In some ways, the many people who feel environmental issues should get far greater political and media attention should enjoy this coming week in federal Parliament. Climate change, including the debate on legislative measures specifically aimed at ensuring a reduction in greenhouse emissions, is likely to be front and centre this week. (Of course, climate change is also an economic and social justice issue, but environmental issues are at its heart.)
However, it is likely that the politics surrounding climate change and the emissions trading legislation will get more attention than the substance of the issue itself. Those who believe the environment merits closer attention are also not likely to be happy with the policy outcomes at the end of the coming week.
The Labor Party is certainly gearing up their efforts to make climate change a major political winner for them. Climate change is the headline issue on Labor’s website, and Labor MPs have also been focusing on the issue in mailouts to their electorates.
Not surprisingly, the Greens’ website also highlights climate change, and the party has also been devoting some of their far more limited resources to getting their message out that Labor’s emissions trading scheme will not be strong enough, and – in their words – ‘locks in failure’.
There is little doubt the incoherence of the Liberal and National Parties’ positions will make it easy for Labor to come out looking good by comparison. But Labor looks to be wanting more than that, seeking to create a perception that their emissions trading scheme measure will be sufficient to provide Australia’s contribution to heading off rapid climate change.
The political battle on climate change will be a rare occasion where the battle between Labor and the Greens is as significant as that between Labor and the Liberals. Labor will be working hard to portray the Greens’ position as untenable, unreasonable or too economically harmful.
If Labor can convince the general electorate that their position on climate change is more effective and workable than Greens, they will go a big way towards neutralising the prospect of them making any major inroads into Labor’s vote at the next election.
As well as maintaining their attacks on the Liberals – which is like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment – Labor is also trying to paint the Greens as playing politics and suggesting the Greens want to block legislation to increase the chances of a double dissolution, which it is alleged will favour the Greens.
I’m not convinced the Greens overall Senate position would end up better off if there was a double dissolution, and the outside chances they have in lower house seats like Melbourne, Sydney and Fremantle won’t be changed by a double dissolution.
Regardless of how soon the election is held, it is reasonable to expect climate change to be a significant issue in the campaign. And the more Labor can convince people their stance will properly address the issue, and paint the Greens as extremists, the more they will maximise their primary vote.
Of course, the Greens aren’t in any position to negotiate any sort of compromise with the government to get a better emissions trading scheme through the Senate, even if they wanted to. At present Senators Fielding and Xenophon would also need to be on board with such a compromise, and the prospects of that happening are less than zero.