Campaign week one went straight to the hip pocket. Tax cuts and affordable housing. But those two policies will be meaningless if immediate action on climate change is ignored.

IPCC scientists are now admitting privately that their reports over the last year are quickly being proved too conservative. The latest data is showing all of the key indicators tracking the speed of global warming at the top end of the percentiles. Extreme weather impacts are going to get very serious, much quicker than policy makers are planning for.

There’s been plenty of platitudes about climate change from the major parties in Australia, but a reluctance to put a comprehensive plan to save the planet on the table for voters to consider.

The ALP camp is probably not dashing out of the blocks because they still wear the scars of the 2004 Tassie forests debacle. The Coalition camp is not real forthcoming either, probably because most of the key players are still climate sceptics.

Recent polling in marginal seats for the Climate Institute shows that 57% of swinging/undecided voters would support strong action on climate change. Of those swinging voters in marginal seats 19% said the ALP were better on climate change policies vs 13% who thought the Coalition was better. So in these seats in Queensland, South Australia and NSW, 68% of swinging voters think there is little difference between the parties and their climate change policies.

This is a great result for John Howard and something he will want to maintain. Despite the ALP having clearly more progressive climate change policies, they are not getting the direct electoral kick they need from them. However, the ALP is getting an intangible benefit by looking more like the party that can deal with big picture issues in the future.

John Howard touched on measures in the debate last night to offset the costs of higher electricity prices. Hardly the killer policy to save the planet. And his bundling up of the state’s MRET schemes was more an administrative play than a purposeful policy.

There are rumours that the Liberals have a big spending package ready to drop sometime during the campaign. They will be waiting for some ALP announcements and will no doubt use their package to try and smother any advantage or impact; for instance a more aggressive MRET by Labor. This has been the tit for tat style of the campaign to date.

Traditionally the environment has not been the Coalition’s strong point, it has been Labor’s. John Howard wants to talk about the wonderful economy he’s apparently created and nothing else. He will match or try to smother ALP announcements, but you wouldn’t expect him to be the policy leader in this space. So where is the ALP as we move into week two of the campaign?

The big advantage the ALP holds is Kevin Rudd’s willingness to sign Kyoto. Voters don’t really know all the ins and outs of Kyoto, but it has been on the public agenda long enough that they recognise it as the right thing to do. But Labor needs some solid policy on the table soon, if they want to establish themselves as the party that will properly address climate change.

There is no doubt that Ross Garnaut will do a major review and a comprehensive one at that for Kevin Rudd. Ross and his team are busily seeing everyone they need to. But what electoral benefit will the ALP get from the review which won’t be completed until next year? It’s hard to implement those big comprehensive plans from opposition.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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