The anticipated decision of Australia’s government on new carbon-trading laws is not a good one. After much debating and political unrest, the package of 11 bills has been rejected with a 41 to 33 vote. At least seven opposing senators’ votes were needed to pass the new set of laws, but only 2 cast their lot in favor of it.

Many were also wondering if Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, would hold a snap election if the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme did not pass. The answer: the opposing Liberal Party will have another chance to vote when parliament resumes in February. According to Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, the reason they are postponing the vote for 2 months is:

“We believe that over the Christmas period there is time for the calmer heads in the Liberal Party to consider this question, to consider acting in the national interest. The prime minister, on a number of occasions, has said it’s his intention to have the parliament go full term. The prime minister has also said that he is determined to see this legislation pass the parliament.”

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photo by David Iliff (source: wikimedia commons)

Unfortunately, new Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott, doesn’t agree with that, and was quick to say so as he took up the position on December 1st. Unlike his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who offered bipartisan support for the bills, Abbott sees it as nothing more than an energy taxation scheme. “This isn’t about climate change; it’s about the mechanism for dealing with it. It’s about stopping a great, big, new tax,” he said.

If you are wondering what this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme would include:

  1. A modeled carbon price range of $20 (AUD) to $40 (AUD) per carbon tonne.
  2. $4.8 billion (AUD) of assistance (in the form of free permits) for the most polluting electricity generators.
  3. Financial assistance to compensate low and middle income families from increased costs.
  4. A price camp on emissions, starting at $40 (AUD) per tonne of CO2.
  5. Reforestation can count as carbon credit, but deforestation and forest degradation do not count as a liability.

And that’s to name only a few points included in the legislation. Many viewed the plan as flawed, though its defeat still ended up a disappointment—at least to Erwin Jackson, research and policy director at the Sydney-based Climate Institute. He says “the scheme wasn’t perfect, but it did provide a springboard for Australia to reap the benefits that will come from being ready for a low carbon future. As of today, we’re stuck in a quagmire”.

However, Donna Green, a climate policy expert at the University of New South Wales, has a more optimistic approach:

“The way politics have changed in the past 24 hours means anything is possible. What seems like bad news might be good news. Labor might decide to take an alternative strategy and implement something that would promote the growth of the low-carbon industry in Australia—and start to entice back some of our best scientists and engineers who’ve given up on trying to get their ideas out here. To me that has to be a carbon tax.”

A number of countries, including the US, have been keeping a close eye on this set of bills and all the debating that has come along with it. Now that it has been voted a failure (for the time being), it may have an impact on which direction other countries will attempt to go with their own carbon tax/cap-and-trade schemes. While it certainly is an important decision, I think the whole world will be focused on Copenhagen for the next 2 weeks and the results of that meeting are going to be what makes or breaks any further climate change efforts.