Opposition backs Australian carbon reduction bill

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 10:09 AM

Australia's opposition leader Tuesday pledged his party's support for contentious legislation proposed by the government aimed at curbing the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia is one of the world's worst carbon dioxide polluters per capita because of its heavy reliance on its abundant coal reserves. As the driest continent after Antarctica, it is also considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Malcolm Turnbull said his Liberal Party senators and senior lawmakers agreed during a seven-hour meeting to support the Labor Party government's bill in a Senate vote this week.

While some Liberal senators have said they will refuse, Turnbull said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government was assured seven Liberal votes needed to pass the legislation in the 76-seat Senate would be received.

"I am confident ... the legislation will be passed," Turnbull told reporters.

The Senate rejected similar legislation in a vote in August with only Labor's 32 senators supporting it.

The government responded by amending the package through five weeks of intensive negotiations with the Liberals.

The government on Tuesday released details of that compromise deal that increases financial assistance to major polluters including electricity generators and ensures that farmers are not taxed for the methane produced by livestock.

The government plan would institute a tax on industries' carbon emissions starting in 2011 and limit Australia's overall pollution. The government wants to slash Australia's emissions by up to 25 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 if the United Nations can agree on tough global targets at a Copenhagen summit in December.

Rudd said he wants the legislation passed as an example to the world before he attends the Copenhagen summit.

"The world is also watching what happens here," Rudd told reporters. "Global momentum toward an outcome on climate change, we're all part of that."

The minor opposition Greens party was critical that the proposed deal doubled to AU$1.5 billion ($1.4 billion) the amount of compensation paid to the coal industry, which is Australia's main export.

About 20 protesters who want deeper cuts to Australia's carbon emissions than the government is proposing interrupted Rudd for several seconds in Parliament by blowing whistles from the public gallery. Security guards escorted them out.

A panel of U.N. scientists has recommended that developed countries cut between 25 percent and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avoid a catastrophic rise in sea levels, harsher storms and droughts, and climate disruptions.