Failure to act on climate change claimed the political scalp of Kevin Rudd and John Howard before him. How Julia Gillard responds to the issue will play a crucial role in the success of her leadership.
Regardless of what Tony Abbott may hope, climate change isn’t going away as a public issue. It will continue to gnaw away at the body politic as surely as waves on the shore. The need to transform Australia from one of the dirtiest, most fossil fuel dependent economies in the world, into a modern, clean energy economy of the 21st century is the defining challenge of our generation.

Julia Gillard’s first speech as Prime Minister had to address the issue that was widely credited as the catalyst for Rudd’s political demise. But her first words on climate change didn’t give much away. “I believe in climate change” was followed by a statement of belief that humans are contributing to the problem, and that she would seek consensus towards a price on carbon – as global economic conditions improve.

If she is serious about climate change, the first thing she would do when she attends the G20 meeting this week would be to commit to shift subsidies from the fossil fuel sector to the renewable energy sector. She would go to the election with a proposal for the immediate introduction of a carbon levy as advocated by Professor Garnaut, and she would immediately set a limit on the amount of carbon pollution allowed from new power stations to make sure we stop building new coal plants.

It is far too early to predict if she will be able to break the pattern of past leaders and stand up for the kind of strong climate action that the Australian public wants. We wish her well in meeting the challenges of leadership of the Australian Government and meeting her responsibilities, not just to the current generation of Australians who elected the ALP to govern, but to future generations who will live with the decisions that she makes.