I think there is a chance that we will have a double-dissolution (DD) federal election that will be triggered by climate change.
The ALP has played climate change and their policy response (an emissions trading system — ETS — by 2010) as a big political issue. While they will wait a bit longer for their white-paper process and the Garnaut review to finish… they will ultimately put some ETS legislation to parliament some time in the next 12 months.
If the legislation is not passed, I think the ALP will have to use it to trigger a DD election. They will do this because (1) they will have a comfortable lead in the opinion polls against Nelson and will see the opportunity for getting a better Senate situation; and (2) after they have built up climate change as such a big issue, they can’t be seen to lose and run away.
I think there is a fair (though less than 50%) chance that the legislation will be blocked.
Over at Larvatus Prodeo they think that the Greens may vote against the ETS unless it is made stricter. I think that’s very unlikely. They will squeel and grind their teeth about needing more drastic action, but ultimately they would not take responsibility for blocking an ETS. And the ALP wont compromise with the Greens because (1) that would make it harder to deal with Family First and so the ETS would still fail; (2) they don’t want to be seen dealing too closely with the Greens; (3) the Greens are probably bluffing; (4) even if they aren’t it’s a good political outcome because it puts pressure on the Liberals.
If the Greens vote with the ALP they will have 37 votes in the Senate. South Australian independent Nick Xenophon has previously supported Kyoto and may add his support, bringing the total to 38. But they need 39. So the ALP need either Steve Fielding (Family First) or somebody from the Liberals/Nationals.
There are reasonable reasons for believing that both will oppose the legislation.
On policy grounds, Steve Fielding has consistently called for lower petrol prices and is unlikely to have a dramatic change of heart. Similarly, the Liberals have also insisted that petrol prices shouldn’t rise, the ETS should start in 2012 (not 2010) and that other countries also need to act. Brendan Nelson, Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott (among others) seem ready to fight the ALP on this issue.
However, on political grounds the story gets more interesting. Some people assume that the Liberals don’t want a DD election because of their low standing in the polls. But there are two reasons for thinking otherwise.
First, the Gippsland by-election may lead the Liberals to relish the idea of going to an election on fuel prices. Billboard adverts with “Petrol… Liberals = $1.60 // Labor = $1.90” or something like that could trigger Gippsland like responses.
Second, Nelson probably knows his days are numbered, and this is the only chance he will have to save himself. Given his current support it makes sense for him to take a political risk, and making a stand on an ETS and petrol prices might be it. If he loses it makes little difference because he was on his way out anyway.
Similarly, Family First should realise that a DD election is their only chance of political survival. Steve Fielding was elected on 1.9% of the vote and lucky preferences which won’t be repeated. In the last election they fell well short of getting elected, but they would be competitive in a DD election because it only requires half the number of votes to get into the Senate (about 7%).
I think this is a reasonable scenario. However, it is still quite possible that Steve Fielding, the Liberals, or even just a couple of Liberals using a conscience vote, will pass the ETS legislation. This is especially true if Brendan Nelson is replaced by Malcolm Turnbull within the next 12 months. Nothing is certain in politics. But this is an interesting situation worth watching.