The Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Greg Hunt, has gone on the attack today, warning Labor’s plan to tackle climate change would deliver massive increases in petrol prices and heating costs.

At the same time, however, polling commissioned by a coalition of green groups has found 86 per cent of voters think the Federal Government should be doing more to tackle climate change. Labor environment spokesman Anthony Albanese says the Government is out of step with public opinion.

This is more than just a debate on environmental policy. There are wider, potentially damaging perception issues for the Government here.

Labor has used recent parliamentary sitting weeks to launch major attacks on the Government. It has sought to differentiate itself on matters such as Iraq. Affairs this week – such as the release of the Stern report – have played into its hands.

One of the biggest risks for John Howard at next year’s election is that he will look tired, old, out of touch and out of ideas. Climate change is an issue with the potential to do just that.

Environment Minister Ian Campbell seemed on the back foot this morning. “There’s no doubt that we’ve got work to do on addressing climate change, both globally and domestically,” he said.

“I mean this week alone the government’s rolled out hundreds of millions of programs – last week the biggest solar powered station on the planet – we have been working very hard on these.”

And he used the m-word – “mainstream”: “What’s bringing it home to suburban Australia and mainstream Australia more than ever before are things like restrictions on water, things like not being able to wash your car, not being able to water your garden. Things Australians have been taking for granted for a long time and they are linking that to what they’re seeing as change in their climate.”

And seeing a change in the political climate, too.