A Democracy at Work: Australia Votes on Climate Change*


Australia has a new government. This Saturday past, the country elected the Labor Party and its leader, Kevin Rudd, ("I am determined to make Australia part of the global climate change solution, not just part of the global climate change problem") to serve for the next three years. One of their first priorities is to sign the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

This is in stark contrast to the outgoing Liberal/National coalition government, led by John Howard, who refused to sign and who, according to many observers only 'discovered' climate change this year when polls showed it was a looming election issue.

The freshly chosen Labor government is yet to announce their environment minister, and one wonders if it will be Peter Garrett, who held the position whilst in opposition. Ex-frontman for the rock band Midnight Oil, and past president of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Peter has been muzzled since joining parliament. Probably to give the then incumbent government less opportunity to label him a 'radical environmentalist.'

But there is no doubt that the Australian population have (finally) embraced the concept (and reality) of climate change and are looking for positive action. Outside of the two major parties, the Greens are now Australia's third political force. With almost 80% of the electorate counted, (at time of writing) the Greens have picked up just shy of 8% of the vote. And while this doesn't seem overly significant, Australia has both a compulsory and a preferential voting system. In this election, for example, the Greens encouraged voters to mark ballot papers Green 1 and Labor 2, so if they (the Greens) didn't win their seat, votes flowed to the next preference on the ballot.

And it appears likely that later this year the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate, meaning the new government will require the vote of the Green senators to get their legislation passed into law.

How all this will pan out is anyone's guess. Politicians rarely deliver on election promises. And it is likely being in office will involve more compromises than lofty visions. But Australia now has a government at least willing to act on climate change, and a third force prepared to keep nudging them to remain focussed on that goal.

That this same new Labor government has also expressed its support for 'clean coal' (pledging as much taxpayer funded support for this, as they are for renewable energy), and a new mega paper pulp mill, suggests that environment groups will not be hanging up their boxing gloves just yet.

* Early exit polling indicated that climate change was in the top four reasons why people voted Labor, or Greens.

Update: Forgot to include this related link: We Win! Australia: The World's Best Carbon Emitters

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