The contrast couldn’t be starker. On the day when Labor put Peter Garrett in charge of climate change and the environment, John Howard announced a taskforce to establish an emissions trading system which is stacked with Australia’s biggest and dirtiest polluters.

Having a couple of polluters on there would have made sense, but try these seven names for size:

Peter Coates, Executive Committee Member, Xstrata, one of the big three Australian coal producers along with BHP and Rio Tinto.

Tony Concannon, Managing Director, International Power, owner of Australia’s oldest and dirtiest power station, Hazelwood, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Russell Higgins, Non-Executive Director Australian Pipeline Trust and recipient of numerous bureaucratic and board gigs from the Howard Government.

Margaret Jackson, Chairman, Qantas, Australia’s biggest transport polluter.

Chris Lynch, Executive Director, BHP Billiton, one of the big three Australian coal producers.

John Marlay, CEO, Alumina Limited, Australia’s biggest energy consumer and recipient of billions of dollars in subsidised power from Victoria taxpayers over the years.

John Stewart, Managing Director, National Australia Bank, chief banker to Australia’s mining establishment.

When asked about getting some environmental input on Insiders yesterday, the PM could only point to the secretary of his environment department, David Borthwick, being one of four bureaucrats making up the numbers among the seven business types.

But Borthwick is no green and he runs a department that has shown great scepticism about climate change. Indeed, Borthwick was previously coordinator of industry and resources development policy in the PM’s department and this followed a long career in the Federal Treasury that dates back to 1973.

It is notable that John Howard has also deliberately rejected the involvement of any CEO who signed up to the Australian Conservation Foundation’s business roundtable on climate change earlier this year.

This included the CEOs of IAG, BP Australia, Westpac, Swiss Re, Visy Industries and Origin Energy.

The Business Council of Australia has been deeply split on the question of climate change and the fault lines are clearer than ever – the skeptics are on board with John Howard and those who take the challenge seriously have signed up with the ACF.

All of this makes climate change an even hotter issue at the forthcoming election and the door is wide open for Peter Garrett to perform on the biggest stage of his life.

Peter Fray

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