Transcript

Emissions trading scheme with Ian Tulloch

Matt Smith:

This would be the La Trobe University podcast. I’ll be your host Matt Smith, good morning, good afternoon and good evening it does all depend on where you’re standing. But joining me today is Ian Tulloch from the Politics Department of La Trobe University. Thanks for joining me, Ian.

Ian Tulloch:

My pleasure, Matt.

Matt Smith:

So we’re here today to talk about the Emissions Trade Scheme. Can you tell me bit about it?

Ian Tulloch:

The Emissions Trading Scheme is the Rudd government’s idea in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 5% and 25% by 2020 and eventually by 60% by the middle of this century by 2050.

The reason why it’s between 5% and 25% is because the government wants to wait and see what’s happening in the major meeting in Copenhagen on climate change in December.

Matt Smith:

So, they’ve given themselves a bit of a wiggle room in there. And the entire thing got knocked back last week and it was last Thursday that it got knocked back. Now they’ve got together again in less in a week and split it up. What exactly did it get knocked back on?

Ian Tulloch:

The opposition, the coalition and the five green senators, Steve Fielding from Family First and Nick Xenophon, the independent senator from South Australia. All combined to fight down the Emissions Trading Scheme.

But it was coupled with the Renewal Energy Bill, which the government decided to use tactically to try and force Malcolm Turnbull and the coalition to vote for both the ETS and the Renewal Energy Bill. So you know we’re together.

That didn’t happen and I think that strategy was not well thought out. Malcolm Turnbull and coalition will always going to vote against the ETS. So now, the two bills are being decoupled, the Renewal Energy Bill or most likely be supported in the senate today, it will go through.

It means that 20% of all electricity by 2020 will come from renewable energy sources: From wind power, from solar, perhaps from geothermal.

Matt Smith:

So why is Malcolm Turnbull against the bill?

Ian Tulloch:

I think Malcolm Turnbull, personally, would probably support a bill like this but he has problems within the coalition parties themselves the nationals, perhaps climate change sceptics or climate change deniers, they would vote against any ETS bill and then how moderate it was. There were also others in the coalition that are not quite as conservative as the nationals. But certainly, more conservative than Malcolm Turnbull is himself in terms of an emissions trading scheme. So it was always going to be voted down.

I think the really important thing will be whether - once it’s reintroduced in November into the Senate whether it will be voted down again because that will then give the Rudd Government double-dissolution trigger.

Matt Smith:

Come November, what are the changes that are going to happen to the bill?

Ian Tulloch:

There will be no changes. The bill will go back in the same format as it is now back into the senate and then the coalition will probably try to amend it. Those amendments will be rejected by the House of Reps. And so - then the bill fails twice. The constitution section 57 as a procedure for breaking this deadlock between both houses where our bill is defeated twice. If the bill is defeated twice and there’s a three month gap in between, it means that the Prime Minister can go to the Governor-General and ask the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament, a double dissolution.

Now, a double dissolution the entire senate is up for election. In a normal election, just half the senate goes with the 150 members of the Lower House, the House of Reps.

Now, with the full senate going, with all 75 senators going, it means that they only need half a quota, half of normal quota. That was much easier for the minor parties, the Greens and perhaps, the independents to be elected.

But with the polls running the way they are and if they continued to be as decisively in favour of the government in November. Malcolm Turnbull is in an invidious position while his party still wants to vote down the Emissions Trading Scheme, does he want to face a double dissolution election where he's certain to be routed in terms of losing perhaps three or four senators. Steve Fielding would probably lose his seat which means most of the Greens in the lower party will control the senate. And it’s much easier for the government then to negotiate this bill through.

And the coalition doesn't want to face that sort of savage loss in a double dissolution election. So he is in a real bind here. What does he do? Does he decide pragmatically we'll vote for it so that we don’t face the double dissolution and we still retain, basically, power of the senate with the minor parties and the independent.

Matt Smith:

What do you think will happen?

Ian Tulloch:

I think if the poll will stay the way they are, I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull’s got any choice but to vote for the Emissions Trading Scheme when it’s reintroduced to avoid that double dissolution possibility. I think that’s still creates a lot of problems for him though because the Nationals are going to vote against it. And maybe one or two of the other climate change mavericks within his own party will vote against it.

So then, the Liberal Party itself appears to be split there's increasing tensions between the National Party and the Liberal Party so either way he faces incredible difficulties with keeping control of the coalition. But I think pragmatically, he will end up voting for it and the majority of the Liberal Party will vote for it. The Nationals will vote against it. It will get through and it will get through before the December in Copenhagen, which is what Kevin Rudd wants.

Matt Smith:

Would the Rudd Government benefit from a double dissolution?

Ian Tulloch:

I think they certainly would. If the poll will stay the way they are now with the News poll and the AC Nielsen poll and the Age showing it miles ahead 56 to 44 in a two party preferred basis. That is after preferences have been distributed. And that was reflected in the election, in the double dissolution election. The coalition would be routed. They will be devastated in the Senate.

They would lose perhaps three or four senators, the Greens will probably win another seat, another senate seat in every state. They would lose the power they’ve got at the moment in combination with the minor parties and the Greens to reject bills or to amend bills and Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t want to face that.

But if he does vote for it, as I said, he’s got problems with managing his party because there are some senators, certainly the Nationals are all very against it and some of his own Liberal Party senators such as Nick mentioned have to think seriously about whether they’re going to defy their leader.

Matt Smith:

Where does industry pressure stand on the emissions trade legislation?

Ian Tulloch:

It has been an enormous amount of industry pressure on both the government and on the coalition. I think the Ross Garnaut’s report - Professor Garnaut’s report recommended an ETS scheme with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020.

The government ordered that down to between five and 25. I think certainly reflecting the pressure which they’re under from the coal industry and from the other heavy polluters like the concrete industry and the aluminium industry.

But with the coalition parties being naturally much closer to those interest, to the business interests involved here has been there from the coalition policy reflects, I think what some of these industry groups want, that is, they want to postpone any ETS scheme until after Copenhagen.

And then see what the international community decides on and then perhaps follow that next year. But they’re certainly haven’t got a policy which sets any targets at the moment.

Matt Smith:

If the bill does go ahead, it’s essentially ignoring any industry pressure at that point, isn’t it?

Ian Tulloch:

Well, I think the bill was already been watered down due to industry pressure. And even though there are considerable concessions to the coal industry and to the concrete industry and to the aluminium industry, in the way that the bill has been framed. But certainly, the coalition party is much closer to the business interest, which will be mostly affected here. And that’s why I think you could argue that they haven’t formulated a concrete proposal at this stage and they’re going to wait until see what happens in Copenhagen.

Matt Smith:

If I could bring it back to double dissolution, if that happens, am I getting it right that the Governor-General has the option to fire the Prime Minister?

Ian Tulloch:

Under a double dissolution, you need the trigger. And the trigger is the defeat of a bill twice with a three-month gaping between under Section 57 in our constitution. Then, that allows the Prime Minister to go to the Governor-General and ask the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament simultaneously, the double dissolution.

The Governor-General has no choice but to accept the advice of the Prime Minister there. And we won’t have a repeat of 1975 where the Governor-General simply refuses to take the advice of the Prime Minister, that won’t happen. In 1975, the Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Gough Whitlam’s Government on the 11th of November in that year because there was a deadlock of the supply bills in the Senate.

Malcolm Fraser, the leader of the coalition and the coalition parties have decided to defer debate on the supply bills. Money was running out and there were discussions between Sir John Kerr and Gough Whitlam about how to resolve this deadlock.

Whitlam wanted a half-Senate election to try and resolve it. That was his advice to the Governor-General. The Governor-General decided that given the situation, with supply bill - with the supply money almost running out, that he would sack the government.

Unprecedented in the Westminster System created an enormous division in Australia. It wasn’t extreme constitutional crisis. And subsequent to that, Sir John Kerr was vilified amongst huge section to the Australian community. The first time that it ever happened were popularly elected Governor have been set by a Governor-General.

Matt Smith:

We went and ratified this position by electing Malcolm Fraser anyway.

Ian Tulloch:

Yes, on the 7th of December in 75, there was a general election and Malcolm Fraser's Liberal Party romped in with a huge majority, which they repeated again in 1977 too. Public opinion had turned against Whitlam but there’s no justification for sacking a popularly elected government.

Matt Smith:

It’s a very strange thing though double dissolution that it kind of gives a concept that we can’t be trusted to make this sort of decision if we can’t play nicely, then they’re going to take our bat and ball away from us.

Ian Tulloch:

I think the Australian Parliament is a strange creature. We have a Lower House, a popularly elected Lower House. And we have a senate, which is supposed to represent the states.

It never has, it plays the role of a house over you but that’s based on the United States Senate rather than we don’t have an Upper House or the House of Lords, the Westminster System in England. And our constitution gives the Senate almost the same power as the House of Representatives, except that with one exception. They can’t initiate money bills or supply bills, which have to come from the House of Reps. So, they almost have the same power. And so, where the government doesn’t control the numbers in the Upper House and the Senate, the Senate can reject bills and that’s where the conflict comes in.

So, Section 57 of the constitution is the mechanism to resolve that conflict. If the bill’s rejected twice, with a three months gaping between, then the Prime Minister can go to the Governor-General, have a double dissolution and let the people decide what the makeup of the new parliament should be.

Matt Smith:

So, if you’re a betting man in six months time, what’s going to happen in a nutshell?

Ian Tulloch:

I think in six months time, when the bill comes back into the Senate, Malcolm Turnbull will vote for it. If he votes against it, it gives the government like a double dissolution trigger. Kevin Rudd will almost certainly use that if the polls are still in his favor, which they probably still will be. It will be devastating for the Liberal Party in the Senate. They not even lose it in the Lower House and Malcolm Turnbull will probably lose his leadership. If that happens, I think if I was a betting man, I’d say that Malcolm Turnbull will vote for the bill. But he still faces a lot of dissent within the coalition parties and even within the Liberal Party.

Matt Smith:

Ian Tulloch, thank you for your time.

Ian Tulloch:

My pleasure.

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