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Election result uncertain in Australia but climate may be unexpected winner

23 August 2010
Election result uncertain in Australia but climate may be unexpected winner

With results of the recent Australian Federal Election remaining unclear, Rupert Posner, Australia Director of The Climate Group, explores the potential outcomes for climate change policies in Australia.

The outcome of the Australian Federal Election held on the weekend remains unclear and may remain so for some days. Neither the Labor Government nor the center-right Opposition was able to garner the 76 seats needed for an absolute majority. Latest counting indicates both parties may have 72 or 73 seats. With at least three seats going to independents and one to a Green, no party looks like it will constitute a formal majority.

While climate change did not have the profile it did during the last election, it was one of the points of difference between the two main parties.

Although the Labor Government was unable to pass legislation through a hostile Senate to implement the emissions trading scheme (ETS) promised at the last election, Prime Minister Julia Gillard remains committed to introducing a price on carbon. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who has been in the role less than nine months, gained the leadership of his party by removing his predecessor by one vote on the basis of that he would reverse his party’s support for an ETS. In the last week Mr Abbott reiterated his view that climate change is not necessarily being caused by human activity.

The three Independents could well decide which party forms Government. While they might normally be considered more likely to support the center-right Opposition as they are former members of it, they have made it clear they will support the party that can provide stable government.  One of the three has said that in order to provide stable government, action to address climate change is critical. Another has said that he believes much more action is needed to address climate change, in particular more support for renewable energy.

For the first time at a General Election, a Green was elected to the Australian House of Representatives. The Greens also achieved their best result ever in the Senate, with six new members elected, bringing their representation in the upper house to nine. As a result, the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate.

The end result may be even stronger policies to address climate change than those taken to the election by either major party. A push from both the emboldened Greens and influential Independents may well provide the circuit breaker needed for the Government to get back on the front foot when it comes to addressing climate change. And if the Independents decide to support the Opposition, they are likely to apply the same pressure for action to address climate change. What is clear is that irrespective of which party forms government, the majority of elected representatives in both houses now support putting a price on carbon.

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