Is the Prime Minister’s Office serious about addressing climate change? Is it even serious about getting an emissions trading scheme through the Senate?

Its handling of the release of the Green Paper suggests its focus is on politics, first and last.

This morning from 9.30 there’ll be two separate lock-up style briefings on the Green Paper, held at the swish new Hotel Realm near Parliament House, and just across the road from the Press Club.

One is for select media (mainstream only — Crikey and other non-mainstream media weren’t informed about it), the other for industry stakeholders and environment groups.

The Coalition, the Greens and the independent senators were not invited to either.

It’s usual in Budget lock-ups for other parties to get access. Apart from anything else, it’s a simple courtesy to one’s political opponents to allow them to respond in real time to a massive document.

Not with the Green Paper. The Greens didn’t even know there was a lock-up until told by journalists. They, and the Opposition, immediately demanded a briefing on the Paper. Nelson’s office sent two letters to the PMO, and essentially was told to get stuffed. After considerable toing and froing, the Government eventually agreed to a half-hour briefing at 11.30am today.

I said back in February when Ross Garnaut released his interim report that if Kevin Rudd was serious about a bipartisan approach to climate change and maximising his chances of achieving a workable emissions trading scheme, he should engage Brendan Nelson as much as possible.

This probably wouldn’t have stopped the Coalition running a scare campaign on an ETS, but at least Rudd would’ve made the effort, and adopted the high moral ground.

Judging by the management of the Green Paper’s release, bipartisanship is the last thing on the Government’s mind. It has carefully released key details of the scheme overnight, guaranteeing it headlines about offsetting petrol price increases.

Other parties have had to scramble to respond. Given Wong’s release at lunchtime, without a briefing for the Opposition and Greens, the Government would’ve had clear media space for most of the day.

And the stakeholder lock-up briefing runs until 12.15pm, ensuring environment and industry groups can’t get out and offer comment before Wong starts her Press Club address.

It’s cynical stuff, and suggests the PMO regards climate change as just another issue to play politics with. According to Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt, there’s been no attempt by the Government behind the scenes to engage the Opposition on the ETS issue.

But as the Greens note, even if the Prime Minister’s staff don’t especially care about climate change as a serious, rather than political, issue, you’d think they’d care about getting it through the Senate. The Government needs either the Coalition or the Greens and the independents to pass the ETS.

Simple political nous might suggest the Government would be making an effort to engage the Greens and the independent senators even if they want to play hardball with the Coalition.

Instead it’s media spin and politicking. This issue deserves far better.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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