The independent MPs and newly elected Green, harbour ambitions to change the nature of parliamentary politics in Australia. The new ‘gang of four’—independent MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, along with Green MP Adam Bandt—will decide which party forms the next government of Australia. They are using their leverage shake up the two-party system and to push for a more cooperative and consensus-based parliament.

Analysing their joint address at the National Press Club, Mark Davis points to the MPs’ divergent positions on climate change to illustrate the difficulty of reaching consensus on complex policy issues.

In the context of climate change, Davis’ analysis is interesting but limited. It conflates emissions trading with climate change policy. Disagreement on emissions trading doesn’t mean that consensus on effective climate policy is out of reach. It simply means that an ETS is unlikely to win the agreement from all parties. While emissions trading has dominated the climate policy discourse for years, there are alternative frameworks capable of winning the support of the public and parliament.

I have presented nation building as an alternative framework. Unlike carbon pricing policies that increase the cost of fossil fuel energy (and galvanise opponents), a nation building climate policy would focus on rolling out strategic renewable energy infrastructure throughout Australia. Public investment in solar thermal demonstration plants and new grid infrastructure, for example, can help build clean substitutes for fossil fuel electricity and drive cost reductions for renewable energy. Regardless of whether or not we have a carbon price, this is infrastructure Australia needs.

Proponents of the nation-building climate change policy will be able to point to tangible projects to win public support. This is in stark contrast to abstract emissions trading proposals. The initiative can be compared to the popular National Broadband Network—the other government-led effort is laying the foundations of a low-carbon economy.

(I sketch out the benefits of nation-building climate policy in A New Direction for Climate Campaigning and Progressive Climate Policy: The Case for Nation Building, for example.)

Can this approach win the support of the gang of four? Yes it can. According to Greens MP Adam Bandt, three out of the four crossbench MPs want a price on carbon, and all four want greater support for renewable energy technology. This would indicate that renewable energy would have to be a key part of a policy that satisfies the interests of independent MPs, the Greens in the House and Senate, and Labor, assuming they form a minority government.

It’s counter intuitive, but climate change could be a challenge that is well suited to a more cooperative and consensus-based politics. This will require all MPs to act in the national interest and move beyond the short-term, poll-driven, and media-obsessed politics that we experienced through the 2010 election campaign.

Embracing a visionary nation-building approach to climate change that lives up to the aspirations of Australians is a good starting point.

And another thing…

Greens MP Adam Bandt has a more nuanced view of emissions trading and climate policy than many would realise. In a recent address at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, Bandt expressed concerns about emissions trading schemes. In the context of Labor and Coalition climate policies, Bandt warned against ‘creating another carbon trading scheme which will give those responsible for the financial crisis yet another instrument to play with.’

Bandt spoke passionately about the need for ambitious and visionary climate change plans, citing the work of Beyond Zero Emissions and an excellent blog by Jodi Dean. Bandt was so bold as to presented some ideas for addressing the climate crisis. One of which was a ‘national renewable energy network [on] the same scale as the broadband plan: a Snowy Hydro for the 21st Century that evokes planet building as a new goal in lieu of nation building.’ So why not?

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