Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Making sense of the Senate's emissions trading debate

It's possible

Tim Colebatch in The Age:

"The Government supports its emissions trading scheme, but would like to see it defeated when it comes before the Senate this week. The Opposition opposes the scheme, but will be doing its utmost to ensure that it is not defeated.

The Greens support emissions trading, but want to vote to defeat this version of it. As for the Senate independents, no newspaper article could adequately summarise their positions.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong will introduce the scheme to the Senate, but accepts it has no chance of being passed. Rather, the issue is whether it is defeated, thus becoming the first half of the trigger for an early election.

The Government would like to have the option of calling an early election, particularly on emissions trading, which the polls suggest most voters support. The Opposition does not want to give it that option, and so plans to tie up the legislation in endless debate...

The Coalition's deputy leader in the Senate, Eric Abetz, will start by moving today for the legislation to be delayed for six months. That is expected to be defeated, with independent Nick Xenophon siding with Labor and the Greens to block it.

Senator Xenophon plans to move for a shorter delay to allow more Treasury modelling; but with the Opposition and Family First's Steve Fielding opposed, that also will fail.

The Coalition then plans to move a long list of amendments, and will mobilise its 37 senators to ensure long debates, so that no final vote can be taken by Thursday when Senate rises for its winter break.

Under the constitution, a Government can ask for both houses of Parliament to be dissolved for an early election if its legislation is defeated twice by the Senate. The Coalition has 37 of the 76 senators, but a double dissolution would dramatically change the balance of the Senate. The threshold for winning a seat would be lowered from 14.3 per cent of the statewide vote at a normal half-Senate election to 7.7 per cent at an election for the full Senate, helping smaller parties win seats.

If Australians were to vote just as they did in 2007, I calculate that the Coalition would lose four seats and Labor one. Senator Fielding would lose his seat in Victoria but Family First would gain one in South Australia.

The Greens would gain a net three seats, Senator Xenophon would gain a running mate, and the final seat in NSW would go to Patricia Newell of the Climate Change Coalition, partner of broadcaster and columnist Phillip Adams.

In Victoria, the Greens would jump from zero seats to two on 2007 voting, taking one seat from the Coalition and narrowly defeating Senator Fielding for the final seat on Labor preferences.

These estimates are only a rough guide, because each election is different. But double dissolutions are great for smaller parties, on both sides of politics. In Victoria, Family First ended up with 5.5 per cent of the vote in 2007 — far short of the 14.3 per cent it would need at a normal half-Senate election, but close to the 7.7 per cent that would re-elect Senator Fielding in a double dissolution."

Published in the Age June 22, 2009