Australian carbon laws face fresh turmoil

The future of Australia’s carbon trade scheme was thrown into confusion on Thursday after several opposition lawmakers resigned their party positions and promised to ignore a deal to support the government’s planned laws.

The government still expects Parliament’s upper house Senate to have a final vote on the scheme by late Friday, with opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull confident enough that his lawmakers will support the package of 11 Bills.

The carbon-trade scheme is scheduled to start in July 2011, covering 1 000 of Australia’s biggest polluters and would be the world’s most comprehensive outside of the European scheme.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says the carbon trade laws are crucial for the nation’s credibility in fighting climate change and have become a core government issue after Rudd made an election promise two years ago to introduce emissions trading.

Rudd could call a snap election if the laws are rejected.

He also wants the scheme passed now to boost momentum for a global climate agreement at United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen in December, where Rudd is playing a key negotiating role.

In a third consecutive day of chaos for Turnbull, his senior lawmaker Tony Abbott led a series of frontbench resignations and demanded an end to the deal to back the carbon trade Bills.

But Turnbull refused to budge, and said the opposition had an obligation to honour its agreement with the government.

”This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children. It is one of the great challenges of our time,” Turnbull told reporters.

”We cannot be seen as a party of climate sceptics, of do-nothings on climate change. That is absolutely fatal.”

The Senate had been due to adjourn for the year on Thursday, but agreed to extend its sittings into next week if needed to secure a final vote on the stalled package of carbon trade Bills.

The government needs seven of the 32 opposition Liberal Party senators to support the Bills for them to pass a hostile Senate. Up to 17 Liberals have said they could vote against the Bills.

The resignation of six opposition frontbenchers on Thursday severely undermines Turnbull’s leadership, a day after he survived a leadership challenge, and allows those senators to vote against the carbon-trade legislation.

Australia is the developed world’s biggest per-capita carbon emitter. The scheme will cover 75% of emissions.

Abbott said the frontbench resignations were not about leadership, but were designed to force a policy u-turn. But the open revolt within the opposition could force a new leadership spill and a change of policy before a final vote in the Senate.

Abbott, a member of the lower house of Parliament, is a leading social conservative and is considered a strong potential leadership candidate. — Reuters

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