The traditional view when it comes to party politics is that the Government’s relationship with business is much cosier than Labor’s. It’s the economy, stupid, says the Government, and the ALP have to play catch up to prove their credentials. But when it comes to climate change action, there seems to be a widening chasm between what business is calling for and what the Government is promising. And Labor is looking to fill the gap.

“The Howard Government’s rigid approach to climate change is destablilising the traditional alliance between the Liberal Party and the business community,” head of the Australia Institute, Clive Hamilton, who attended the ALP’s climate change summit at the weekend, told Crikey.

In response to Rudd’s ‘climate change blueprint’, released at the ALP’s National Climate Change Summit, Howard said this:

“We react in a measured, sensible way and we react when we know what the consequences of our reaction will be…But to commit this country to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent within 13 years must do economic damage to Australia, must cost Australian jobs.”

According to Hamilton: “That traditional view of damaging the economy no longer applies, certainly in the case of companies where climate change is a major factor in their future. I think that Labor’s view is much more consistent with that of big business which is why they attracted so many names at the summit.”

Skye Laris, of the Climate Institute, says: “Emissions targets are necessary to provide certainty for business. As for damaging the economy, the Climate Institute cited this graph released by the CSIRO and the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change:

The general consensus among big business, notably groups such as the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change seems to be a call not just to ratify Kyoto, but also to set an emissions target — or at least engage in a debate over one. But on these points, the Government’s not budging, at least not publicly.

Rather than proposing emission targets, Howard cited the Government’s efforts to address international deforestation, develop a framework for an emissions trading scheme and emphasis on clean coal technology.

“There’s a lot of support for a target in the business community, there really is a growing desire to have some policy direction and clarity,” Frank Muller, of  the UNSW Institute of Environmental Studies told Crikey.

“It’s no longer about business versus the environment. In taking the position, the government have picked particular parts of business over other parts of business. Even many of those parts of that industry want more policy certainty,” says Mullar. “It’s not necessarily a pro-business position to focus on one particular industry…”

Clive Hamilton told Crikey that the Government’s latest rhetoric threatens to throw the business community offside. “Malcolm Turnbull is labelling Labor as fanatical for their approach to climate change, but the business community are calling for ratification, and emissions targets,” says Hamilton. “Representatives from Westpac, IAG, BHP — are they fanatics?”