The Australian Greens, who have a lower house MP – Adam Bandt – in the next parliament, on Wednesday backed a Labor minority government.
In return for the party’s support, Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised a range of measures, including a climate change committee of MPs and experts that would work towards pricing carbon.
Those who join the table must be committed to a carbon price, but need not agree with the mechanism.
Greens leader Bob Brown said he would not set a deadline for the task, and admitted the result could be a regime that is tougher on polluters than Labor’s carbon pollution reduction scheme which failed to pass in the Senate.
“That’s an option, we’ll look at all the options,” he told Sky News.
“But I don’t want to pre-empt it because we go to it with the view we’ll have … the best brains there are on this, who are committed to a carbon price.”
But Ms Gillard has not completely abandoned her unpopular election promise of a citizens’ assembly – where members of the public would be asked to reach consensus on climate action.
The policy was widely panned as an effort to sidestep bolder moves, like a carbon tax, to fill the void left by Labor’s shelved emissions trading scheme.
Ms Gillard says it’s still on the cards, but it would now go to the committee.
The move came on the same day as Lord Nicholas Stern, a leading climate economist and adviser to the British government, said
Australia was well placed to benefit from a carbon price.
Lord Stern told the National Press Club it didn’t matter if it was a tax or a trading scheme – the revenue could be used to fund new technologies or contribute to a new $100 billion a year UN climate change fund.
“You could do very well indeed,” he said.
“You have to take a 10 or 15 year view of this, you have to make investments, this doesn’t come for free in the short-run, the price of electricity will go up.”
While Lord Stern had “thoughtful, reflective” talks with independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor on Tuesday, he would not comment on Australia’s political predicament.
He laughed off independent Bob Katter’s assessment of him as a “lightweight”, saying he was certain the north Queensland MP was a “splendid fellow”.
Environmental groups welcomed the committee – but want it to work quickly.
Greenpeace chief Linda Selvey said Australians had already shown they want action on climate change, and want polluters to pay.
“The committee must not become another talkfest, rather produce legislation to place a price on carbon pollution within the next 12 months,” she said.
The Climate Institute’s John Connor said he hoped it was a fresh start to an issue that had been reduced to a political football.
“Australia’s pollution politics has become mired in scare campaigns and misinformation and a new approach is urgently needed,” he said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the new committee was “basically the carbon tax committee” – so the coalition could not take part.
“We are committed to strong action against climate change but it’s not going to come with a heavy price tag for consumers,” he said.