Australian MPs push for Paris climate exit under Dutton

Peter Dutton says he will challenge Turnbull again if he's got the support. Picture: HERALD SUN

CANBERRA, 24 AUGUST 2018 (SMH) – Conservative MPs would ramp up the pressure on a Dutton government to exit the Paris climate agreement, opening up Australia to the risk of trade sanctions, stalling negotiations with the European Union and critically endangering relationships with the Pacific.

Peter Dutton’s first big policy push, axing the GST on energy bills, was widely panned on Wednesday as “bad policy” after it was revealed it would cost more than $32 billion (US$21 billion) over a decade and be very difficult to administer.

The conservative vanguard, led by former prime minister Tony Abbott and backbenchers Craig Kelly, Jim Molan and Eric Abetz, have been fierce advocates of dumping the Paris climate deal.

The group has been instrumental in elevating Dutton to within striking distance of the Lodge on a platform of lowering energy bills, cutting immigration and wrestling control of the Liberal Party away from the “inner-city elite”.

They have been aided in their campaign by Nationals MPs, including former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who said last week: “People in the Kmart, people in the local pub, they don’t care about the Paris agreement.”

Dutton refused to commit to the Paris agreement when he announced he was challenging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for his job. “My judgment is that we do whatever reduces power prices,” he said.

His policy idea of axing the GST on energy bills backfired when members of Dutton’s own camp conceded it would only ever be affordable for a three-month period.

Deloitte Access Economics described it as “short-sighted economic policy” that would only deliver billions of dollars in public subsidies and do nothing to fix the structural problems that have caused price hikes and fuelled anger at the energy sector.

Kelly, a Dutton ally, said there should a full national audit of the impact of the Paris target on the economy.

“There is momentum on the energy stuff, but that momentum will turn into a tidal wave,” he told Fairfax Media.

“I can’t for the life of me see how we are going to meet those reductions in the mining and agriculture sectors.”

Liberal MPs contacted by Fairfax Media have warned the once fringe idea of dumping Australia’s Paris commitments was taking hold as a symbolic way of marking a clear difference with Labor ahead of an expected early election.

“We’d have to deliberately start polluting more to miss it,” said one.

The agreement locks in an emissions cut of 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

Pulling out of it, which cannot be done before 2020, would put Australia in breach of international trade agreements, potentially endangering a free trade deal with the EU that is in the middle of negotiations.

Legislation does not have to pass Parliament to exit Paris. A prime ministerial direction to the joint committee on treaties would be enough to remove Australia from the deal.

Robyn Eckerlsey, a climate treaty expert at the University of Melbourne, said it “was a crazy thing” to be considering given the pledged targets are voluntary and there were no formal penalties.

“Everyone’s wrapped up in cotton wool, and they want to climb out of the cotton wool,” she said.

There was no one available to comment on the trade implications because there is no trade minister, after Steve Ciobo – who reneged on his support for Turnbull – resigned on Thursday. Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg did not respond to requests for comment.

Professor Eckersley said border-tax adjustments could be imposed, potentially driving up the costs of items for consumers, while relationships with our closest neighbours would come under strain.

The Pacific Islands Forum is due to be held in the first week of September, where Australia could be represented by Turnbull, Dutton, Scott Morrison or Julie Bishop if there is a party-room vote today.

The landmass of some of the nations attending – including Kiribati and the Maldives – are directly threatened by rising sea levels.

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