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August 24, 2010
By Dr. Roger Gibbins
President and CEO
Canada West Foundation
CALGARY, AB, Aug. 24, 2010/ Troy Media/ – If what we read and hear in the news is right, Canadians and Australians care deeply about environmental protection and are demanding responsible action. However treading the line between acceptable action and no action at all has proven tricky, and a shortcut to the political graveyard for high-profile careers in both countries for those who put a foot wrong. Stephane Dion discovered this in the disastrous Liberal 2008 election performance following his Green Shift tax plan.
There may in fact be a level of cognitive dissonance within both the Canadian and Australian communities – “I want environmental protection, but if I have to pay too much, it’s not worth it.”
Australian hung Parliament
In the wake of Australia’s federal election on Aug. 21, that country is set for its first hung parliament since 1940, with both major parties pitching to independent MPs to determine who will form the government. While climate issues were not prominent during the campaign the Australian Greens have made history by winning the balance of power in the Senate with nine seats, and achieving the election of the first Green MP in the lower house. Is this a sign of a green-shift in Australia? Possibly not.
Unlike Canada’s Senate, the Australian Senate has been a formidable roadblock for government legislation, and may be more sensitive in reflecting shifts in public opinion. However, the increased prominence of the Greens in the Senate is in stark contrast to the political graveyard that environmental issues have represented for leaders of both major parties within the last 12 months.
As the driest inhabited continent on earth, Australia has much at risk from climate change, including more intense and frequent droughts and bushfires, coastal issues, and threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Emboldened by polling in favour of climate action and a strong electoral mandate in 2007, former Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government got to work ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, commencing a review by Australian National University Professor Ross Garnaut, (equivalent to the review by Sir Nicolas Stern for the UK government), and developing cap-and-trade legislation.
A deal was brokered with the conservative opposition, whose leader Malcolm Turnbull ordered his party to pass the legislation through the Senate. However, appetite for the preferred scheme was critically misjudged. The party sacked Turnbull on the morning of the critical vote in December 2009, installing Tony Abbott - a sometime climate skeptic - to leadership, and the legislation was defeated.
Post UN Copenhagen Summit, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that his government would not bring back its emissions trading legislation until after 2012 to “better assess the level of global action.” The decision seriously damaged Rudd’s credibility in the electorate as a politician who had described climate change as “the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation,” yet was unwilling to continue to pursue his preferred course of policy action.
Rudd sacked by party
Following this decision and the bungled resources super profits tax, Rudd himself was replaced by his party as Labour leader and Prime Minister by Julia Gillard in June 2010.
Canada and Australia share commodity-based, trade-exposed economies, each accounting for a relatively small fraction of global major greenhouse gas emissions (each less than two per cent of the world’s total). In addition, both countries have some of the highest emissions intensities per capita, and populations concerned with environmental protection.
Given these common drivers, climate policy developments and the nexus between policy and public opinion in each country — either towards a “graveyard” or a “green-shift” — are of relevance to the other.
Channels: The Calgary Herald, Aug. 24, the Calgary Beacon, Aug. 25, 2010