A Labor MP has criticised Julia Gillard’s proposal for a ‘citizens’ assembly’ to achieve a consensus on emissions trading, saying that he was angered to hear about it and that the proposal should have gone through Caucus and Cabinet.

Bendigo MP Steve Gibbons was speaking at a public candidates’ forum in the rural Victorian town of Castlemaine last night.

Gillard brought her strong momentum in the first week of the election campaign to a juddering halt when she announced a suite of climate-change policies and declared she would “lead the debate” in search of a community consensus on the issue with the aid of a 150-strong “citizens’ assembly” to deliberate on the best means of tackling climate change.

The proposal was widely mocked from advocates of climate change action and climate denialists in the Coalition. Gillard has refused to confirm media claims that the proposal was not discussed by Cabinet in its last meeting before she called the election, when a package of climate change measures was considered.

Asked about the citizens’ assembly proposal, Gibbons told the forum: “When you represent a regional seat like this in parliament, you expect to be able to make a contribution in the forums of the party of which you’re a member, and I remember being particularly angry to read that, and not be in a position to do it.

“The decision to have the 150-member assembly to discuss the issue, that was made after the election was called, no opportunity for Caucus members to have a view about that, or indeed the Cabinet. I’m not overly critical of that, we’re in an election campaign.

“Had that issue been taken to Caucus, I would have opposed it.”

Nevertheless Gibbons predicted that a Gillard government would “be back to having debates in Caucus”, which had ceased under Kevin Rudd. “The last big debate in Caucus was on the printing industry and I’m pleased to say I won that one,” he told the forum.

Caucus debated and rejected proposals to reform parallel import restrictions in October 2009, after Gibbons and other MPs moved to head off a reform push from Craig Emerson. McPherson’s Printing Group is the biggest employer in the town of Maryborough, in the Bendigo electorate.

Gibbons drew applause when he declared that he was also angry about the extent to which both parties were attacking asylum seekers. “When the parties start whistling, the dogs begin to howl. It isn’t an issue in my electorate and it doesn’t appear to be an issue in Victoria.”