It is hard to remember, although we should, that just over two years ago, Australia had held out for the better part of a decade being one of only two countries not to sign to Kyoto protocol. That was after the negotiators bent over backwards to cut a deal in our favour (allowing higher emissions than 1990). And for that same time the US, who similarly held out, could point to us as an partner on the outside. That shocked my 7 year old daughter more than anything at the time. That ended two years ago.
I’ve been distrustful of spurious arguments to pass the ETS legislation quickly. With the US likely to be cooperative, our role one way or the other in how we handle international negotiations is less important. But we could do one thing: we could become an example that it is possible — despite the diabolical nature of the problem — to generate the political coalition and negotiate the special interests to pass a widespread emission trading regime and begin the work of adjusting to carbon pricing. This isn’t a move that is likely going to be decisive in saving the Great Barrier Reef but given the inevitability of all this, it is a move that moves us from a position of laggards to leaders and for little cost. All our commitments are postponed but we can bring to the table political will.
That is why the beginning of next week is critical. The Government have done their part by providing an ETS that moves to the right. I hate the compensation but if we get a carbon price and some institutions out of it, I’m happy to live with it. The issue now is whether the Coalition looks at themselves over the weekend and says “no we want to Australia to remain the hold-out and in the international wilderness” or, as their leader has said, “such attitudes cannot stand and we need to be part of the global community.” And if you are thinking of the former, you had better think quickly about how you explain it to a young child.