AT A joint press conference, Clive Palmer, Bernie Fraser and Environment Minister Greg Hunt today announced a national plan to combat climate change.
In a series of statements big on broad brushstrokes but small on detail, the three revealed a strategy to implement the Coalition's Direct Action plan and an inquiry into the viability of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) in Australia.
Citing 2010 policy decisions which came from a green and white paper process, Mr Hunt said the Coalition's position on domestic emissions and an ETS had not changed.
Chairman of the Climate Change Authority (CCA), economist Bernie Fraser, was present to underline the Coalition's new position on not abolishing the CCA for the life of the current parliament, instead tasking it with overseeing the new ETS inquiry.
The 18-month inquiry will include analysis of emissions trading in other countries.
Mr Hunt said the government's Direct Action plan would provide incentives for polluters to reduce emissions and businesses would compete to win tenders and be paid to take on emission reduction projects.
With an ETS outside the Coalition's current range of policies, Mr Palmer said he believed the government would consider an ETS if Mr Fraser's inquiry found it necessary for Australia.
"As a show of good faith we have accepted and agreed on the terms of reference provided," Mr Hunt said of the inquiry.
"It's about trying to make the whole country win," Mr Palmer said.
Greens leader Christine Milne called the press conference a "party political meeting" and questioned the lack of modelling in the announcement and the lack of penalties for polluters.
"This is a sham of a policy," she said, "it's a terrible day for the environment."
Direct Action 'ineffective'
CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) Kelly O’Shanassy responded to the announcement by highlighting the backflip she believed was contained within it.
"Australia had a working price on pollution, which was set to convert to an emissions trading scheme, but it was wiped out by the same people who now propose yet another review into emissions trading schemes," she said.
"Since 1992 Australia has had more than 35 inquiries into climate issues and proposed schemes.
"The government’s so-called Direct Action plan sets no cap on pollution and places no obligation on polluters, it hands taxpayers’ money straight to polluting companies and ignores the advice of economists and scientists on the best way to reduce pollution.
"The government has set up a review into emissions trading schemes, even though it has vowed not to establish an ETS; this is a mess and an insult to the intelligence of Australians.
"Despite the stay of execution for the Climate Change Authority, there are still fundamental flaws in the Government’s plan, leaving Direct Action weak, incomplete and ineffective," she said.
"The rest of the world is moving to cut pollution; Australia must not be left behind."
Price measure is 'critical component'
Professor John Quiggin of the School of Economics at the University of Queensland said he was glad an ETS was still on the table.
"As a Member of the Climate Change Authority, I’m naturally gratified to see that the value of our work has been recognised by the government and the Parliament.
"Much more important, though, is that the option of an emissions trading scheme has been kept alive and that it will be the subject of rigorous study. The overwhelming view of economists is that a price based measure such as an ETS is a critical component of a carbon mitigation policy and a natural complement to policies of direct action."
Fighting 'rogue emitters'
Speaking to the ABC on Thursday morning, Mr Hunt explained more about the government's plan for climate change.
"There are two parts of what we are proposing. Firstly, obviously the abolition of the carbon tax because it didn't work and it was a $36 billion tax on electricity and gas," he said.
"Those savings are being passed back to families.
"Secondly, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) works by providing incentives to reduce emissions through practical projects such as are currently occurring under the Carbon Farming Initiative.
"That could be things such as carbon sinks in the form of reforestation of degraded land, Indigenous land management programmes which are occurring in parts of the Northern Territory and other areas in Australia. Energy efficiency on a wide and grand scale. Practical things which actually reduce emissions, rather than relying on a tax on electricity and gas."
According to Mr Hunt, the second part of the ERF will come after the country reaches the lowest-cost emissions reduction.
"There is also a safeguard mechanism," Mr Hunt said. "What that simply means is that we ensure that right across the major firms - and there is broad-scale agreement on this from the Business Council, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, from the Australian Industry Group, among others - we don't have rogue emitters suddenly increase their emissions."
Nick Xenophon 'happy'
On Thursday, independent Senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon indicated his alliance with the government's deal by welcoming the support offered for his four key emission-reducing amendments.
"I’m happy that these significant amendments will receive the support of the majority of the Senate," Mr Xenophon said.
"They will strengthen the Direct Action package so that Australia is in a good position to negotiate an even better emissions reduction target in Paris next year."
"I’m disappointed that the government won’t, for some bizarre ideological reasons, support a strategic reserve involving no more than 20 per cent of the Emissions Reduction Fund," he said.
"I’ll keep fighting for this because I believe it is an important part of any successful scheme. It’s something that is supported by both business and environmental groups, and it defies logic that the government would oppose such a measure."
'Dirty deal': Shorten
Responding to questions about the deal struck between the Palmer United Party (PUP) and the government on an ETS inquiry on Thursday, opposition leader Bill Shorten replied with a question of his own.
"Is it Prime Minister Abbott or Prime Minister Palmer?" Mr Shorten said.
"Clive Palmer is now calling the shots in the Abbott Government which is not good news for ordinary Australians.
"What we see here is not a climate change policy, this is a dirty deal to pay big polluters to keep polluting. This is not a deal about climate change, it is a deal to get Clive Palmer's votes. Unfortunately now it would appear we have two Prime Ministers in Australia, Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Palmer."