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News Media Releases Why a business-community climate change coalition just might work
Why a business-community climate change coalition just might work
Tuesday, 21 September 2010 15:19

The CEO of BHP has surprised us by signaling his support for a carbon tax and a future beyond coal powered electricity that leads, rather than follows, the rest of the world. Its bolder talk than what we have seen from either of the major political parties.

Kloppers’ decision to play a role in the climate change debate demonstrates how the complexity of a hung parliament may provide more opportunities for leadership from outside of it ranks. It also opens the possibilities for how diverse coalitions on the issue of climate change could take Australia to a more climate friendly future.

But coalitions are far more likely to achieve social change and influence political debate if they lead a new policy agenda. There are two reasons for this. Focusing on new policies allows organisations to come together to advocate for policies based on their  own needs and self-interest, while also suggesting policy changes that serve the public interest.

When it comes to successful coalitions, self-interest is key. After all, Marius Kloppers is not talking about a carbon tax because he is a nice person. He is advocating for it because he recognizes that sooner or later a price on carbon is inevitable, and that his business would be better able to predict, respond and plan for it if his company is part of leading the change rather than reacting.
His decision to engage with climate change policy throws down a challenge to organisations worried about climate change. His proposal, while very constructive, also has its limits. For instance, he doesn’t support the tax revenue being used to fund new technologies for renewable energy and he opposes an Emissions Trading Scheme. On the other hand, his participation in the climate change debate is powerful – Julia Gillard has already signaled that she might consider a Carbon Tax as part of a climate change policy mix.

Some in the climate change movement have played an unconstructive role in the climate change debate so far. Arguments that we needed a 20% cuts in emissions in Australia, no matter how right they might be, proved powerless to the rise of climate skepticism that Tony Abbott cultivated at the beginning of this year.

Now there is an opportunity for some practical coalitions around a carbon tax. To be successful this will require some open-mindedness on all sides. It won’t be about forming a coalition where everyone agrees with everything – but rather creating a coalition based on some core policies – like the importance of a carbon tax.

But, to achieve policy change the coalition will need to be diverse. While BHP has shifted interest in the Labor Government, other constituencies like unions will also be influential. Similarly, the Greens and independents will also need to support this policy for it to pass. For them, the voices of the environmental movement will be crucial too. An unusual business-union-community alliance could help lead this debate – but it will need to follow some of the lessons about what it takes to build powerful coalitions.

Amanda Tattersall is an elected official at Unions NSW with a background in union and community organising.

Amanda was in Perth with her new book  "Power in Coalition", the launch of which was hosted by UnionsWA.

This article first appeared in the West Australian. 

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