Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Will A Double Dissolution Make a Better Climate Deal?

With the Australian Government yesterday announcing a range of changes to its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, including delaying the scheme for one year, setting a fixed price (a bargain of $10) for each tonne of carbon for the first year and increasing the possible reductions target to 25% if there is a strong deal in Copenhagen, the questions now on everybody’s lips are (a) will the Senate pass the legislation and (b) if not will the Government use this issue to force a double dissolution?

In this post I am going to briefly have a look at these two questions, making the conclusion that a double dissolution is very possible and am then going to have a look at what I think a double dissolution may do to the climate legislation in the future and my hopes for a stronger deal. Firstly however, I would like to state that I write this piece under the belief that there are serious problems with the Governments CPRS. Whether it be the extremely low target (only 5% committed), the very low initial price of carbon (which makes reducing carbon emissions very difficult) or the fact that permits will be given out for free (which experience from Europe has shown creates huge problems with the eventual pricing of carbon and therefore the reduction efforts) this scheme is fundamentally flawed and in my opinion requires a complete revamp. However, this post is not about that, but is about how I see the scheme may progress in the future and the possibilities that are available to make this scheme stronger.

Where to from here?

The basic lay of the land for the CPRS looks somewhat like this. In an upcoming sitting session (probably around midyear) the ALP look likely to introduce the legislation behind the CPRS into Parliament. The legislation will easily pass the House of Representatives, but looks almost certain to fail in the Senate. The problems here are that the Greens are pushing for a much stronger and more aggressive scheme, the Coalition is still looking to weaken it and the two independents are both opposing it (I think they both want the scheme weakened). In a nut shell, apart from the ALP there is no one who supports the scheme, meaning it is in big trouble.  

The only way I perceive that it could pass in the next sitting session would be if the ALP managed to cut a deal with the Liberals (as to cut a deal with the minor parties would mean dealing with people who both want a stronger scheme and people who want a weaker scheme, creating inherent problems). However, I cannot see this happening. This is because both the ALP and the Liberal Party have become extremely stubborn on this issue since it was introduced in December, meaning a back down now by either would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

A Double Dissolution Then?

It seems logical therefore to state that this legislation will fail in the Senate and with this comes the possibility of a double dissolution. I agree with Bob Brown in saying that I think the Rudd Government would be quite happy to use this legislation as a double dissolution trigger for the following reasons:

  • They know that the wider community wants at least some form of action on climate change, even with the global financial crisis.
  • They know that the Liberal Party still have a very unformulated and unpopular policy on climate change, which would make it very difficult for them to fight an election on the issue.
  • They would be more than happy to create a situation where it can push out the two independents from having any role in the future Senate.

However, with these positives comes the strong evidence (as shown with WA, NT and QLD in the pass year) that the voting public tend not to like early elections and are more than happy to punish a Government for going to the polls early, an issue that may push the ALP away from going to a double dissolution.

 What Would this Mean for the Legislation?

The good thing about the possibility of a double dissolution is that the most likely outcome it will bring will be the possibility of a stronger CPRS. The reasons for this are pretty simple. Firstly, if a double dissolution occurs I do not see any possibility of a Coalition victory (given their still extremely low polling all around the country), giving the ALP the mandate to continue to push the legislation. Second, are the important changes this will bring to the Senate. As predicted by Ben Raue, the likely results of a double dissolution would be the Greens taking full control of the balance of power of the Senate (with 8-9) seats, allowing them to create a majority with the ALP.  For the CPRS this creates three possibilities:

  1. The Government presents the legislation again in its current form and the Liberal Party accepts it based on the idea of it being the mandate of the ALP to pass it as it is.
  2. The Government presents the legislation again, but the Liberals stay determined to vote against it, forcing the Government to cut a deal with the Greens.
  3. Deciding that they want to see the Coalition continue to vote against any climate action the Government cuts an early deal with the Greens to strengthen the deal and introduces new legislation that the Coalition opposes.

Although this still provides the opportunity for the current legislation to be passed as is, this option at least gives a greater opportunity for a stronger CPRS, something that I think is almost impossible in the current Senate. However, this does not only have to come with a double dissolution. Most predictions will tell you that they same sort of shape for the Senate will occur even if it is just a regular half Senate vote, meaning that this sort of situation could also occur if the Government decides against using the CPRS as a double dissolution trigger.  

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May 4, 2009 - Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. The difference between a half-senate election and a double dissolution is that the new senate elected at a half-senate election would not take office until July 2011.

    Comment by Ben Raue | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. As I understand it after a double dissolution there is the possibility for a joint sitting of both houses of parliament, if the bill is again not passed, that is whether the Liberals choose to accept the government mandate theory in this instance or not.

    The possibility of such a joint sitting would have to be factored into consideration, especially as the Lower House is twice the size. As the government has a majority in the lower house almost by definition, it is likely that they would have a majority of a joint house session as well.

    Comment by Neil Cotter | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  3. A double dissolution would give the Greens the balance of power without a doubt. The ALP might be able to get through some stockpiled bills such as the ETS, alcopops and anything else they might be able to whip up in a jiffy but I don’t doubt the (more than five) Greens Senators would be quite antagonistic toward an ALP which forced a shoddy ETS on to the country with a double dissolution.

    Comment by Sam Clifford | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  4. That assumes that the double dissolution was triggered by the emissions trading scheme, not by some other piece of legislation (such as alcopops).

    Comment by Ben Raue | May 11, 2009 | Reply


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