It has been a rather tumultuous week in Australia in terms of climate politics.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcom Turnbull worked out a deal last week to pass a carbon trading scheme through the Senate, following last August’s rejection of similar legislation. With Senate passage of the bill Rudd could go to Copenhagen poised to be a cooperative party in the effort to reach a global deal.
However, in response to Turnbull’s support for the legislation, back bench Liberal members sacked Turnbull as party leader in favor of Tony Abbott who infamously referred to emissions reduction policy as “absolute crap.” This led to defeat of the bill in the Senate yesterday, dealing a huge political blow to Rudd who may now have to face a round of elections next year.
The Liberals remain rather unpopular in Australia and the opposition within the party towards the climate legislation does not pose well for the party’s prospects in case elections are forced. But the result can’t be good for Rudd who was in Washington discussing climate change, among other things, as the turmoil was happening back home.
There will be an interesting by-election in Higgins over the weekend which is being contested by the Liberals and an insurgent Green candidate. Without a member of Rudd’s Labor party in the race, the Green candidate, Clive Hamilton, could take advantage of negative feelings towards the Liberals for killing climate legislation.
While failure to pass legislation will certainly weaken Australia at the talks in Copenhagen, at least one country doesn’t seem particularly phased: the United States. At a speech in Sydney today, US Ambassador to Australia Jeffery Bleich said that the US is “not disappointed” about the Australian failure. Rudd and Obama, it seems, can commiserate over their lack of influence in their respective senates.