THE Government has rejected the Coalition's demand to delay the emissions trading legislation, dooming it to almost certain defeat.
The Coalition parties backed a policy that urges delay, embraces the Government's 5-25 per cent emissions reduction target for the December Copenhagen climate talks, proposes an interim voluntary carbon market and advocates a Productivity Commission inquiry into the trading scheme.
The Government refusal dares the Opposition to risk going down the path towards a double dissolution trigger.
Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said the legislation should be deferred until after the Copenhagen talks and until proposed US legislation now before Congress was clear. The Coalition will vote against the scheme if it can't get its deferral.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who is in Paris, said, "we are determined to press on with this legislation". She said the question for MPs was: "Do you really want to go to the Australian people and say, 'I voted down action on climate change'?"
The Senate is due to vote on the legislation next month. Independent senator Nick Xenophon, Family First senator Steve Fielding and the Greens oppose it in its current form.
The Coalition almost certainly cannot get the needed two extra votes for its long-term deferral proposal. But Senator Xenophon is proposing a delay until August or September, which could yet win support from the Opposition and Senator Fielding as a fallback.
To be used as a double dissolution trigger, legislation has to be rejected twice, with a three-month interval.
Mr Turnbull said the only reason Australia was rushing to finalise the legislation before Copenhagen was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "vanity".
"He wants to go to Copenhagen and say, 'Aha, I have this scheme passed through the Parliament.' "
Mr Rudd told Parliament that Mr Turnbull's moral authority had been "shredded once and for all" in yesterday's Coalition parties meeting — under the shadow of Peter Costello's hard line, which had been spelled out some weeks ago. "The self-proclaimed climate change champion (has been ) rolled by the climate change sceptics."
The Nationals have said they will never vote for the legislation.
The Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed the bipartisan support for the maximum 25 per cent 2020 emissions reduction target, but strongly rejected the deferral move.
Two of the biggest business backers of the scheme, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group, were yesterday considering their position on a deferral.
A vocal opponent of the scheme, Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke, said Australia's scheme should be "aligned with comparable schemes around the world", such as the US program.
As part of its promised alternative policy, the Opposition proposes a voluntary carbon trading system to begin at the start of next year. Under it, industry would be able to voluntarily buy carbon credits, which could be banked and used in any later scheme.