissions goals split all comers

Michelle Grattan and Tom Arup 
The Age, December 17, 2008

FRESH differences have blown up in the Coalition, with the Nationals launching a fierce attack on the Government's emissions trading scheme, putting them at odds with the Liberal spokesmen's cautious line.

Divisions also emerged yesterday in the union movement, as the Australian Workers Union criticised the ACTU, which — while backing the Government's plan — has urged it to keep open the possibility of a tougher target and invest in a "green new deal".

The AWU, strongly supporting the Government's scheme and highly critical of the Greens, said it would approach the Coalition to get the scheme through the Senate.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in Kununurra, WA, to publicise the Government's provision of $195 million to help expand Ord agricultural production, rejected criticism that the emission scheme's targets were too modest. Given the global financial crisis, the Government "makes no apologies whatsoever for introducing responsible medium-term targets", he said.

As Greens, Opposition, Family First and independent Nick Xenophon agree on one thing — the need for a Senate inquiry — Nationals leader Warren Truss said the scheme's complexity "would make it a nightmare". It would "just export emissions and Australian jobs", he said, and would hit some of the nation's most energy-efficient transport sectors with much higher energy taxes.

Senate Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the Senate inquiry should be carried out by the economics committee, rather than the environment committee. Although he would not say the emissions scheme should be opposed in the Senate, he said that "at first blush" there were serious concerns.

But Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt and climate change spokesman Andrew Robb were non-committal. Mr Hunt said the Coalition would have a response in February, after it received the results of an assessment it has commissioned. "We won't be rushed in the meantime into endorsing, opposing or suggesting amendments," he said.

One Liberal senator, however, was anything but cautious. Cory Bernardi, Opposition parliamentary secretary for disability services, ridiculed the 5 per cent target as insignificant. He was unconvinced of the need for an emissions trading scheme "given that carbon dioxide is vital for life on earth".

AWU secretary Paul Howes questioned the ACTU's backing of a "green new deal", and potentially stronger targets. The ACTU has been involved in a campaign calling on the Government to back a "green new deal" for large government investment in green industries.

Mr Howes, a member of the ACTU's executive and also understood to have been involved in developing the ACTU's climate change policy, said he "wasn't sure what the ACTU position represents", and added that he believed most unions backed the Government's 2020 target.

Speaking from Germany, ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the issue was bound to create "a diversity" of views between unions.

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