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Deadlock on climate action helps no-one

On December 2 last year, after being blind-sided by the unexpected elevation of Tony Abbott to the Liberal Party leadership, the Rudd government made a hasty announcement that they may well come to regret - that they would bring back their twice-defeated emissions trading bill a third time as soon as Parliament resumed in February.

With the date swiftly approaching, blind Freddy could tell you that the opposition will not support the bills and the government is still making no attempt to negotiate amendments with the cross-bench. The whole exercise is looking like a fruitless, time-wasting political stunt.

This deadlock helps no-one. The community is denied action on the climate crisis, the business community is denied the investment certainty they crave, the government looks increasingly impotent and the opposition looks like spoilers.

There is a solution to this deadlock - one that Professor Garnaut suggested a year ago in his final report, fully expecting the political difficulties involved in legislating for a full trading scheme. The government's stonewalling has got to stop and we should pass an interim measure that, for two years, would use the CPRS reporting architecture with a fixed $20 carbon price.

We Greens are now proposing that we adopt the Garnaut suggestion and get Australia moving with this interim carbon pricing scheme. We can then, over the coming two years, discuss the longer term solutions Australia will need, secure in the knowledge that a carbon price is already in place, helping to unleash innovative and job creating climate solutions. [Read the detail here.]

This option has many benefits. Although there would be no trading in the interim period, the use of the CPRS reporting structures means that, should we reach agreement in the next two years on an effective emissions trading scheme, there would be a smooth transition into that environment for business. The mostly uncontentious parts of the legislation would be passed, with the deeply problematic questions such as targets, international trading and permit allocation mechanisms set aside for further debate. Business would get certainty from the knowledge that, if no agreement is reached, the fixed price would continue and slowly rise over time.

The absence of trading means that there can be no use of international offsets in the scheme. This tremendously increases the environmental integrity of the scheme - since the government has steadfastly refused to accept the Greens' amendment to cap the use of international permits or even require them to be gold standard accredited, seemingly keen for dodgy offsets to flood the Australian market. It also ensures that all emissions reductions driven by the carbon price happen at home, truly beginning the transformation of Australia's economy. That stands in stark contrast to the CPRS as drafted, which would effectively guarantee a future for polluting industries here at home as long as limitless supplies of cheap offsets are available from offshore.

The Greens' proposal would allocate the same proportion of revenue to householders as under the CPRS, leaving no low- or middle-income earner out of pocket. Ideally, as we have long argued, some of the $5 billion this scheme would direct to householders would be invested in making their homes more energy efficient, saving them money while reducing emissions, instead of being pumped straight into wallets across the country.

Our proposed reduction of industry support to Professor Garnaut's recommended levels would put the scheme well into the black - $3 billion in surplus over two years, in contrast to the almost $1 billion deficit the CPRS would accrue over that time. This would leave room for a substantial investment in R&D, renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport, using the scheme's revenue to support its aims instead of undermining them as the CPRS's back-to-front compensation structures would do.

We are under no illusions that this solution is perfect. It is clearly a third or fourth best solution. But, unlike the CPRS, there is no way it can hold back climate action. Where the CPRS is designed to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to strengthen once it is passed, this proposal is designed to be strengthened.

Mr Rudd has no reason to bring the CPRS bills back next month. He has his double dissolution election trigger and he is making no serious attempt to actually pass the legislation. This futile political exercise can get him nowhere.

He would be wise to embrace this proposal and work with the Greens to secure the two extra votes we would need to pass this into law and get Australia moving towards a zero carbon future.

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