Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Business pushing for climate pact

Adam Morton and Michelle Grattan 
The Age, May 6, 2009

A leading business group has increased pressure on Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull over climate policy, warning that failure to pass legislation this year could be "the straw that breaks the camel's back" for some companies.

It came as the Opposition gave mixed signals on emissions trading, agreeing to talk to the Government, but saying there should not be a vote until 2010.

The Business Council of Australia, representing the nation's 100 biggest corporations, said bipartisan support was vital given the complexity of the scheme and the need for long-term certainty.

Reiterating the council's support for the Government's proposed changes — including a one-year delay until July 2011 and additional free carbon permits for industry — chief executive Katie Lahey said its members could face problems attracting investment without the confidence offered by support from both major parties.

"To drag on the debate whilst we have got this global financial crisis is just one more complexity that business has got to factor into its planning cycle, and for some businesses it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," she said.

"The message we have been saying to (the Coalition) for some time is that … we want them at the table, we want to use their brain power to help resolve some of the issues that are still out there."

The Opposition continues to strenuously oppose the scheme in its amended form. Mr Turnbull responded to an invitation from Climate Change Minister Penny Wong to discuss the legislation. But he said the talks should also include Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, parliamentary secretary Greg Combet and Coalition spokesmen Andrew Robb and Greg Hunt. Mr Hunt said the final design should be delayed until after the Copenhagen conference on climate change in December.

Senator Wong said the Coalition remained hopelessly divided and that Mr Turnbull was "going to have to walk in with a position".

The Government stressed it wanted to get the legislation through, rather than pave the way for a double dissolution if it was defeated twice.

Its revised proposal has been backed by seven industry, environment, union and welfare groups. Ms Lahey said the Government's approach had been pragmatic, but that technical issues affecting industries such as coal and electricity still needed to be examined — with the Coalition's help.

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